San Francisco’s Outside Lands returned to Golden Gate Park for the first time since 2019. The three day festival is usually held in August, but it was pushed back to Halloween weekend this year. I feel like that really added to the vibe. Almost everyone was wearing costumes which made for some amazing people watching. It also got darker earlier, and that really emphasized the lights, lasers, and pyrotechnics of the headliners. All the concert goers (especially the ones on drugs) know that nighttime heightens the experience.
We dodged a bullet with the weather. The Sunday before Outside Lands was the fourth wettest day in San Francisco’s recorded history. They did a great job making sure the ground wasn’t a massive mud puddle. It rained the day after the festival was over, so we lucked out because umbrellas were on the list of things not allowed inside.
I live within walking distance from the park and I get antsy as Outside Lands gets closer and closer. I arrived a little bit after noon each day. I can’t sit on my ass at home when I can be right there in the middle of the madness. Getting there early has so many benefits. I would get my ID checked right away and head straight to Beer Lands for a pint of craft IPA, then go to a water bottle refill station (hydration is key to survival), then head off to a stage to discover bands I’ve never heard of. It’s easy to get front and center on the rail before 3:00 PM.
Outside Lands has a lot of great food, but the lines can get outrageous as it gets more crowded. I usually get my grub on before 4:00. A late lunch/early dinner is enough to sustain me to get through the day. I’m an Outside Lands veteran and I also come prepared with a backpack full of snacks like beef jerky, chips, cheese, nuts, and some candy to hold me over. I bring a towel to throw on the ground between sets. This year I brought a first aid kit, some lip balm, and a spare mask in case I lost the one in my pocket.
Of course I bring party favors as well. I preroll a couple of joints, stash a few edibles as well, and try to sneak some alcohol in too. I buy beer and cocktails from the booths inside, but paying ballpark prices for booze adds up quickly. A smuggled bottle of Jack Daniels goes a long way.
The bathroom situation was much improved this year. Previous Outside Lands relied mostly on portapotties. This year they had portable toilets that could actually flush. They were more compact so they could fit more in the same space. The biggest game changer was the addition of urinals. I didn’t have to piss in the bushes at all this year. The bathrooms still get atrocious at night. Most of the fights I’ve seen happen in the lines for the bathrooms. I try my best to avoid them after the sun goes down.
This year’s lineup was probably the worst in Outside Lands history. I’m sorry, but Lizzo should not be the headliner. She deserves the main stage, but during the afternoon and not at night. There was also no legacy act. There should always be one artist or band that you have to cross off the bucket list.
My highlight on Friday was easily the HU. They are a Mongolian folk metal band, complete with throat singing. They brought the house down. They had so much energy and deserved a spot later in the afternoon. My Saturday highlight was Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness. I wasn’t planning on seeing him, but my roommate loves him so I decided to see him for her. Totally worth it! He put on a great show and he had such a happy crowd. Sunday’s highlight was Nelly. I had flashbacks to high school as he blew through his hits. Everyone was singing and dancing and having fun. It’s what Outside Lands is all about.
The crowd was well behaved this year for the most part. People arrived earlier than they usually do. I guess everyone was eager to be back after the shit show that was 2020. Everyone was just happy to be back. I did have to tell one teenager to chill out and not be “that guy” when he was being a douchebag, but other than that everyone was pretty cool and respectful.
I wasn’t sure I was even going to go this year. I found my clear backpack that my girlfriend gave me before she died and I knew that she would want me to go. I’m glad that I did. Outside Lands is always an adventure. 2021 was no exception. Not the best OSL by any means, but it was great being back. I can’t wait to see what 2022’s lineup has to offer.
Critically Rated at 15/17
Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young