Paul Simon Surprises With Moving Bob Weir Duet During Hit-Laden Closing Set at Outside Lands

Frank Ockenfels
Paul Simon

Paul Simon was nearly 20 songs deep into his Outside Lands set list on Sunday night (Aug. 11) when he announced that he had a surprise.

In 1967, Simon recalled, he was in San Francisco and seeking out the Grateful Dead with the intent of inviting them to perform at the Monterrey Pop Festival. "I knocked on the door of the house, and Bob Weir opened the door," he said. "We've been friends ever since, but actually, this is our first duet."

The Grateful Dead guitarist then sauntered out in a charcoal poncho and joined Simon for "The Boxer," which they sang and strummed together in the middle of a park that's just a short drive down the hill from their first meeting on that doorstep in Haight-Ashbury. A huge moment for San Francisco and popular music at large, the Simon/Weir duet was but one of several that made this an exceptional performance for Simon and a significant night for the festival, too. Simon no longer tours -- he wrapped his final tour in his native Queens, N.Y. back in September -- but he hopped on the Outside Lands bill, and offered to donate his profits from the festival to the San Francisco Parks Alliance and nonprofit greening organization Friends of the Urban Forest.

The cheers for his charitable effort were just as enthusiastic as the ones that followed Simon's greatest hits, of which there were many. "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard," "That Was Your Mother (Zydeco)" and "Obvious Child" all were met with dancing, swaying and sing-alongs straight through. The Graceland one-two punch of "Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes" and "You Can Call Me Al" proceeded to move even the most bashful dancer to bounce along.

The mood took a turn for the tear-jerking and sincere when Simon joined chamber ensemble yMusic for gorgeous arrangement of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," which they performed with little more than warm strings and Simon's voice as the sun dipped beneath the treeline."Still Crazy After All These Years," the Weir-featuring rendition of "The Boxer" and "American Tune" rounded out the set, and Simon held Weir's hand before the rest of the band joined them for a bow center stage.

Just when the crowd started to thin out, Simon doubled back to his guitars and picked another acoustic one up. He started plucking out the opening notes of "The Sound of Silence," and Golden Gate Park grew still: those who had been moving towards the exits or calling out the names of friends quieted down and rooted their feet, and Simon sang, softly, as thousands of voices eerily joined in.

At the end of a weekend where politics rarely came up and artists refrained from commenting on the disturbing events that have plagued recent headlines, "The Sound of Silence" felt starkly relevant. ("People talking without speaking / people hearing without listening" isn't a lyric, but a regular dynamic for many in this fractured age, and we could use more prophets writing on subway walls, too.) It was easy to forget the real world and its frightening churn up to that point, and Simon didn't break the spell. Instead, he offered a subtle, cathartic nod to the crowd -- a corrective, even -- with his final notes. Music festivals like Outside Lands offer a temporary escape. They end, but if you were listening closely, you can take what you need with you when you go.


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