Dirty pizza and vibe kills

Go play Outside: Tickets for the eighth annual Outside Lands sold out in a crazy 45 minutes. The festival boasts a well-earned reputation as the best in the Bay Area—and as one of the greatest in the country. Here are some highlights:

(1) Remarkably, people kind of listened to the computerized voice before St. Vincent’s set: “In order to maximize your enjoyment, please refrain from digitally capturing your experience.” This wasn’t just St. Vincent’s Annie Clark being clever, and then exhibiting her excellent songwriting, singing and guitar shredding. This was a cohesive piece of performance art tackling the role of technology in our lives. With postmodern choreography and a smirk, the queen of indie rock turned into the robot queen—she owned the stage and owned us all.

(2) Up until the unexpected release of Black Messiah in December of 2014, D’Angelo had been on-hiatus since 2000. Black Messiah quickly earned a spot on just about every music critic’s top 10 albums of the year list. With his new band the Vanguard, D’Angelo sounded and looked in prime form— a truly triumphant comeback. But I was honestly surprised the crowd, though mostly fervent, wasn’t larger. Were most choosing Mumford & Sons instead? Really?

(3) Crazy to think Leon Bridges was washing dishes in Texas just a year ago. Now he’s a star, bringing an enormous crowd to a 2 p.m. Friday set.

(4) The GastroMagic stage returned with an undeniably less frenzied energy—and far fewer big audiences—than last year. Still, it delighted in its silliness. Example: After Pizza Rock’s Tony Gemignani threw some pizza dough, DJ MoPo spun Hot N Ready’s ridiculous song “Do the Dirty Pizza,” while four dancers in aprons threw down some equally ridiculous moves. Then one threw some stretched-out pizza dough at an innocent bystander’s head. Oops.

(5) We so appreciate Outside Lands’ tiny stages scattered around with unannounced sets each day. A favorite was catching Los Angeles folk group the Wild Reeds quietly harmonizing inside a yurt-slash-tea-lounge in Camp Grounded, the digital detox area where you can paint pet rocks and such.

(6) That hot chocolate from Charles Chocolates. Wow. Just wow.

(7) Who else could pull off a royal blue suit with silver sparkles and the word “Fantastic” emblazoned on the back? Sir Elton John closed out Outside Lands with a hit-filled set, standing up after each song to bow and wave.

(8) Of course, not everything was great. A Sunday attempt to catch Odesza and Caribou was squashed by the tidal wave of fans marching in the opposite direction for Grammy-winning crooner Sam Smith. We tried to sneak through, then we tried to wait it out, but it was no use. We were forced by the Outside Lands higher powers to see Sam Smith. With his sappy speeches, sullen ballads and proliferation of covers, we found ourselves at a loss. And bored.

M.A.A.D. times: Kendrick Lamar kicked off his Saturday night set with “Money Trees”—yet it was festival-goers who were throwing shade, directed at the Outside Lands organizers. And I too have a bone to pick: They screwed up, in epic fashion, by scheduling the Black Keys on Saturday night’s main stage and relegating Lamar to a smaller B stage. Tens of thousands, a vast majority, converged on the rapper’s performance, and his nearly two-hour set was at once powerful, inspiring and really damn uncomfortable.

Lamar, to my surprise, spent the first hour playing hits, instead of the complex tracks from his latest record, To Pimp a Butterfly. Hits are great, but they elevated the crowd’s chaos quotient. Like when he jumped into his verse from “Fuckin’ Problems” and lit a fire under the night sky. Only to then throw gasoline on it all with “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe.”

It was around this time that the scene on the ground began feeling unsafe. That’s when I decided to use my journalism skills and sneak backstage! Good call: Standing on a curb, 50 yards from Lamar, delighted as he snatched the torch from the world’s hip-hop elite. He covered Tupac. His full band grooved on “i.” And, by the night’s end—10 minutes past curfew—he assured that things would be “Alright.” And, oh yes, they were.