The charm of the first hour or so of the first day of a music festival often comes from the fact that no matter what plan or itinerary or schedule you make on some helpful “official app,” you will almost immediately forget all of that and experience complete stupefying shellshock. It’s nice, though, because it can lead to some unexpected things once you just let the disorientation take over. A perfect example of that occurred Friday afternoon at Outside Lands when Mikal Cronin performed the opening set at the Toyota Soundwave tent curated by SPINMedia. Audience and artist were equally overwhelmed, and it led to a laid-back performance with a few surprises.
“I didn’t prepare at all for this!” was Cronin’s opening line, which was about the most honest thing you can say at the start of a festival. Throw the plan out the window, it’s nice out, let’s just have fun here. He asked if anyone had requests, and someone shyly chirped out, “Apathy.” Cronin thought for a second, gave an enthusiastic, “Okay!” and then banged out the song on acoustic guitar. It went on like that, and gradually, the audience became more comfortable and excited. More people started shouting out requests, and the set grew into a wonderful sort of conversation. Cronin would sometimes say he needed his band there for that one, or he wouldn’t quite remember how to play something off the cuff, but even after those responses, he’d usually just shrug it off and give it his best, filling in the cracks and spaces in the songs with his vocals, a powerful thing in any context. A highlight was “Better Man,” from last year’s Adult Swim garage rock compilation. He had played it live for the first time the night before at the Independent. This was his first time playing it solo. You can watch that here and check out our gallery from the performance above.