– Scott T. Sterling, CBS Local

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – Now in its fifth year, San Francisco’s Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival found the sweet spot in 2012. Featuring a rock-solid line-up of A-List top billings — Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Metallica and Stevie Wonder— this year’s edition boasted the most perfectly curated slate of headliners at any U.S fest this year.

PHOTOS: Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival 2012

On Friday’s opening night, it was the rough and ragged Americana rock of Neil Young & Crazy Horse that topped the bill on the main stage. Delivering a powerful set loaded with brand new songs slated for an upcoming new album, Young led his charges through extended freeform jams (opening number “Love and Only Love” lasted a good 15 minutes), turning down the distortion for acoustic classic “The Needle and the Damage Done.” Cranking the noise back up for “Cinnamon Girl” and the set-ending stomp of “Hey, Hey, My My (Into the Black),” Neil Young & Crazy Horse out-rocked bands half their age, showing exactly why Young’s influence is so pervasive across huge swaths of popular music.

Saturday night’s bill-topping set from hometown heroes Metallica was a brain-melting two-and-a-half-hour heavy metal extravaganza. Charging through their storied discography, the band cranked out a parade of fan favorites like “Master of Puppets,” “Ride the Lightning,” and “One” before ending on an explosive and fireworks-laden “Enter Sandman” that generated multiple mosh pits throughout the polo field. The encores included old-school numbers like “Creeping Death” and “Seek & Destroy.” From the production to the performance, Metallica’s show at this year’s Outside Lands was truly one for the ages.

Before Metallica’s set, Norah Jones did a somewhat more laid back performance.  She has been performing The Grateful Dead’s “It Must Have Been The Roses” on her current tour, and The Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir joined her for her rendition at Outside Lands.

After the all-American rock parade of the first two night’s headliners, Stevie Wonder owned Sunday night with an overwhelming and emotional set chock full of undeniable classics. Touching on rock, funk, soul, pop and everything in between, Wonder’s set list featured timeless hits including “Master Blaster (Jammin’),” “Sir Duke,” “Signed Sealed Delivered,” “Living for the City,” “Superstition,” “My Cherie Amour” — generations of melodies and memories turned the main stage polo field into a massive dance party and sing-along. He paid tribute to the late Michael Jackson with an upbeat take on “The Way You Make Me Feel,” also covering Marvin Gaye (“How Sweet It Is”), John Lennon (“Imagine”) and Jimmy Reed (“You Got Me Runnin’”) Peppering his show with inspirational messages of positivity, Stevie Wonder matched the bombast of Neil Young and Metallica with the enduring power of love.

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