Outside Lands must be the only concert in the world where the participating wineries were announced before the bands.
This wasn't the case when the Golden Gate Park festival started in 2008, but that's because Radiohead was the headliner. This year, Ridge Vineyards is the headliner; Paul Draper's winery sells more units than Kings of Leon, the best-known band.
In its third year, Outside Lands has reduced to two days, and the musical star power has dimmed. Last year, Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews Band and the Beastie Boys headed the list. This year, the show this coming Saturday is headlined by a Grateful Dead alumni gig (wake me when the drum solo ends).
So instead, the promoters are pushing wine and food. And in that area, the stars are aligned.
The food-and-wine lineup, for a concert, is flat-out awesome. Here's the food purveyor list. Restaurant highlights include Maverick and The Slanted Door's takeout sister Out the Door, but I wouldn't skip my favorite Mexican restaurant in San Francisco, El Huarache Loco, normally found on Saturday mornings at Alemany Farmers Market. I'm going to write about the wine lineup below; it's fabulous.
However, you have to pay separately for each serving of food and wine. Which raises the question: if I can get my street-food fix at Alemany on Saturday morning for free, why should I pay $75 (here) for a single-day ticket to Outside Lands? Especially when you can eat some of the same stuff -- albeit without the great wine selection -- the following weekend with no admission charge at the SF Street Food Festival?
Good question. The street food festival serves up Korean tacos, but no Al Green or The Strokes.
Also, the only food-and-wine festivals I enjoy tend to be ones with high pricetags, like Good Eats at ZAP. That's $125 a ticket, but all the food and wine is free once you get in. The sticker shock keeps the lines of people down. That isn't what the organizers are looking for, I'm sure.
What I might be writing here is the eulogy for a music festival that's trying to become about food and wine. I'm not sure why the lineup isn't as good. Last year they had the Dead Weather, TV on the Radio, M.I.A. and a bunch of other tasty underbill acts. Perhaps this year they're not paying as well, and music industry reports have been consistent about 2010 being a moribund year for tours. All of that said, Kings of Leon? Another Grateful Dead alumni gig? I'm not sure either of those acts could sell out The Fillmore on their own.
So Peter Eastlake, the wine director for Outside Lands, has the weight of the festival on his shoulders.
Eastlake, who owns Vintage Berkeley Imports and Solano Cellars, curated a fine festival wine lineup. There are good medium-size wineries that the average music fan has probably heard of: Bonny Doon Vineyard, Iron Horse and Robert Sinskey. And there are even more great small wineries that people should get to know: A Donkey and Goat, Bedrock Wine Co., Copain, Peay.
"If you go to most music festivals, the food sucks, and there's no consideration given to the alcohol," Eastlake said. "But what is San Francisco known for? The beauty of doing this festival in San Francisco is, every one of my friends is really into Phoenix (the French band, left, not the city), and these are people who go to Nopa twice a week."
Eastlake said that the wine has gone in the opposite direction from the music this year, as he has added comparatively big names like Hess Collection and Murphy-Goode for the first time.
He tried to go bigger; he got Bedrock's Morgan Peterson-Twain, but Morgan's dad passed. That's why there's no Constellation or Bronco or Gallo or Wine Group wines -- it's not because Eastlake didn't ask.
"To me, Ravenswood would be a great known winery to have. They wouldn't do it," Eastlake said. "I want to incorporate some of these bigger wineries because it could be a powerful marketing tool for them. It baffles me. Why would you not want to pour wine for 5000 people on a Sunday afternoon?"
The wines range from $8 to $20 for a 4-ounce pour. Two years ago, Silver Oak participated at $20 a glass and sold out. "People would walk up and say, 'I'll take four glasses'," Eastlake said.
But Eastlake's joy isn't in selling people what they know. He'd prefer for Tokyo Police Club fans to discover that they have an affinity for Peay Syrah.
"Some of these Peay wines, they cost $30 wholesale. To get a glass of that for $12 or $14 is a wonderful thing," Eastlake said.
I agree -- but there's that pesky $75 ticket fee. I'll be curious to see if the new emphasis on great food and wine saves the festival, or if Outside Lands folds its tent after this one. If so, at least it should have a good-tasting finish.