SAN FRANCISCO, CA - FEBRUARY 23: Mike Deni of Geographer performs at The Independent as part of the 2011 Noise Pop Festival o
Tim Mosenfelder

Outside Lands Music Festival is packed with impressive artists this year, covering almost every musical genre (Stevie Wonder, Skrillex, Regina Spektor and Dispatch, to name a few). With so many big names, you may gloss over the smaller acts while figuring out your schedule – after all, you’ve never even heard of the bands at the bottom of the lineup, right?

Well, not exactly. You may not realize it, but several of the small acts playing at Outside Lands have some pretty well-known songs that have been featured in commercials, social action campaigns and even as Starbucks featured music. Check out these five artists who seem obscure, but whose songs precede their names – we’re willing to bet you’ll recognize at least one of them:

Sean Hayes

Guitarist and vocalist Sean Hayes is the definition of a true independent musician: unlike most “indie” musicians, Hayes does not want to be signed by a label. “I just keep doing my thing, slow and steady,” he told the San Diego U-T. “People find out about it, and I’ve been making a living off of it for a few years now.” And make a living off of it he has – his soulful folk songs have been featured on several TV soundtracks, including NBC’s Parenthood and HBO’s Bored to Death. His biggest claim to fame is his song “Powerful Stuff,” which was featured in a commercial for the Subaru Forester. If you aren’t familiar with his music from watching TV, you still may recognize him from the 2008 film Evolution: The Musical! in his breakout role as Jesus.

Yellow Ostrich

Three years ago, Yellow Ostrich frontman Alex Schaff was making music alone in his bedroom with a 4-track recorder. His debut album, The Mistress, was well-received, but with its overuse of vocal loops, it was clear that there were shortcomings to his one-man-band format. Since then, he has recruited two more musicians and Yellow Ostrich has evolved into a bona fide band – and a talented one, at that. The AV Club described their album Strange Lands as “built for a frenetic live show,” which is good news for Outside Lands festivalgoers. You may recognize their song “Whale,” which was used as part of a campaign to launch, the first online crisis network with 100 percent of its volunteers certified in crisis intervention. The site was also promoted by and the film The Beaver.

Michael Kiwanuka

You should get used to hearing the name Michael Kiwanuka. The British soul musician is steadily gaining popularity, after opening for Adele on her 2011 tour and winning the BBC Sound of 2012 poll. Kiwanuka, who is the British son of Ugandan parents, grew up idolizing Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding, both of whose work are prevalent in his jazzy sound. You may recognize his music (or his Home Again album cover) from your local Starbucks, as his song “I Need Your Company” was featured as a Starbucks Pick of the Week, and his CDs are sold at most locations. (To learn more about Kiwanuka, read Fuse’s profile of him.)


It is only fitting that a quirky band like Geographer doesn’t have an ordinary origin story: the band was formed as a direct result of lead singer Michael Deni finding a synthesizer on the street and deciding to experiment with it. Deni once said that he wanted to make “soulful music from outer space,” and that is exactly what Geographer does, with an electronic, swirling sound that envelops the listener. You may recognize their songs “Kites,” “Verona” and “Paris,” which were featured on MTV’s The Buried Life, or the beginning of their song “The Morning,” which was used in the official trailer for New York, I Love You (it’s the song that plays before the fade into Phoenix’s "1901").

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band

Classic New Orleans brass band music is famous for spontaneity: it is characterized by unplanned musical arrangement, and is mainly played at parades and funerals. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band essentially reinvented that tradition when they formed in 1977, utilizing musical arrangements and incorporating funk, be-bop and blues, while still maintaining an authentic sound. In today’s field of successful New Orleans brass bands, you'd be hard-pressed to find a band that hasn’t been influenced by the Dirty Dozen. If you like Elvis Costello, Norah Jones or the Black Crowes, you may recognize their work from collaborative tracks. Their best-known collaboration was with Modest Mouse on the album Good News for People Who Love Bad News, specifically on the tracks “Horn Intro” and “This Devil’s Workday.”

Do you think there are any other Outside Lands artists who deserve more recognition? Sound off in the comments section to start getting the word out!