Outside Lands Festival year number 12 is in the books and once again, Golden Gate Park was the star of the show. There is no better venue for a music festival of this scale anywhere in America; I’ll take the Pepsi challenge on that one. The park’s sweeping greenery and cypress-covered meadows are impeccable. It’s a total treat to get to play within for the privileged chaos of OSL.
The musical tide seemed to turn a bit this year, as more and more EDM and EDM-laced pop permeated the festival’s larger stages throughout the day for well-to-do kids to frolic amongst. But the lineup has also become increasingly committed to diversity. Our highlights reflect that effort, those triumphs and then some.
While it’d be great to see more artists use this incredible 210,000+ person platform to make an impression on young attendees, (our future depends on it!), OSL is still a stupendous production. The food and drink offerings reflect the best of what the Bay Area has to offer—you can actually buy (and smoke!) weed inside the festival grounds and this was also the warmest year of the fest that I can remember. On Saturday, Childish Gambino played to what is apparently the largest crowd ever at the festival and he was solid, if not spectacular. But for this particular exercise, we bring you the weekend’s 10 best surprises.
There’s nothing like walking into Golden Gate Park on Friday afternoon and having a hometown act be up on stage. The Seshen, led by sumptuous vocalist Lalin St. Juste were just pure cosmic energy in the Sutro Stage sunshine. From there, post-hyphy East Bay rapper P-Lo totally dominated the Main Stage, setting the course for the weekend’s festivities. Oakland A’s mascot Stomper (he’s an elephant) even hopped on stage with the rapper, who left it all out on the Polo Field for the young and instantly blissed out crowd.
Look, I wanted to hate on this set. I thought it was gonna be the same inauthentic drivel that Third Eye Blind put down on the main stage a couple years back. I thought I was gonna leave being the washed fogey who bitches, “Of course they didn’t play anything off Cheshire Cat!” I was exhausted and sun-baked on Friday when I laid down on the grass and started hearing how tight the SoCal pop-punk rockers sounded. I got up off my ass, headed closer to the stage and just flat out enjoyed the heck out of the entire set of songs from “I Miss You” to “Adam’s Song” to “Dammit.” Perhaps it’s because Tom Delonge is off trying to travel through time or whatever, and in his place was Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio, but dammit if Blink-182 wasn’t totally fucking cool.
Throughout Toro y Moi’s Sunday set, Oakland artist Cheflee (of the visual crew, flatspot) was off to the side of the stage with what looked like a Super 8 camera, capturing crowd and band footage, which was then projected onto the stage’s backdrop live with dizzying late-’80s/early-’90s effects. Cheflee is one of the many East Bay Area artists that Toro y Moi’s Chaz Bear has surrounded himself with to form a creative community as well as the Toro y Moi experience. Among the Toro players on stage with Chaz were astronauts, etc. frontman Tony Ferraro on keys and Brijean Murphy on congas (whose album we just highlighted). This was a spirited display of the influences Chaz Bear has unfurled into Toro y Moi chameleonic music, namely this year’s utterly danceable Outer Peace, which is in this writer’s opinion, the best release to come out of the Bay Area in 2019.
Every year, Outside Lands yields a breakthrough performer who absolutely belongs on a bigger stage than they were given. This year, it was Chicago raunch-core rapper CupcakKe, who took no prisoners on the humble Panhandle Stage with a performance that would blown even Lizzo’s mind. “If you a virgin, you might wanna get the fuck out now y’all!” she warned the crowd before unleashing a hedonistic and pleasantly vulgar verbal assault, song after song. With lyrics like “His dick smaller than my toes/I’d rather ride Squidward nose” and “Call me Serena/back and forth with his balls,” CupcakKe was the hardest rapper in the park and somewhere, Lil’ Kim just shed a gangster tear.
Outside Lands has long been at the forefront of the Green festival movement. Last year, they diverted 92% of all waste from landfills and went plastic straw free. So this year, they naturally took it a step further and all water bottles sold on premises were made out of aluminum. Not only that, but it was 8.5pH alkaline water! When you’re downing a million beers and putting god knows what else into your body over the 3-day weekend, a little alkalinity goes a long way.
Tierra Whack certainly has her wits about her. This set was crazy fun before it even got started with a Green Eggs And Ham backdrop on stage awaiting the Philly rapper. Whack hopped on, then hopped in the crowd to pass out cupcakes and sing with the front row kids. She played her 15-songs-in-15-minutes ADD-anthem album Whack World in full, but it was her recent single “Only Child” that stole the show and didn’t escape my mind until the night was over. This is no doubt a hip-hop star in the making.
Pretty sure Heineken shelled out close to six figures for a 25-minute Wyclef Jean set of #hits, but it totally ruled: “Gone ‘Til November,” “No Woman, No Cry,” Santana’s “Maria, Maria” (which he co-wrote and produced, and reminded the crowd of this fact), “Ready Or Not,” ”Fu-Gee-La,” all in an intimate pop-up setting outside of the electronic-swaying Heineken House stage. This dude is a treasure, and whether you were just passing by or made an effort to catch ‘Clef minutes before Paul Simon closed out the festival, you were stoked.
While Kacey Musgraves’ 4:10pm set didn’t necessarily go down as the sun was setting, her performance was nothing short of golden. Musgraves was absolutely radiant and one of my favorite moments of the whole weekend was milling gracefully through the sunshine-laden crowd during a couple songs and soaking in the moment that her gorgeous music gave us all. “High Horse” and “Love Is A Wild Thing” and “Butterflies” were sublime. Believe the hype y’all.
Welp, it happened. You can officially buy and consume cannabis at music festivals now. Don’t bother that the smaller, EDM-friendly Northern Nights Festival technically did it first, there has never been anything like the festival footprint expansion known as GrassLands at OSL. Wanna take a $10 dab before a set? You got it! Want to buy a four-pack of pre-rolled joints for $40 to blaze up in the designated consumption area (wink, wink)? Sure! There were edibles, vapes, cannabis-infused drinks, whatever the hell a Farm to Bong station is and this area was huge. We’re not talking a couple booths here—this might as well have been its own trade show of the biggest names in the cannabis industry on the outer edge of the Polo Field. “These are the real players. We’re the companies that are gonna take cannabis into the future,” one representative told me of the specific industry presence at GrassLands. What a time to be alive.
On Sunday night, Paul Simon closed out the weekend masterfully. While his set was way under-attended compared to Saturday night’s Childish Gambino set (and even Saturday’s 6:25 pm Flume set) nothing else at the festival sounded quite like Simon, the legacy act of legacy acts. Towards the end of his performance, Simon brought out the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir to play ‘The Boxer” after telling a story of how they met in the Haight-Ashbury in 1967 and you could just feel how much it still meant to Simon to be playing with his friend in San Francisco. It was a reminder that despite the tech-haven, littered with recently transplanted “residents” that San Francisco has become, the soul and heart that made the city an important artistic hub is still in the air and that sometimes, you gotta keep digging deep to make sure it lives forever.
Your moment of zen is below. Peace.