Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters performed Friday evening before headliner Neil Young at Outside Lands 2012. (Photo: Jeff Miller)
A year ago at Outside Lands, manager Nicky Berger of Berger Management was in a nail-biting position: side-stage, as his first client, Grouplove, played to a massive throng of people on one of the festival's smallest stages.
Now, just a year later the band has a bonafide radio hit in "Tongue Tied," and when we caught up with Berger (who works with the band alongside his brother, Ben) during Beck's downbeat mainstage set on the first day of this year's Outside Lands, he excitedly pointed out how far the band (the members of whom were at the festival -- as fans) has come in the last year. "This year has been amazing. Since Grouplove's very first show in May 2010, it's been non-stop. Their album came out last September, they had an iPod ad in December, and from last December until now have been touring touring touring touring. But now, every time we hit the a new city, we go the next size venue up."
Beck took the stage on day one Friday afternoon. (Photo: Jeff Miller)
The band's headline tour is hitting such major-market venues as the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC, Terminal 5 in New York, and Los Angeles's Wiltern Theater. "We were opening in those venues a couple months ago," Berger says, "So to be headlining them is amazing." The band also is heading to Japan for the Summer Sonic festival before returning stateside. Their schedule has understandably been keeping Berger busy. "We haven't even had a moment to stop and think about [adding more clients]. Grouplove is our only focus right now."
The members of Big Gigantic flank manager Ben Baruch. (Photo: Jeff Miller)
The band's crazily-bearded guitarist Sean Gadd wasn't the only non-performer roaming the grounds. Enormously tall ginger Brett Dennen was first spotted in the will call line before popping up in just about every backstage area (seriously, did someone clone him?), along with Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse, who could have just about curated the festival based on acts he's worked with --- despite telling Billboard his plan for the weekend was to go incognito, the uber-producer was spotted watching a ton of artists he's worked with, ranging from Norah Jones to Beck to Electric Guest (he was also in the upper decks for a jaw-dropping set from rowdy-rockers Portugal. The Man).
The Collective's Paige Elkington poses with Portugal. The Man's Noah Gersh. (Photo: Jeff Miller)
This weather may have stayed cold and misty throughout the weekend (leading to some crispy, moody vibes at Sigur Ros' day 2 nighttime set) but the backstage scene heated up a bit, with David Cross and Amber Tamblyn checking out Father John Misty on the small Panhandle stage, which's where we caught up with Dangerbird general manager Matt Solodky after a set from newcomer soul man Michael Kiwanuka, who wore a heart-shaped pair of glasses handed to him by a fan for most of the set. Dangerbird's Fitz and the Tantrums are one of this year's most unexpected success stories, and he was still raving about their day one set before heading over to see hip-hopper Big Boi on the Hellman Hollow stage.
Soul newcomer Michael Kiwanuka with glasses gleaned from a fan. (Photo: Jeff Miller)
"It's an incredible year for the label," Solodky said. "We're putting out records by Silversun Pickups, Sea Wolf, Minus the Bear, and then Fitz by the end of the year... Having Fitz at the festival feeds into his ethos of touring non-stop," Solodky said. "[He's] working non-stop, whether he's on an album cycle or not."
Solodky was hanging out with New West's VP of marketing and media, Amanda Hale-Ornelas, who was at the festival with Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello, whose political Nightwatchman persona has now become a full-band project. She spoke with Billboard about the label's new drive to expand from their reputation as a roots-only clearinghouse. "We're really working on expanding our label, and changing up a little bit from what people might expect," she said. "We signed The Whigs, who have a new album out in September. We have Ponderosa, whose new album is more psychedelic than the southern-rock they've released in the past. And we also have a new John Hiatt record. We're trying to stay true, but we're trying to sign some new artists along the way."
(L-R): Michele Fisher, Danny Ornelas, Dangerbird Records general manager Matt Solodky, and New West Records' Amanda Hale-Ornelas. (Photo: Jeff Miller)
Manager Ben Baruch was clearly in a celebratory mood backstage after his client, Big Gigantic, blasted the Twin Peaks stage with "Star Wars"-teasing electro-jams, accented by saxophone blows and big-time drumming from Jeremy Salken, who, by the end of the set, was using not one but two drumsticks per hand -- at least while he could keep a hold of them, with the odd stick flying up front into the audience and back towards the back of the stage in a performance highlight.
Tom Morello shows up for a secret show. (Photo: Jeff Miller)
Ben Kramer, co-head of Aquarium Drunkard's sister label Autumn Tone, was also at the fest pushing his signing Futurebirds, who had the honor of opening the festival with the first set on Friday as well as a late-night club show on Friday night -- and who, with a stroke of good luck, could find themselves in Grouplove's enviable position this time next year. Even if that doesn't happen, his take on the fest's benefit was a classic one -- and speaks to the now-proven staying-power of major-market festivals, and the impact they can have on a baby band like his.
Autumn Tone label co-head Ben Kramer. (Photo: Jeff Miller)
"For a band like Futurebirds, you get to be in front of thousands of people who've never seen you before. For a band that's opening the festival, that's for people who just want to see music. They want to see the first band -- that's great. They get in front of a whole new audience."