GastroMagic at Outside Lands, SF

The festival’s dedicated stage exploring food and music, from interactive popsicle mics from Dan Deacon and Emilie Baltz to twerking for beignets

In its eighth year, SF’s Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival in Golden Gate Park has grown to be a weekend that celebrates music, comedy, art, design and conservation—along with food and drink. This year Django Django, Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Toro y Moi took the stage in a diverse line-up of bands and Tig Notaro headlined the Barbary Comedy & Improv tent. For the food, Ari Feingold created a microcosm of the Bay Area culinary scene with bites from Michelin-starred chef Michael Mina’s Tailgate to the soon-to-open Sababa falafel.

Superfly‘s Kerry Black co-curates the GastroMagic stage with ChefsFeed—and this year’s event was the second incarnation of their GastroMagic experiment. With so much going on at the festival, it can be difficult to know where to begin, but you’re more than likely to end up delighted. “Outside Lands is like a choose your own adventure game,” says Black.

“When we started Outside Lands, in order to differentiate the festival, we wanted to have a bunch of stuff going on along with music. We tried to highlight things we thought were great in San Francisco,” says Black. “Now we are trying to figure out how to push the ball forward—how to get more creative in this world. We came up with GastroMagic to take the idea of food programming and make it really fun. We started to create something where we could meld food programming with music, comedy, and art to create something new.”

For the second time on the GastroMagic stage, Beignets & Bounce Brunch with Big Freedia and Brenda’s Soul Food were raucous crowd-pleasers, with audience members lining up to twerk for beignets. This year’s line-up also included Belcampo Meat Co butchering pigs during a breakdance performance. Chris Cosentino made a lamb heart salad while Jeremy Fish drew his interpretation of a smiling Cosentino unzipped, revealing adorable livestock inside his abdomen.

Karl Denson gathered a big crowd for his Sexual Chocolate set playing “Greatest Love of All” and “Coming to America” while Donald Wressell created a Guittard chocolate forest. Mac Sabbath raged while chef Richie Nakano made Nakano Nuggets for an outrageous send up of the golden arches. “We are trying to test boundaries, be creative, and take it to another level,” adds Black of the collaborations, in which music meets cooking, resulting in a wild performance.

PopStars—like much of my work in food—aspires to be the next generation of dinner theater, where the food is the show

For one of the most technically challenging stunts of the weekend, experiential artist and “sensory storyteller” Emilie Baltz (former Creative Director of the Museum of Sex) took the stage in a colorful ’80s-inspired jumpsuit with electronic musician Dan Deacon to create the PopStars event. A dozen or so audience volunteers were invited to take part and given popsicle microphones in groups of four. The first group licked their microphones to trigger sounds inspired by Brian Eno and ambient instrumentation. The second group was given rhythm and percussion with bongos, cowbells, wood blocks and drum-kit sounds, while the third group finished the show with the blues. Baltz says, “PopStars—like much of my work in food—aspires to be the next generation of dinner theater, where the food is the show.”

When asked why she made popsicle microphones, Baltz explains, “I’ve always wanted a band and was super inspired by a collaboration a few years ago with my friend Carla Diana where we developed Lickestra, a licking ice cream orchestra. That fueled my dream of creating a touring band that people play with parts of their body otherwise ignored.” Baltz made the popsicles from hacked hand-held microphones modified with 3D-printed parts that hold wiring connecting to a Makey Makey. The custom popsicles are inserted into the mics, and trigger sounds when they are licked or touched. “This works through a custom piece of software written in processing that sends MIDI signals to Ableton Live through a MaxMSP patch,” says Baltz. “The MIDI signal is triggered when the popsicle is licked, setting off a series of tracks and tones composed by Dan Deacon.”

Whenever anyone says, ‘This is gonna be so weird,’ with a big smile, I know I’ve found a great collaborator.

After all of her experimentation and preparation, Baltz is happy with the results: “Dan Deacon is a joy to work with. This performance of PopStars was especially rewarding because of his brain and enthusiasm. Whenever anyone says, ‘This is gonna be so weird,’ with a big smile, I know I’ve found a great collaborator.”

Baltz and Deacon had never attempted this kind of performance together before—and most of all, they were relieved that none of the popsicles melted too fast. “The only thing I would add next round are mouth cams,” Baltz says. “Everyone should get a better view of all that licking!”

When GastroMagic returns next summer to Outside Lands, encores of butchering, twerking and licking are sure to be among the events, along with whatever else the curators can dream up for their stage nestled among the trees of Golden Gate Park.

Images courtesy of Paige K Parsons