Now on its eighth year, San Francisco's Outside Lands Music N Arts Festival has quietly emerged as one of the best festivals in the country. Though it's not nearly as ballyhooed as Coachella, Bonnaroo or Lollapalooza, legions of fans descend upon San Francisco's Golden Gate Park to enjoy three days of music, booze, food comedy and anything else you can associate with an event of this kind. Fusing established rock bands, in-demand rappers and both emerging and superstar dance music talents isn't easy, yet Outside Lands has become a home for all of the above. Along with it's culinary offerings, which included the traditional Winelands and Beerlands for people who like that kind of stuff and a wider range of delicious local culinary samplings, Outside Lands should be an event you should hop on a plane or drive up the coast to check out.
Fortunately for you, we were on-site and here's what we liked, and didn't like.
Digital Detox area: Ah tranquility. Even at a festival in the middle of a public park, there's a place to unplug and hide from the hustle and bustle. The Digital Detox and Camp Grounds provided festivalgoers a reprieve from the noise by giving attendees the opportunity to willingly unplug. You could live like a refined person –sipping tea, making arts and crafts or even typing a letter –from the 1920s, but nonetheless, the area was relaxing, even rejuvenating. It's nice to have the ability to sneak off and relax, even as chaos surrounds you.
D'Angelo and the Vanguard: Anyone who doesn't think D'Angelo isn't the baddest man on the planet is clearly from another planet. The R&B wizard dazzled the large crowd who spurned seeing the first 60 percent of the Mumford N Sons set –more on them later –and got to experience why there's been so much fuss about a guy who released his first album in 14 years last December. His loose grooves, spunky jams and fluid musicianship that was accentuated by the outstanding musicianship by his outstanding backing band The Vanguard continues to demonstrate why the Richmond-native is easily one of the most talented songwriters and performers of his generation. His live set had people mesmerized by what they heard and with good reason. If you're going to FYF, add D'Angelo and the Vanguard to you schedule or else you'll likely be missing the best set of the event.
The weather: Believe it or not, the famous Mark Twain quote was proven wrong! Well, mostly. Sunny and in the low 70s for Friday and late Saturday, Golden Gate Park was a wonderful place to spend a late week afternoon. Though there were nervous moments were crowds and a slight haze seeped in, overall, the sun won out and the result was much more enjoyable festival. San Francisco in August is hit or miss, and mostly miss. On these day, there were fewer places you'd rather be in the world than by the Bay. Sunday, not so much.
The alternative activities: The beauty of Outside Lands is that it is one of the first festivals to encourage actual events that promote local culture outside of music. In the mood to knock down a few craft draft beers? Then you probably headed over to the Beerlands where you could sample local breweries. More of a wino? Then Winelands was your spot to enjoy a nice pinot noir. Even better, if you're a fan of comedy, then you could check to the comedy stage –more on that later– and sneak in a few laughs. Outside Lands is primarily a music festival, but even so, you have options now and the event is wildly underrated in terms of its culture influencing other large scale events.
Kendrick Lamar: What's left to be said about the Compton rapper? Though he should have featured at the main stage instead of the Black Keys –no slouches either — Lamar was easily the biggest draw at the festival. Crowds stretched beyond view and the rapper's stage performance has vastly improved in the past few years. Finally, Lamar has reached superstardom and this confidence has translated into a power, emotive live show. People may forget, but for years, ScHoolboy Q was the best showman from the Black Hippy crew. Not anymore. Few rappers can united a crowd like Kendrick Lamar, and in front over 40,000-plus, he proved why he's among rap's top talents.
Next page: The Worst of Outside Lands
Location, location, location: As great as Outside Lands was for music, the reconfiguration of the festival's site was confusing. For starters, moving Winelands and its brand new mini-golf course out of site the main passageways was a huge minus. If you didn't take the short to cut the Land's End stage, you may not have discovered one of the festival's signature events. Even worse was the comedy tent. Few, if any attendees knew where the tent was located and the ones that did couldn't get into the tiny space. How's this for an idea: why not make a separate comedy stage so that everyone can check out the terrific array of comedians next year?
The bros: Yes, it's lame to blame them, but San Francisco's bros are just as bad –if not worse –than the 22-year-old neon tank top dudes at Coachella. At the ones who frolic in the sun have some character. Here, the tech guys had a sense of entitlement and a smugness that well beyond the days' early fog. Their abrasiveness thankfully wasn't contagious, but nonetheless, the fact that it was there was annoying. It's one thing to be a post-college kid getting down at Coachella, but being a middle-aged douchebag because you're middle-to-upper management at a tech company who freaks out when his drink isn't made correctly is entirely different.
Mumford N Sons: Though they've been headliners for the past few years, the British folk outfit has never quit settled as a top-of-the-bill festival act. Their widely panned new album was on display during their Friday night set. Unfortunately for the Londoners, their new schtick doesn't translate well at an event like this. While the music was fine and mostly harmless, the crowd wasn't into it enough to justify their lofty booking. It's safe to assume that if a festival was a middle of the road pop act who won't offend anyone to headline their event, then Mumford N Sons is your group.
The Dust: It's prevalent at every festival, but taking place in the middle of a park means dirt, and you can do the math from there. Unless you had a bandana or bought one at one of the many merch stands, it's likely that you'll get asthma from the amount of dust kicked up. That comes with the territory however, after seven years, you'd think that the layout would be a bit better, and that includes the massive improvements in the spacing and utilization of the forest area. But dust is dust, and no matter where it is, it sucks.
Mini-golf: The premise was awesome. Mini-Golf next to a place to go wine tasting. But to pay $10 to hit a ball for 5 minutes. Gimme a break!
Daniel Kohn is a writer based in Southern California. With bylines in an assortment of outlets, Kohn primarily specializes in music with other interests ranging from sports to food. As a transplant, Kohn loves the beautiful weather and is glad he no longer has to deal with brutal winters. If you see him, say hi and of course, he’s always willing to down a beer or two…if you’re paying.