Outside Lands 2021 : Tricks & Treats!

Outside Lands Photo by Misha Vladimirskiy

What could make Halloween in San Francisco even more of a spectacle? Outside Lands! Hundreds of thousands of music-craved fans in costumes descended on Golden Gate Park this past weekend for the annual music festival which usually takes place annually during the first half of August. After being postponed a year due to the pandemic, it was ultimately rescheduled for the last weekend of October 2021… Halloween! The decked in-costume masses gave Outside Lands a chance to loosen up. The grounds felt reminiscent of Voodoo Fest or Glastonbury from the Polo Field to Hellman’s Hollow. This year, the audience shined as much as the booked talent.

Mother Earth opened the festival with a great ‘Trick or Treat.’ The gates opened at noon on Friday with sunshine and blue skies. In true Halloween fashion, the fog eerily crept over the stages and spookily covered the skies the majority of the three days. Traveling festival attendees may have been “tricked” by the SF weather, though the treats were plentiful in the music, food, cannabis, and drink categories, and sweatshirt merchandise on sale.

OSL features many of the best food and wine purveyors in the area. Allie Tong of the food blog Allie Eats raves about the Maine Lobster rolls from Michelin star restaurant Sorell in the Golden Gate Club and “the masala fried cauliflower from Rooh!” was a must have. SF staple Woodhouse Fish Co. offered classics like clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl and BBQ oysters. Artisanal chocolate makers Charles Chocolate’s had the sweets and vegan friendly creations could be found from the hottest food truck in the world, Vegan Mob. Forget the music! You could make your festival experience focused on food and drink between activations from your favorite liquor brands, Wine Lands, Beer Lands, Bubble Tea Party, Cheese Lands, the Cocktail Magic and Gastro Magic stages. Again, delicious food was everywhere—a taste of San Francisco in 3 days! A visit to Grass Lands would definitely put you in that spirit, too.

Grasslands is a first of its kind cannabis education, consumption and marketplace area located within the grounds—making Outside Lands the first ever music festival to offer legal cannabis sales. The lines were long for offerings from popular brands “Cookies”, and “Garcia Hand Picked”; a new line of stylishly packaged top shelf cannabis products from Jerry Garcia’s family. It was SF rock n’ roll royalty with Trixie Garcia, daughter of Jerry Garcia, representing the brand at the festival. There were special performances, community art, and giant grilled cheese sandwiches at this 21+ designated area, which quickly became a crowd favorite at the fest. Only in San Francisco, only at Outside Lands.

The art was also next level. On display among the masses, custom pieces and live art by some of the best of the Bay Area’s diverse street artists. Exceptional work by San Francisco’s Apex, Oakland’s Rachel Wolfe-Goldsmith, Kalani Ware, and Chad Hasegawa were scattered throughout the festival grounds.

I thought OSL was a music festival? Yes! Whether you want to experience the indie dream, a hip hop hullabaloo, international hopefuls and successes, eclectic electronic, or some of the biggest names of today, pick your poison at Outside Lands Festival, but be wary of being sandwiched in a crowd trying to maneuver the many stages. The bands were a treat, but navigating the grounds at times was tricky with bottlenecks in the crowds, especially in the later hours of the festival. It might have looked like a real Halloween nightmare for the COVID-conscious, but not to worry, Outside Lands was a fully-vaccinated event with health checks upon entry.

The Strokes headlined the nostalgia on Friday opposite the high energy and pyrotechnics of Los Angeles’s Tyler the Creator, with Haitian-Canadian producer Kaytranada laying down smooth beats on the side Sutro stage. Houston Texas trio Khruangbin’s set late Friday afternoon was the perfect way to ease into the weekend with their psychedelic, surf rock, soul, dub, jammy, dancey, funk vibes.

The Grammy winner Lizzo showed why she was Saturday’s headliner, evident by the thousands of scream-agers shouting every word of her hit songs “Truth Hurts” and “Good as Hell.” She did not spare a minute to entertain the packed to the back crowd. A solid fireworks display closed out her set and it almost looked like Judy Chicago in the park part 2.

Sunday featured two crowd pleasers and the biggest bands from down under on the main stage, and even ‘Hot in herre’ rapper Nelly. Australia’s Rufus Du Sol and Tame Impala pleased with hits and grooves from the main Lands End stage. Sunday also featured a set by Brittany Howard, best known from the Grammy Award winning group the Alabama Shakes. She belted out a soulful rendition of ‘(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher’, a classic at a festival filled to the brim with new music. Amongst the many Squid Game and other musical Halloween tributes, was this the low key best one? Ghostbusters 2 anyone?

High energy superstars Burna Boy from Nigeria followed by Medellin’s J Balvin highlighted Sunday on the crowded Twin Peaks stage. Bay Area artists were also on display to packed audiences all weekend. It was all love for Oakland’s Kehlani, Marin County’s Marc E. Bassy, and Palo Alto’s Remi Wolf.

A historical San Francisco music moment came during 24kGoldn’s high energy Saturday set. “I used to sneak in here and now I’m playing here!” exclaimed the 20 year old San Francisco born hip hop artist whose hit song “Mood” topped the charts this year. He brought out fellow SF rapper Stunnaman02 and had the packed audience of tens of thousands at the Twin Peaks stage doing the viral dance “Big Steppin’”; the next gen is here.

There were a plethora of beautiful moments like that to witness, too many to mention, and that’s what makes Outside Lands unique. The variety of experiences for all music tastes, a hundred thousand opinions on what was best and life changing, a more than one festival packed into one. From the pounding beats at the new SOMA Tent, to the classic dance vibes at the Heineken House, smaller acts to discover on the Panhandle stage, or niche favorites on the lower Sutro Stage, you truly could pick your poison and be entertained at both, even if you are not into the more mainstream targeted Lands End and Twin Peaks stages. Your experience is in your hands.

What really stood out above all else at this jam packed festival were the people. The energy was outstanding. Everyone, including staff and security, from GA to VIP, shared the good vibes, delivering patience, smiles, and kindness in the crowds.

The pandemic made us value live concerts and experiences even more, including those performing and putting on the show behind the scenes. This was truly evident at Outside Lands. The production collaboration by Another Planet, Superfly, and Starr Hill made this a world class festival. Outside Lands truly takes you to another world inside the heart of San Francisco. We’ll only have to wait 10 months to do it all over again with Outside Lands scheduled for August 5th-7th, 2022. I’ll miss the costumes at the next one, but I look forward to seeing the beautiful hues glowing off of the tree canopies; guessing how many layers to bring coming from the sunny side of town; the tough question of which artists to see, and discovering new ones; and deciding which stands serving deliciousness to fill my stomach. All the drama, joys, fun, flavors, friends, vibes, and music: that’s Outside Lands.