Now in its sixth year, San Francisco's Outside Lands has flown under the radar with the larger music listening public (i.e. Coachella people). Located in the sprawling Golden Gate Park, the festival has evolved from an ambitious project into one of the must-see festivals on the summer calendar. With six stages spread across the grounds, there's plenty for festival goers to take in when they aren't navigating their way through thick crowds and the park's forest. Using the music lineup to draw people to the event, the festival takes the finer aspects of Bay Area culture and allows for attendees to see that there's more to San Francisco than the basic tourist traps. Over the course of the weekend, we were able to take in everything Outside Lands had to offer. Here are some of the best and worst moments from our weekend in Golden Gate Park.
An actual arts festival that showcases the arts: Many festivals will finish with the so-and-so music and arts festival. Most of the time, they could easily leave out the last two words since there is little to any arts that are recognized outside of what you're consuming with your ears. Outside Lands is a bit different. Near the middle of how the park is laid out, there is a decent sized area where you can explore what local artists and vendors have to offer. These two double-sided rows of shops in the main area, along with a string in other the side of the passage way showcases some local businesses and artists who sell their work (the original concert posters were a big highlight and pretty badass) that you would feel bad not buying something after a brief conversation. The Bay Area-based artists we encountered were engaging and friendly; the kind of people you'd be happy to support in their artistic endeavors.
Food: The Bay Area's finest local catering companies, food trucks and restaurants descend join forces to serve the finest, most gourmet delights at any large-scale event. You can get food ranging from sushi burritos to specialized sausages, or if you want something a little simpler, scrumptious cheeseburgers and slices of pizza more than suffice. Regardless of what you sank your teeth into, at one point or another the weekend wouldn't be complete without noshing on some garlic fries. A long-time Bay Area staple (the garlic comes from nearby Gilroy), this side dish can go with 75 percent of the food. The one drawback: many of the places were cash only. If you didn't have an Alexander Hamilton on you, the extremely unforgiving ATM laughs at you when you have to fork over $4 for the service charge.
Nine Inch Nails: Fans had a dilemma on Saturday night: to see Phoenix at Twins Peak stage or Nine Inch Nails at Land's End. Many of the 25-and-under crowd who gravitated towards the French alt rockers missed one of the great live bands. Performing in front of a wall of screens, Trent Reznor and company played easily one of the most memorable sets in the festival's history. Unlike many of the bands that battled sound issues throughout the day, Nine Inch Nails were in stunning form. There weren't as many people to see the band as there were for Paul McCartney the previous night (the rich old folks don't like challenging music), but this wasn't a show for the sing-along type. The stunning strobe light combinations added to the intensity of the industrial-rock pioneer's furious set. Despite a four-year layoff, Reznor and his sharp backing band rolled through hits like "Closer” and raging set enders "Head Like a Hole” and "Hurt,” while weaving in a couple of new songs as well.
The security: For someone who surprising, almost borderline shocking to include San Francisco's finest in a piece like this. Unlike the police departments in Southern California, the SFPD didn't appear too concerned about busting attendees who wanted to partake in their own fun. Instead, they were there to observe and to ensure that nothing too rowdy went down. On top of that, the cops were friendly, helpful and were willing to assist promptly when called into today. When they helped a girl who appeared to be on a wee bit too many drugs, they move briskly and efficiently to move her from the middle of the thousands deep crowd into a side area where they were met by a waiting ambulance that moved her to safety.
Winelands and Beerlands: For anyone who enjoys fine craft beers or winetasting, then Outside Lands is the festival for you. The Winelands tasting area by the Twin Peaks stage was one of the busiest side areas of the weekend. For $2-$3 depending on the vendor, you could taste many of the vineyards that were offering samplings and if you like what you tasted, then glasses were priced at around $10. Closer to the main area, there were beers on tap, which allowed beer snobs had their choice of a number of the California-based beers to choose from. Priced between $8-$11 per glass, the beer tasting was bustling for most of the weekend. If you're into tastings, then Outside Lands is easily the most refined music festival on the concert calendar.
Up Next: The Worst of Outside Lands
The weather: Mark Twain had it right when he said, "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” With a dense fog that rolls in around 4 p.m., the festival's atmosphere takes a sharp turn before nightfall hits. Unlike some of the blazing hot desert festivals or even evening shows on a beach, this crappy temperature is unfit for a summer festival. Why not plan this festival for October when the weather is fully cooperative? Granted there's a lot going on in the city in that prime month, including Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in Golden Gate Park along with the Treasure Island Music Festival. But even so, that type of environment would allow Outside Lands to flourish, even if that meant competing with Austin City Limits. Many festivals take place during its municipalities' finest seasonal weather partially to attract tourists from out of town. Although locals probably like it better this way, for us out-of-towners, it would be nice to enjoy the festival without wearing three layers of clothing.
The lineup: Compared to the bookings of the past few years, this year's lineup as a whole was relatively underwhelming. The lineup wasn't as deep as other festivals, which gave fan little motivation to check out the music until the late afternoon. The main stages didn't suffer as much as smaller Sutro and Panhandle stages. These two stages are where young up-and-comers can be seen in a relatively intimate environment where they can really engage with the music. But this year's mid-card lineup teetered the line between meh and whatever and Jurassic 5 was the only hip-hop act booked. Fans wondered why there wasn't more hip-hop on the bills in addition to J5. There were a few highlights, like Jessie Ware, King Tuff and Dawes, but for the most part the side stages were relatively unmemorable. This would offer a much more memorable experience than banking on the nostalgic irony of a group like Hall & Oates or relying on festival staples like Red Hot Chili Peppers (they've appeared at nearly every prominent festival over the past two years).
Curfew: On one hand, it's entirely understandable that the adjacent Richmond and Sunset neighborhoods want festival attendees out of their lovely neighborhoods at a decent hour. We get it: you clearly aren't cool with a rowdy group of boozed up bros and drugged up teens roaming your streets. But to end at 9:55 seems a wee bit early considering what a moneymaker this event is for city. This isn't to say Outside Lands should end at 2:30 in the morning, but instead, how about an extra hour? Maybe that could beef up the lineup a bit and besides, its not like the festival is taking place on a weekday night.