Since 2008, Outside Lands has sneakily become one of the best festivals in the States. The past few years have seen the festival really find its groove, with a mix of legacy acts, rising rappers and hot shot dance music artists, which gives the Bay Area an eclectic palate for to which to quench its thirst. Adding other elements, like the snobby Wine Lands and snobby in a different Beer Lands, the festival wisely is wringing out and calling out elements that make Northern California, well, Northern California. However, something was amiss this year.
To the surprise of this writer, the weather actually wasn’t too bad and dare I say it even cooperated. Per the norm, it was cloudy and a bit chilly, but nothing crippling. Yet, that was one of the few highlights of the weekend. What’s made the vibe of Outside Lands so much cooler than it’s second tier megafest competitors. Having a built in advantage of taking place in Golden Gate Park, the music and activities capture what makes San Francisco so diverse, eclectic and weird. Hiking through the park in and around an excitable audience was always great, even as the dust clouds splattered though the air and invaded our lungs.
Unlike years past, the lineup had little sizzle. Outside of Lionel Richie, the festival booked many of the same musicians who have played — or will be playing — more festivals this years. In years past, OSL took a more ambitious route by booking a slew of local talent and rising stars who hadn’t received billing elsewhere. Thus, the festival became a place to catch the likes of Alabama Shakes and Of Monsters of Men and more just as they were about to take off commercially. The only mainstream festival that boast of that track record is Coachella, but hey, it’s Coachella. LCD Soundsystem pulled an Outkast this year, taking the cash and playing what seems like every festival (though they were quite great live, so no gripes there) and Radiohead were their usual sterling selves.
Down the bill was filled with great (but recycled for 2016) talent as well with the inclusion of the Muppets’ Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem being the most ambitious booking on the bill. Again, partially due to its proximity to Lollapalooza and FYF (that didn’t phase LCD Soundsystem) this year proved to be its Achilles heel. The same goes for the shocking disorganization and confusion that marked the festival’s first day. Many, many attendees complained about the festival’s disorganization especially issues with the credentials and varying degrees of accessing wristbands. It made Friday a headache (it took me nearly two hours to get sorted) and caused many to miss chunks of the day.
Seeing the likes Pearl Jam, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Kanye West, Foo Fighters, Kendrick Lamar, Deadmau5, Tom Petty, Stevie Wonder, D’Angelo and many, many more made braving the confines worth and heading up 500 miles worth it. Seeing pop-up shows by E-40/Warren G. and Big Boi were fun and spoke to the spirit of the festival. And that’s not to say there weren’t highlights like seeing Kamasi Washington dazzle the crowd, seeing Third Eye Blind (who knew 2016 would be so kind to them?) zip through some Bowie covers, and of course, Chance the Rapper. Outside Lands still had its moments despite it’s many faults.
With the focus heading more towards the local flavor, literally local chefs were stars in the Gastromagic area, there could be a pivot in the event’s planning that focuses on San Francisco culture as a whole. Highlighting local food will be great for locals, and even interesting for us out of towners to get acclimated to what’s left of the local flavor. But why not use that area for another smaller stage where singer/songwriters perform acoustic sets? This would have been a great year for that with Ryan Adams and a few other talented musicians of that ilk headlining that stage.
Hopefully, this is a one year glitch with the 10th edition of Outside Lands coming up next year. Every festival has off years and apparently Outside Lands is susceptible to that as well. Hopefully organizers will recognize this quickly and make amends to ensure that the festival comes off smoother next year. Besides, it’s San Francisco, and usually that’s enough to counteract all of the usual bellyaching.