Roughly 200,000 music fans flocked to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park last weekend for the 9th annual Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival, headlined by LCD Soundsystem, Radiohead and Lionel Richie.
Festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo may get more attention, but there’s a lot to love about Outside Lands: the diverse slate of musicians, the unbelievable food options, the magical forest-like setting. Here are some of the reasons why we keep going back year after year:
Incredible headliners like LCD Soundsystem and Radiohead
Two of indie rock’s biggest icons headlined this year’s festival, both coming off multi-year hiatuses ― LCD Soundsystem split in 2011 before reuniting earlier this year, and Radiohead’s last live show before this tour was in 2012. Both bands made triumphant returns with their headlining sets. LCD’s Friday set was a nonstop dance party, kicking off with “Us v. Them” and winding through fan-favorites before closing out with the anthemic “All My Friends.” And on Saturday, Radiohead enchanted the crowd with new tracks as well as deeper cuts, culminating with a “Karma Police” sing-a-long. These two acts alone were worth the entry price.
The focus on a diverse experience
Part of us wishes there were lengthy intermissions between sets so we could spend hours exploring all of the festival’s so-called “lands.” More so than any other music festival, Outside Lands is dedicated to providing attendees a multifaceted weekend. You can taste more than 120 wines in Wine Lands and then devour freshly melted raclette next door in Cheese Lands. There are also lands dedicated to beer, bacon, chocolate and clams; live cooking shows at the GastroMagic stage; standup comedy at the Barbary tent; and artists live-painting installations. Other favorite amusements this year included Dave Eggers’ silver bear-shaped pedicab roving around the park, the return of the Samba Stilt Circus’s drum party and the mini golf course.
The dedication to environmental friendliness
This is San Francisco after all. Recycle and compost bins are at every trash station, biking there is made easy by a valet service that will watch over your wheels while you’re at the fest, and refillable water stations keep people from buying wasteful bottled water. And this year, a “Trash Talk Redux” event at the GastroMagic stage featured chefs competing “Iron Chef”-style to see who could create the best meals using food discarded by festival vendors and ugly produce.
The undercard is just as strong as the top-billed acts
While it’s hard to outdo the likes of James Murphy and Thom Yorke at the top of a lineup card, this year’s roster was extremely solid. One of our favorite sets was an energetic Sunday afternoon performance by Chance the Rapper, who drew one of the biggest crowds of the weekend to the main stage. Other highlights: the sultry sounds of Miguel, St. Lucia’s tropical pop, Lana del Rey’s dreamy Sunday night set closing out the festival and Peaches turning up the tiny Panhandle stage with backup dancers dressed in giant vagina costumes (that is until they stripped down to almost nothing.)
No cash? No problem
While other festivals are moving toward smartphone payment systems, Outside Lands took it a step further the past two years and allowed attendees to load money right onto their wristband. But be careful: you’ll find yourself dropping a lot more dough on Wine Lands tastings when you don’t even have to reach for your wallet.
The food, obviously
Like most festivals, Outside Lands now promotes its food offerings almost as much as the music itself. Gone are the days of lukewarm pizza slices and Bud Light. This year, attendees could munch on everything from poke to pastrami fries to porcini doughnuts. Also on tap: beer from over 25 craft breweries, 120 types of wine, bacon flights, cheese plates and an oyster bar.
The Muppets played and it was actually lit
“The Muppet Show’s” house band, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Company, made their live debut at Outside Lands, and we’re not even a little bit joking when we say it was one of our favorite sets of the whole weekend. Seriously. Just watch the video.
Touching tributes to David Bowie reminded us how music can bring people together
Several artists took time out of their sets to tip their hat to Bowie, who died in January after battling cancer. On Friday, ‘80s synthpop icons Duran Duran played “Space Oddity” in tribute to their fellow Brit. And on Sunday, Third Eye Blind played a medley of some of Bowie’s most popular songs ― while backed by a choir donning Ziggy Stardust wigs. It was a goofy, sweet tribute to how many lives Bowie touched.
You can always expect surprises
Big Boi surprised everyone Saturday when he performed an unannounced three-song set at a pop-up stage near Beer Lands, and just days before the festival, hip-hop legends E-40 and Warren G revealed they’d be playing, too. The crowd at The Knocks show went wild when they brought out fellow performer Jean-Philip Grobler, the St. Lucia frontman who’d played a day prior. Outside Lands regulars are getting accustomed to these shockers: in 2012, Jack White appeared out of nowhere and played an intimate set among the trees between stages.
The cold weather
August (AKA Fogust) may be San Francisco’s least sunny month, but we’d take the chilly weather over Coachella’s sweltering temperatures any day. This year’s festival was noticeably more overcast than in recent years, and we’re not complaining. When Karl the Fog (yep, the fog has a name and more than 150 thousand followers on Twitter) rolled in during Radiohead’s set and shrouded the surrounding trees in mist, everything got a little more magical.