Written by Sason Bishope Parry
Photos by Sharina Solares & Outsidelands
Another year has come to a close for one of the premiere festivals in the U.S., San Francisco’s Outside Lands music festival and all we can say is that it was amazing. The excitement was off the charts, as over 170,000 fans took to Golden Gate Park for three days of music, festivities, and forging lifelong memories. If anyone had any doubt that live music was back, this past weekend should put aside those doubts. August summer weather in San Francisco can be a bit dodgy and foggy at times and cooler at night, but the weather was perfect. It felt like summertime as fans soaked up the sunny vibes for what was probably the best weather of the iconic festival, now in its 14th edition. Thankfully, organizers were able to pull through a few years of uncertainty and challenges gave the pandemic and keep the festival afloat. One would think that all involved would be looking to cut corners to compensate for a few rough years. However, by the looks of it, the production was more significant than ever with lots of new attractions and editions, making it one of the best years to date and one of the most exciting. It was great to see the SOMA tent return giving fans another area to dance nonstop in addition to an enhanced open-air Heineken dome. Grasslands were back in full force, showcasing all the new and old goodies available and allowing fans to indulge in all forms of the booming Cannabis industry. CBD-enhanced products seemed to be very popular amongst fans. Other great attractions included art exhibits, arts and craft vendors in multiple areas of the park, and the ever-so-popular Winelands and beer lands area. One of my favourite areas that I was so happy to see return was the Cocktail magic area, where magicians kept fans entertained with sleight of hand tricks and comedy while speciality cocktails were served up. And, of course, Outside Lands would not be complete without some of the best culinary and food areas featuring restaurants, and café’s on hand with International many International and local cuisine options. Being an avid vegan, I was happy to see that almost every food area and Stahl offered plant-based options including impossible tacos, vegan wraps, vegan Thai noodles, roasted corn and an assortment of vegan super shakes, smoothies and desserts. One word of constructive advice would be to have a few 100% vegan editions to the already fantastic food being provided throughout the festival.
Another area that seemed to get a nice boost was the VIP areas, or maybe there were just more fans that wanted to splurge a bit to show their appreciation for live music’s return. VIP fans were treated to nicely shaded and covered = and bars, bleacher-type seating, live feeds of the main stage on giant video screens, short or no line food areas, and of course, front access to the main stage area where you could be front and centre with artists playing the Land Ends stage. Given the number of people and how long bathroom lines were at GA portapotties, which could be hit or miss on cleanliness, just having access to clean and higher-end bathrooms was worth the VIP price of admission.
Then, of course, there was all the great and eclectic mix of music that included rising new stars and established artists to cater to every musical palate. This year’s lineup leaned heavily on hip hop, R&B, and pop. The hard part of any music festival is putting together your schedule of artists to catch each day, which was plentiful at Outside Lands. Having set time conflicts between some artists is inevitable, and that left us with the tough decision to choose which one we would catch. Fortunately, Outside Lands offers a magnitude of musical options with four primary stages: Lands End, Twin Peaks, Sutro, and the Panhandle. Then there are the two dance tents, SOMA and the Heineken Dome. And of course, the GastroMagic Culinary stage and tucked away and surrounded by beautiful trees, was The Cocktail Magic stage and a very cool music den stage sponsored by Toyota.
Some of the music highlights from each day that rocked our World!
MAJOR LEAGUE DJZ
Opening day is always fun, as the excitement is at its peak. Once inside and after gathering our wits, I decided we should browse the grounds a bit. In doing so, we stumbled across Toyota’s music den just in time to catch the South African hip hop DJ duo Major League DJ’s early afternoon set. Both twin brothers are seasoned musicians, one being a percussionist and the other a DJ, and they showed off their exceptional skills and style with a mashup of tunes that set the mood. Fans packed into this secluded area, located on a small grassy hill, grooving to their hip hop and jazzy sounds. The emerging stars had already made a name for themselves by coining the New Age Kwaito, which has become a prominent South African craze mixing traditional house music with African beats and sounds. Their set was magnetic, and we couldn’t get enough of these incredible sound warriors.
As we headed to the Land Ends stage, the anticipation was already rising for South Central Los Angeles rapper, singer, and songwriter Jared Lee, known professionally as “Duckworth.” His career was late in blooming for multiple reasons that set his dreams of music on hold, but one catch of his live show, and you know that he was destined to be a musical star.
His immense confidence on stage was immediately felt as he performed songs from his acclaimed debut EP “The Falling Man” and his 1st album “SuperGood.” Fans packed in as he performed nonstop for fifty minutes, dancing, singing, rapping, and rocking the stage from start to finish.
Right across the field from the Land Ends State was the enhanced Heineken dome that was open air instead of an enclosed tent. One of my favourite DJs and arguably one of the best turntablists in the World, winning the DMC World DJ championships 3X consecutively, was gearing up to rock the crowd. Born in Nicaragua, he’s lived on both coasts landing in San Francisco for a while with his family before making Miami his home. I knew we were in for a treat as fans crowded the stage to feel the beats as he fused his signature hip hop, drum n bass, and breakbeat sounds. We danced nonstop, and thankfully it was open air to catch a little breeze, or I would have needed to head home for a change of clothes. One of the best DJs sets hands down the festival.
The 1st time I saw this incredible band was in 2019 at Outside Lands, where they played the smaller Panhandle stage. Given their fantastic sound, I knew it was inevitable that they would continue to rise in fame, and this year, they rocked the Twin Peaks stage, which is considered the 2nd biggest of the festival. Set to a bright red backdrop and surrounded by giant video screens and amazing lights and visuals, lead singer Maria Zardoya led her psyche indie rock band through a multitude of great songs. Singing in both English and Spanish, fans were entranced by Zardoya’s magical soothing vocals that were both romantic at times and enchanting. Very cool black and white films were showcased on the giant screens, adding to the ambience and dreamlike sounds echoing from the stage. Highlights included songs “All I Really Want Is You,” “Hush,” and a slowed-down sexy cover of Brittany Spears, “Baby One More Time,” which had fans singing along.
Since we were already in a great spot at the Twin Peaks stage, we stayed put for the co-headliner of the evening and another highly anticipated act of the night, singer and songwriter Phoebe Bridgers. She has been an Outsidelands favourite from her early years and has grown to a seasoned musician that can command a crowd of any size. With electric guitar in hand and a cute outfit that included a suit and bowtie, she performed one of the best sets of the night as fans packed in shoulder to shoulder to catch a glimpse of this powerful songstress. There wasn’t an inch of room available, and looking back across the polo fields, all you could see was an ocean of fans swaying along and cheering in delight. Songs like “Kyoto” and “Chinese Satellite” seemed almost church-like. For “Funeral,” she said, “This song is a bummer,” signifying a down period possibly in her life, and for “ICU,” she spoke, saying, “This song is about a time I cried in a grocery store.” Fans cheered and cried along as she played and sang effortlessly and with so much emotion that it was hard not to let her voice tug at your heartstrings as though she was singing directly to you. At times, I felt that energy, as I’m sure, many have given the past few years of challenges. What a fantastic artist she’s become!
The afternoon sun was pounding down on fans at the Lands End Stage as British singer/ songwriter Sam Fender and his band took the stage, and they were fantastic. His roots rock sound and vocal range were the perfect musical vibe to kickstart the afternoon. Songs like “The Borders” and “Getting Started” were crowd favourites. Fender also seemed popular with the ladies, as he spoke in between songs with his strong British accent, which had the girls screaming. He stated that he and the band were lacking sleep, but that didn’t affect his nonstop energetic set and humble demeanour, often making jokes about his name and music and calling one song stupid. “This song is stupid, but we play it every night.” No question, he’s comfortable telling jokes and could have probably had a 2nd career as a comedian. Even as they left the stage, he echoed, “If you like us, I’m Sam Fender and if you don’t like what you hear, we’re “Simply Red.” Haha, nice one, Sam. We definitely loved the set!
We decided to hang at the Lands End stage for a few songs of the next set, which was indie rockers, Local Natives. I hadn’t heard of them until Outsidelands, and all I can say is their opening sound was excellent and enough to keep me engaged. They kicked off their set with an uplifting good vibe tune that was perfect for the good sunny vibes flowing thru the park and with a melody that I couldn’t get out of my head after. Songs that caught my attention were “Wide Eyes” and a dreamy slow ballad with beautiful harmonies called “Who Knows Who Cares.” Lead singer and guitarist Taylor Rice was even kind enough to stop their set to make sure a fan was okay, shouting to the crowd, “You okay? Are you alright? Guys, we just want to make sure everyone’s safe.” Then after security checked the Kid and gave the thumbs up, they ripped back into the song without missing a beat. I didn’t catch their entire set as I was eager to get to the other stages, but I will definitely follow them.
As we made our way to the opposite side of the park to the Twin Peaks stage, the highly energetic mix master DJ Anna Lunoe already had the crowd dancing nonstop to her sultry grooves and excellent visuals. The multi-talented Australian musician, DJ, producer, singer, and songwriter was the perfect start to a full-on “Rave Party” afternoon! Outside Lands always has a good amount of great EDM artists on the bill and based on the big crowd, she was a good draw. It was great to see her engage with the fans, singing, mixing, and keeping their energy level high during her whole set.
One of my favourite festival areas was the Cocktail Magic stage tucked deep in the Mclaren Pass area. It’s not very big, but the vibe and entertainment were excellent. Serving up a host of magic along with some good humour was magician Jon Armstrong and friends. His sleight of hand tricks and comedy were a nice change of pace. Fans got to relax in the shade and enjoy a unique cocktail experience with bars that included the debut of Everybody’s Tavern, which repped San Francisco’s Pride culture, the SilverGirls95 that had a 90’s style twist, and The Buttery Tipple, which was a 70’s inspired lounge experience and probably my favourite. Since I don’t drink usually, I had a non-alcoholic version of a few drinks that tasted great and had enough sugar to get me wired. I hope organizers continue to expand on this area, as it’s an incredible experience.
Not far from the Cocktail stage was the Toyota music den, and this round, we were entertained by the experimental sounds of L’Rain. I was immediately drawn in by her magical ambient sounds and loops. At 1st, I thought it was an intro or a soundcheck. But pleasantly found out it was the experimental sounds of Taja Cheek, a multi-talented musician, producer, singer, and songwriter known to fans as L’Rain. She and her band had also played an opening set on the bigger Sutro stage that I missed, so I was happy to catch her in a more intimate vibe. Watching her set transported me to this mystical fairyland, where I could close my eyes and feel anything was possible. The sounds just penetrate your deep core. Probably one of the most impressive and stress-releasing daytime sets, and I will definitely be digging into her heralded 2021 album, “Fatigue.”
Back at the Land’s End stage, the crowd was starting to get deep. An ocean of music fans stretched from front to back to catch the Canadian indie rock musician whose real name is Vernor Winfield, McBriare Smith IV (woo, that was a mouthful), known Worldwide simply as Mac DeMarco. He took the stage wearing his signature fishing-style cap and oversized outfit, and the fun began as he opened with the mellow vibe of “Salad Days.” Fans sang along as DeMarco, known for funny stage antics, smiled and moved around in his quirky manner. There is no doubt that he is a hell of a showman, playing from his catalogue of hit songs like “Chamber of Reflection,” “Still Together,” “Babies Wearing Blue Jeans,” and “Another One.” He looked like the perfect fit for OSL, crooning and looking like a Ranger Dave look alike at times, which he seemed comfortable owning that vibe. At one point, he yelled, “They’re All Love Songs.” His band was outstanding, especially his bass player, and they all played off each other like seasoned veterans. You couldn’t help but feel good and smile, along with his infectious grooves and fantastic sense of humour.
Next to Green day, probably the most anticipated act of the day, if not the entire weekend, was Kentucky rapper Jack Harlow. The crowd was already massive from Mac Demarco’s set and just continued to grow on the Lands End grounds. Harlow was pegged to be the opening act for the Bay Area superstars Green Day which are big shoes to fill for any artist. His rise to fame seemed to skyrocket over the past few years. As Harlow took the stage, fans immediately started rushing forward with excitement. No worries of covid anywhere, as fans were packed in like sardines from front to back as he began his incredible set. His confidence and charisma were on a high note, but he brought things down to reality as he said, “The last time I played Outside Lands was 2018, and I was at the bottom of the lineup. You could barely see my name. Now I’m at the top! And I want to thank all of you for listening to my music to get me here. Thank you.” Fans went crazy, and Jack needed to stop a few times to ensure that dehydrated and squished fans were attended to and were okay. He commanded each part of the stage, saying, “Don’t worry, I’m coming out there to you. I promise.” This festival was the first time Harlow had ever played with a full band, and he made that known to fans, who roared with approval. Organizers knew he was a big draw and a favourite, as the production was on fire, with smoke canons going off from his opening and throughout the whole set. Fans were overly excited when Harlow finally made his way through the crowd, slapping hands and sharing the love and good vibes. He was a true gentleman, which given his current superstar rapper status and the fact that he’s barely 24, was a pleasant surprise. His set ended with his biggest hit to date, “First Class,” which had the entire field singing along so loud that it was sometimes deafening. But it was a great way to end a kickass set and set the mood for the night’s headliner.
The headliners are one of the biggest bands in the Bay Area and the World. Yes, we are talking about everyone’s favourite punk star Green Day. If you weren’t already at the Lands End stage or one of the lucky ones who could splurge on VIP passes, your best bet to catch the band was on the jumbotron videos from the back of the field. Green Day is capable of selling out a stadium on its own, as evident by its recent tour. They probably had enough hit songs and classics to play half the day, and we were all ready! Billie Joe Armstrong and company took the stage with youthful fire and adrenalin that they have been displaying for 30+ years and just exploded into song after song that just got better and better. Opening with songs from American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown that included “American Idiot’, “Holiday,” and “Know Your Enemy,” the energy was over the top! They even brought fans on stage to sing along and get close and personal.
Given how many songs they have in their vast career, I was glad they played one of mine and clearly a fan favourite, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” which invoked thousands of cell phone lights throughout the crowd. They continued to elevate their set by playing “Welcome To Paradise,” an excellent KISS cover of “Rock and Roll All Nite,” “Brain Stew,” “Waiting,” and “21 Guns”. But the best part of the night for me was when they covered “Knowledge,” a tune by Operation Ivy. Billie asked, “Does anyone know how to play the guitar? Next thing you know, a ten-year-old named Montgomery is on stage. I can’t say for sure if this was staged, but this Kid played like a pro, jumping around platforms, and the crowd loved it. They were cheering his name along with the band. It was epic! Then Billie let the Kid keep the guitar which was ultra-cool. They ended their set with “Basket Case” and “Wake me up when September Ends” while fireworks went off. What a way to close out the night. Green Day just killed it!
Ah, the final day of Outsidelands. The great weather continued on Sunday, as the sun heated up the park early and just in time for sexy Amber Mark at 2 PM on the Lands End Stage. The American singer, songwriter, and producer has been riding up the ranks of popularity, and one glimpse of her live show and there is no question why fans pilled in early to catch this up-and-coming star. She strutted the stage with pure confidence like a young Beyonce, using her persona to hype up the crowd with her hip hop, R & B, and soul fusion and performing songs off her album, “Three Dimensions Deep,” which included tracks “What It Is” and “Foreign Things.” Her debut at Outside Lands was welcomed by a nice-sized crowd for such an early main stage set.
On the opposite end of the park on the smaller Panhandle stage, Jelani Aryeh was also about to make her OSL debut. The half African, half Filipino singer/rapper, took the stage to a small but eager audience and didn’t disappoint. Playing great songs off her album, “I’ve Got Some Living To Do,” which included “Stella Brown” and “Marigold.” You can always tell how well an artist is doing by whether the size of the crowd gets bigger or smaller. No question, she was drawing them in, and by her 3rd song, the pop songstress had fans in the palm of her hand.
There was no shortage of hip hop and R &B, and given the young demo of fans, Bronx rapper and record executive Pusha T seemed to be a favourite. His DJ took the Lands End stage in an explosion of big beats, hyping the laid-back crowd and stopping a few times to say, “I’m just testing the crowd and your energy. Are you ready? Who’s ready for Pusha T?” He continued to play a few hyped tracks to build the momentum. Def the biggest crowd thus far on Sunday, as Pusha T finally took the stage and immediately showed a sea of fans his exceptional adrenalin-fueled MC skills from start to finish. The Bronx native honed his talents alongside his older brother No Malice in their duo Clipse which gained popularity in the 90s and later took to a solo career. Pusha T took fans on a super hyped hip hop ride with tracks from his trendy new album, “It’s Almost Dry.” Fans bobbed and swayed to tracks like “Brambleton” and “Here Me Clearly.” It’s always impressive when an artist can take things old school and rock the stage with a mic and DJ! No band, no gimmicks, no big production, just straight great music, and kickass performing skills. By the end of his set, he had an even bigger ocean of fans shouting his name and bouncing along! He took a final opportunity to show his excitement for his VMA nomination with “Diet Coke,” a collaboration with Kanye West and asked fans to vote for him.
Another highly anticipated act was the Russian feminist protest and performance set group Pussy Riot. The group has been highly controversial in their homeland of Moscow for years. Lead singer and group founder Nadya Tolokno and her band of girls took the stage in their provocative outfits. They immediately blasted fans with their highly energetic punk rock sound and protest style. Calling them just a band or artist would be an insult, which was evident by how often they stopped the show to showcase reality videos and garnish support from fans for the causes they were pushing. However, they are great artists, and the whole purpose of any musical group and writing songs is to garnish attention regardless of motivation. They rocked the stage for forty minutes of music and high-intensity, sexually driven energy that included half-naked dancers with head masks, and they thrilled with fans with a combination of powerful punk-pop songs like “Toxic” “Punish,” and “Hate Fuck.” Tolokno also had a few guests join her, including Salem IIese and her boyfriend, for collaborations. Whether you’re a fan of their electric and eccentric music and style, it’s hard to deny their cultural presence and relevance given the state of the World. It was a great set, very entertaining, and with a powerful message. The size of the crowd at the small Panhandle stage was by far the biggest of all three days. OSL should bring them back and have them on a bigger stage soon!
The day was winding down, and we decided to park at the Lands End stage for the rest of the eve. The park was jam-packed everywhere, and it seemed like Sunday was the busiest day of the weekend thus far. Next up was Los Angeles-based 90’s rockers Weezer. The crowd, as mentioned, was massive, and with no frills or stage antics, they immediately kicked into hits “Hash Pipe,” then “My Name is Jonas,” and got the crowd hooked from the first note. Like Green Day the night before, Weezer has an immense catalogue of tunes and lots of hits to pull from, and they didn’t hold anything back. Lead singer Rivers Cuomo has a great voice and is a superb showman, but he seemed more focused on just playing the songs rather than wasting time talking to the crowd. That vibe seemed to work, as the energy stayed consistent from start to finish. It was also nice to see that they played not only older familiar classics but lots of tunes from their new albums like “Records” and “A little bit of Love.” Highlights were a cover of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” where it almost seemed like a pit would emerge in the crowd. They also played a fantastic rendition of Toto’s “Africa,” which got the entire crowd singing along. Nothing more awesome than seeing upwards of 50,000 fans singing in unison. I said, unison, not on key, haha, but still, the energy was amazing. The set ended with one of their biggest hits, “Say It Ain’t So” and “Buddy Holly,” and that was it. Great music from a great band that has been doing it for years!
The headliner for the night, or at least on the Lands End stage, doesn’t need much introduction, given he’s one of hip hop’s biggest stars of the last decade. Post Malone took the stage with his big persona, energy, and smile to the biggest night crowd and kicked off his 18-set song list with incredible production, which we’ve come to expect for an Outside Lands finale. “My name is Austin Richard Post, and I’ve come to play some shitty and get fucked up,” he yelled to the crowd. Based on the screams and fans raising their glasses, it seemed like most of the crowd was ready! Unlike Weezer, Post loves talking up a storm and telling stories, thanking fans repeatedly, and sharing good vibes. He might be known as a rapper, but he is a bonified rockstar, given that he can rip a guitar and has the vocal range and tone to shift in either direction. Although the production was over the top, he had no problem holding down a stage alone and without a band. I also love when an artist gives a little insight into the inspiration behind different songs at times, and Post did that throughout his whole set. He killed it with the Ozzy Osbourne collaboration “Take What You Want.” A nice change was when he picked up the guitar and played an acoustic set, showing off his vocals and songwriting skills even more. At the end of his set, he joked with fans saying, “nothing’s changed, except being a bit chubbier,” as fans laughed along. He closed out with “Congratulations” as fireworks went off overhead, and fans cheered and hugged. It was an excellent set and a great wind down to an incredible weekend. There is only one Post Malone! On the opposite end of the park, we could hear Illenium igniting a full-on night party which I’m sure was incredible, but we felt like we got our musical fix, and it was time to say goodnight.
There’s always a bittersweet feeling at the close of any music festival, especially one as grand as Outside Lands. You could feel the lingering excitement and energy as fans poured out from the grounds. Groups of fans were singing out loud; some were talking about their favourite part of the weekend, while others made one last stop to grab their OSL merchandise. Overall, it was an end to a fantastic weekend that hit high on all levels, and given the lull of the last few years, I was thrilled to see that almost everything went so well. One thing that came to mind is that at the end of most festivals, many fans would leave early to avoid traffic, but most seemed to stay and enjoy the final moments as they should. A few years of no live music has awoken that need in all of us, as music is healing in so many ways, and I hope that appreciation and love for music carry forward for many years to come.
And, of course, I’m excited to see what organizers have in store for next year’s 2023 edition.
For more info, go to www.sfoutsidelands.com