Perhaps more than any other of the many big, summertime, outdoor music bash, Outside Lands has distinguished itself. While most fests like Coachella rely on the uniqueness of the location chosen out in the middle of nowhere, OSL, right in the heart of San Francisco, transforms Golden Gate Park into a camp run by “Ranger Dave,” a giant cartoon park ranger that greets guests as they enter the festival. Certain fests focus mostly on specific genres of music, while OSL not only offers an eclectic group of musicians, but also a lineup of food-themed demonstrations and comedy. Aside from the practicality that comes along with them reusing the same set pieces over the years—from the Ranger Dave sculpture to the gazebo at Wine Lands, the candy skulls in the woods at Choco Lands or the demonic stage at Hell Brew—the festival is constantly adding new, non-music attractions. It really is like a summer camp where kids get to return to do their favorite activities as well as enjoy all the upgrades that have occurred over the past year.
On Friday, the Sutro stage was the place to be, with enjoyably non-suffocating crowds for Natalie Prass and Strand Of Oaks. By 2:30, the entire field was flooded for Leon Bridges, and those masses stayed for George Ezra, Glass Animals, Chet Faker and D’Angelo. Despite D’Angelo’s rare, cult-like draw, headliners Mumford And Sons and Amon Tobin held their own on the larger stages. Earlier in the day, St. Vincent, who had perfectly messy makeup, perfectly choreographed movements and a perfectly unwavering voice, approached the crowd while shredding on her guitar, grabbed an audience member’s cell phone and filmed him the way he’d been filming her. Touche, Ms. Clark!
Saturday afternoon, it was all about the Gastro Magic stage, which features hybrid performances of food, performance art, music and comedy. While one of last year’s breakout acts, Big Freedia, wasn’t playing a traditional set this time, she was there to perform for the Bignet Brunch. After twerking powdered sugar all over the stage last year, this year had some more shenanigans from the Queen Diva and her dancers, but the highlight was when a skinny fan climbed onto other audience members and instead of crowd surfing, she crowd twerked. Later that day Dan Deacon and Emilie Baltz‘ act Pop Starz created popsicle microphones that altered the sounds of three different music genres, based on how audience volunteers licked their pops. You had to be there.
And if you were, you were stuffed! The food at the fest continues to not disappoint, with various food areas serving everything from Fabulous Frickle Brothers’ fried pickles, to Pacific Catch’s ahi poke, to Humphry Slocombe’s inventive ice cream flavors like jalapeno cornbread and breakfast surprise. Per usual there were the featured food lands of Choco Lands, Bacon Lands and Cheese Lands, but most of our time was spent at Cheese Lands which was curated by Thalassa Skinner, co-founder of the cheese magazine Culture.
The most exciting addition to Wine Lands area was a put-put course, featuring three holes. After completing each hole players were rewarded with a tasting of a different wine. This year was Wine Land’s biggest success to date, possibly because instead of buying general drink tickets, people loaded their fest wristbands with money beforehand and all they needed to do was scan their wristbands to try their wines of choice using an RFID payment processing system. In other words, less money, more alcohol content! The fest also brought back the Presidio stage, a small portable camper that had been converted into a podium where bluegrass and roots bands like Dustbowl Revival and the B-Stars performed to those enjoying their wine.
By the time Saturday night rolled around, most of the teeming hordes were at Kendrick Lamar by headlining time, but not before Black Keys fans fit in some dancing at their high energy set, though the duo disappointed a bit by finishing its set near 15 minutes early.
Sunday was all about camping out at the Lands End stage, which featured the stacked lineup of Shakey Graves, St. Paul And The Broken Bones, Nate Ruess, Hot Chip, Sam Smith and Elton John. For those who wanted to get away from the pop madness that ensued from Nate Ruess onwards (we heard Metz cringing at the sounds of Ruess’s bubblegum lyrics and beats), Sky Ferreira performed a much anticipated set featuring new songs from her forthcoming album.
With approximately 80 acts at the four main stages, Outside Lands doesn’t overwhelm festgoers as much as Coachella or Lollapalooza, and with temperatures in the 60s, no one is insanely uncomfortable. This leads to a laid-back atmosphere where everyone is nicer, no one is rushing like crazy people and the campers can all just get along.