Now in its 11th year, the Outside Lands Music Festival is safely in the conversation for the best music festival in the U.S., right alongside Lollapalooza, Coachella and Bonnaroo as a destination event.
Between Aug. 10 and 12, thousands of festivalgoers from throughout the Bay Area and beyond will pack the Polo Fields at Golden Gate Park to see R&B and pop icon Janet Jackson, soul crooner The Weeknd, U.K. songstress Florence and The Machine and dozens of established and up-and-coming artists. Perhaps most notably, the festival features two female-led headliners following 10 years without any.
Allen Scott, vice president at Another Planet Entertainment, which produces Outside Lands,
said part of the reason for the festival’s prior underrepresentation of women at the top of the lineup had to do with the shifting music industry and which artists fans wanted to see.
“But certainly, there’s a climate out there right now with the #MeToo movement, the women’s power movement that is long overdue,” Scott said. “And we’ve listened to those concerns and actively went out this year looking for at least one female headliner.
Another Planet had approached Florence and the Machine about performing at the festival in years past, and this time she accepted, he said. Not only are two of the three festival headliners women, but so are all three of the festival’s Barbary comedy stage headliners.
“Sixty percent of our audience is actually female,” Scott said.
Not just music
Having attracted the biggest pop, rock, hip-hop and electronica acts in the world to stages inside the fog-drenched, Cyprus-tree canopied Golden Gate Park, Another Planet and co-producer Superfly are constantly looking to enhance the experience of the hundreds of thousands who visit every year. A huge reason is the proliferations of music festivals nationwide and a homogenization of the music performers.
“It seems that every region has one, if not multiple, music festivals. As it happens, it gets more and more difficult to book unique lineups,” Scott said. “A music festival is more than just the music. … There’s so many moments that people have during the festival. These special elements are what stand out for the different festivals. That’s how you have to be unique as the music becomes more similar. We try to excite ourselves. If we do that, we know we will affect the audience.”
This year will see an inaugural speaker series called Discussions About Virtually Anything (DAVE, as in Ranger Dave, the festival’s mascot). California Lt. Governor Newsom and TV personality Bill Nye are among the presenters, who will lead discussions and answer questions from festivalgoers.
Producers had sought to get Nye for the festival after seeing how successful his appearances became at the Life is Beautiful festival in Las Vegas.
In addition to the successful Beer Lands, Wine Lands, a larger GastroMagic culinary stage (in a new location), the Barbary, the lauded Taste of the Bay Area food offerings, this year will include a marijuana-mini-community called Grass Lands. This makes Outside Lands the first U.S. music festival to official engage cannabis users—not that many needed an excuse to partake.
Grass Lands will include education and presentation of cannabis products and foods. No THC products will be made available to purchase this year, but festivalgoers will be able to sign up for home deliveries.
“The regulations, on the state level and the local level, are still being worked out,” Scott said. “It’s a little bit of a moving target. We’re trying to figure this out as best as we can as we build this out.”
The producers have been planning Grass Lands for more than a year, anticipating, and perhaps by next year, concertgoers will be able to buy products with THC in Golden Gate Park. For this year, Scott said, the new element is meant to educate and provide what he called “social media moments.” The producers were inspired by the Museum of Ice Cream as they were planning the layout.
“We celebrate so much what is great with San Francisco and the Bay Area through the food, the wine, the beer, the art. This is the next step in that evolution,” Scott said.
Other activities include a bubble tea party, an area where concertgoers can buy and then customize official festival merch with patches, embroidery and more, a smaller take on festival classic Choco-Lands and the return of Cocktail Magic, mini golf and a high-end four-course outdoor dining experience.
Location, location, location
Arguably the festival’s biggest asset is the location. Most festivals are on asphalt. Coachella is hot and dusty. Bonnaroo is in a muddy field. Lollapalooza, at Chicago’s Grant Park, isn’t a sore spot, but everything is wide open. Like San Francisco, Golden Gate Park has microclimates and different geographies that add to its mystique. Scott, whose Another Planet also produces Life is Beautiful in downtown Las Vegas, said Outside Lands has the most beautiful setting nationwide.
The acts, too, are often in awe of the foggy mornings, wooded trails between stages and trees that are lit up in bold colors as night falls each day. Even artists who have yet to play the festival have heard stories from their peers.
“Golden Gate Park looks so beautiful in photos,” said Michigan singer-songwriter BØRNS, who is playing his first Outside Lands next week. Folky indie rock artist LP (Laura Pergolizzi) should fit right in at the former haunt of Janis Joplin. As often as she’s toured through San Francisco, it will be her first time at the park.
“I’m psyched to play,” she said.
Each year, Another Planet books a handful of acts on the verge of breaking out. For London chanteuse Freya Ridings and Phoenix pop singer-songwriter Kailee Morgue, Outside Lands is their first U.S. festival. After playing early in the day, Morgue plans to enjoy time as a fan.
“So not only have I not been to Outside Lands, but I haven’t been to any festivals,” she said. “I’ll experience it as an artist and someone in the audience!”
Many, though not all, artists are well aware of Golden Gate Park’s cultural significance in music, from the 1960s and the Summer of Love, onward. Those who do, like Carlos Arévalo of indie rockers Chicano Batman, approach the experience with a sense of awe.
“We look forward to sharing our music with everyone in the beautiful nature that engulfs the festival as well as in place that historically has been the backdrop for several culturally shifting musical milestones,” he said. “We feel the spirit of our music parallels the spirit of the park.”
Each year, the promoters have made a point to include local artists, giving fans of bigger acts a taste of the music in their community. While Metallica and Neil Young have taken victory laps with their performances, and some artists like electronic musician Tycho have grown to acclaim alongside the festival, others like long-time San Francisco garage rock band Hot Flash Heat Wave will be playing at the park for the first time.
“We did get tackled by security trying to sneak in last year; can’t wait to play this year,” Hot Flash Heat Wave bassist-singer Ted Davis said.
Bay Area funk and soul band Sweet Plot will perform for the second consecutive year, graduating from a smaller stage.
“We were given two one-hour sets with a 15-minute break on both Saturday and Sunday,” Daniel Beckerman said. “After concluding our set on Sunday, we quickly put our instruments down and sprinted across the festival to watch The Who deliver a killer set. We’ll never forget the feeling of that.”
Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.