It’s been a few months since the iconic Bay Area festival Outside Lands and I am still reflecting! The San Francisco-based music festival celebrated “15 years of amazing music, the best food and drink, sensational art and incredible moments of Outside Lands.” The event has drawn hundreds of thousands of Bay Area locals, as well as many who have traveled far from home to see their favorite artists put on incredible sets.
The first day of the festival was alive with energy! Though concert-goers were standing in mile-long lines outside Golden Gate Park, there was a buzz of voices mapping out their day, predicting what songs artists were going to perform, and singing their favorites with their friends. Once folks got into the festival, there were giggles of excitement and multiple triumphant “yeaaaah’s” for waiting through lines. People bee-lined for the plethora of delicious food tents surrounding the main stage, while others gathered in more long lines to grab exclusive Outside Lands merch. I opted for the tan-grey Nalgene which is now my Emotional Support Water Bottle.
It was a typical summer in San Francisco with Karl the Fog rolling in to create a blanket of mist and chill. The grayness of the sky was in stark contrast with brightly-colored and fashionable festival-wear: glittering and iridescent bikini tops paired with denim shorts; 70s-inspired fringed jackets and dusters; and varying vibrant hues of pink (“for Barbie, of course!” said one person to me dressed in a bright pink jumpsuit). Others opted for wear that better suited the weather: baggy denim pants, Patagonia fleece, and a beanie–a staple of any Bay Area resident.
Day one was headlined by Janelle Monáe, Zedd, and Kendick Lamar. But before their performances I caught others performing on the main stage, Land’s End. Raveena brought her ethereal energy to the stage. Donning a beautiful red-knitted dress, Raveena glided across the stage, performing favorites like “Close 2 U.”
Cuco gained a new fan with me because of his psychedelic music complete with layered echo-ey guitars and vocals and trippy stage visuals. Cuco wrapped up his fantastic set with his popular hit “Lo Que Siento,” even playing the trumpet til the end. I caught all of JID’s performance and it was full of energy. The Atlanta-born rapper captivated the audience with his songs. After every song in his performance, JID gratefully thanked the audience, whilst also hyping up the next song. I found it so endearing.
Janelle Monae was right after, and the crowds were gathering to the stage, hundreds already pushing to the front to get through. The set opened with the epic “Sprach Zarathustra” written in 1896 by the German composer, Richard Strauss (you know… that epic song on the Barbie trailer). When Monáe showed up on stage in a black-and-white leotard and hair-cap, alongside the band and dancers who also wore swimsuits, the crowd went absolutely wild. Monáe then began to play a set that brought the energy and “vacation vibes,” as she mentioned.
Kendrick Lamar closed out night one. The sun had completely set in the city and the park was enveloped in its signature fog. The crowd quadrupled in size, no one wanting to miss the legend himself. Contrary to Monaé’s lavish set, Lamar came on stage in a tracksuit and an LA Dodgers hat (controversial choice for the Bay Area) with his entertainment company pgLang stitched onto it. He performed hits such as “A.D.H.D,” “Nosetalgia,” and “HUMBLE.” Lamar’s performance was incredible but what was truly impressive was the crowd. The collective roar of lyrics screamed back at Lamar, whether rapping along or filling the silent void when Lamar beckoned, was something to see.
Rolling onto day two, people were still excited to get in, but there was a significant presence of Lana Del Rey fans. Fans dressed in what I can only describe as 2010’s-core (with black skinny jeans, lolita dresses, etc) packed themselves tight at the Twin Peaks stage. Ethereal in all ways, Lana Del Rey glided on stage, giving her fans her famous smile and singing to them lover’s laments and moody broody tunes.
While the audience for Lana Del Rey was majority Gen Z, the Foo Fighters brought in Gen X and the Millenial crew (hooray for me!). The band comprises of frontman and guitarist David Grohl, guitarists Chris Shiflett and Pat Smear, bassist Nate Mendel, and keyboardist Rami Jaffee. The Foo Fighters also introduced the band’s newest addition: drummer John Freese. Freese carried the band through hits like “Times Like These” and “The Pretender,” the crowd equally matching the energy of the band. During the latter half of the set, a pleasant pop melody was played by Jaffee. “Everytime someone says they know the song, they don’t f*ing know the song!” chided Grohl. He invited a “superfan” to the stage, and it turned out to be none other than the jazz crooner himself Michael Bublé! He sung his own #1 hit “Haven’t Met You Yet” with the crowd and it was the best crossover we never knew we needed.
Day three proved to be the warmest day of the festival, with some sunshine and the promise of a warmer 70 degree temp. I decided to stay in the Hellman Hollow area of the park as it was tucked away from the masses with ample space to lounge around. There were almost a hundred food vendors bringing delicious eats to the park. I opted for a Filipino-fusion burrito from Señor Sisig and a Golden State hard cider.
Lounging around I caught some of Grace Ives’ synth-pop music beating through the Panhandle stage, with the audience up and dancing: hands in the air, bodies twirling to the music. But what really had my attention was the soaring vocals of frontman Elijah Hewson of Inhaler on the joining Twin Peaks stage. Having seen them just earlier this year in the intimate Regency Ballroom, I was interested to see how they performed at a festival level. The Dublin-based band, with bassist Robert Keating, guitarist Josh Jenkinson, and drummer Ryan McMahon, was incredible and a master of their sound. Hewson’s vocals were out of this world, and fans were screaming back the lyrics at the band so loud that I could hear from halfway down Hellman Hollow.
Beabadoobee was next and killed it onstage with hits from her album Beatopia like “Sunny Day” and the single “Glue Song,” whom she dedicated to her cat she missed so much. Cigarettes After Sex brought their moody and beautifully melancholic sound. Frontman Greg Gonzalez, bassist Randall Miller, and drummer Jacob Tomsky performed “Awkward,” “Sweet,” and many more while Karl the Fog returned again.
The anticipation had grown thick like the fog as fans prepared for The 1975. There was an excited buzz among voices, some talking about favorite songs, others in quietly-intense candor of the band’s recent spotlight on the news. But once the hum and synth waves of “Looking For Somebody to Love” blasted through the speakers, the audience cut any conversations they were having and turned their attention towards their favorite band. Lead singer Matty Healy, void of any controversial ad-libs, sounded incredible with guitarist Adam Hann, drummer George Daniels, bassist Ross Macdonald, and a full percussion line up. Cheers of delight followed the plucky riff of “Chocolate,” while the crowd erupted with screams to the iconic chorus of “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know).” The 1975 closed out their show with “People,” the most devoid of their familiar 80’s pop sound. Healy’s growl through nihilistic lyrics atop the heavy grunge guitars was the most intense two-and-a-half minutes, with the audience screaming every lyric back at Healy. The band truly sounded their very best, and it was the perfect end to Outside Lands 2023.