10 Years of Outside Lands: A Look Back

by Dakin Hardwick on July 26, 2017

Photo by Tom Tomkinson

This year marks the 10th year of the Outside Lands Music Festival. It feels like the first one was just yesterday, and it also feels like it’s been happening since the beginning of time. It’s been a fantastic August tradition that I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy nearly every year. (I did miss the one that Kings Of Leon headlined. I’m sure other people wish they missed that one.) I think it’s time to look back on this recent San Francisco tradition.


This story doesn’t begin 10 years ago. It begins 11 years ago. I used to live in the Outer Richmond, and one day while on a walk through the neighborhood, I noticed a flier taped to a power pole. This flier was for a neighborhood meeting to discuss a “large scale music festival in Golden Gate Park.” This was incredibly exciting to me, as I’d dreamt of us getting something like this in SF proper. Yes, I had attended Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and Power To The Peaceful (RIP), but nothing on the scale that this appeared to be. I regret not taking a picture, or stealing that flier, because I’d love to have that souvenir.


Sadly, I wasn’t able to make that meeting, so I had no idea what became of it. Then, less than a year later, I came across this flier:

So, I guess this means the meeting was a success, and I got a major music festival three blocks from my apartment. SCORE!

Sadly, my work situation at this time didn’t exactly leave a lot of openings for me to do the full weekend. That being said, even it it’s very first year, there were a lot of impressive bookings! We had Sharon Jones and Grace Potter ahead of their super status. We also had a few names that haven’t been heard from much since 2012: K’Naan, Dredg, Little Brother, Black Mountain.

I ended up being able to attend just on the Friday, and while I encountered something that was good, you could tell that bugs were still being worked out. It was kind of hard to find a map, and we were still a few years ahead of universal smart phones. And, the biggest mistake of all, was having Beck end the moment Radiohead started, with only a tiny path in the trees to get between the two stages. Suffice it to say, there was a little bit of desperate pandemonium, causing a few audience members to uproot the fencing in order not to miss the beginning of Radiohead. Despite this minor melee, by the next day they fixed the fencing and dramatically improved the flow between stages.


2009 was a vast improvement over 2008. Stages were more clearly defined, maps were easier to get a hold of. And, most importantly, stages were suddenly programmed a little better in order to decrease the amount of running to get from one place to another. There were, however, a few problems that no amount of planning could fix. The biggest, and saddest, was the fact that MCA of the Beastie Boys had been diagnosed with cancer shortly before the festival, and had to pull out two weeks ahead of the event. And, as a place for music nerds, of course we tried to guess who the new headliner was going to be, although nobody could have predicted that Tenacious D would step in to fill the massive shoes of the Beastie Boys. The comedy duo proved everyone wrong, and managed to put on one of the biggest and best sets in the history of the festival. Extra impressive knowing that they were not even on the road at this time, and slapped a massive, stadium-sized production together in two weeks.

The other major issue was Pearl Jam. One of the greatest live bands in the world couldn’t get over Eddie Vedder’s Golden Gate Park jinx , and were forced to play an abbreviated set due to a very ill lead singer.

A personal note on this year: two of my all-time favorite bands, Os Mutantes and TV On The Radio played AT THE SAME TIME ON OPPOSITE ENDS OF THE FEST! I spent weeks studying the map and found a short cut behind the porta-potties that had no traffic, which allowed me to get from barrier to barrier in 10 minutes, ensuring that I enjoyed 30 minutes of each set, and even got to jump into the mosh pit for TVOTR’s penultimate number “Wolf Like Me.”

One more little tidbit: look how low The National & Portugal. The Man appeared on that year’s poster:


2010 was a strange year for the festival. It marked both a.) the only time in the event’s history where it was only two days, and b.) the only time I did not make an appearance at the park. Maybe they knew that, since I wasn’t there, it wasn’t worth their while to try to fill a third day. Looking over the line-up, despite having two of the most despised bands on earth headlining (Kings Of Leon & Grateful Dead offshoot Further), there were some impressive things buried in the line up. I believe this was Janelle Monae’s first major performance in the Bay Area. It was also the show where both Empire Of The Sun and Gogol Bordello turned in sets that helped elevate the bands from cult favorites to superstars.  Also, The Strokes haven’t been back in San Francisco since!


Back to three days. They also brought something a little extra, with the introduction of The Barbary stage this year. In it’s infancy, it was a space where people could find a place to sit for a bit under a tent, with more of a variety show feel to it than the stand-up comedy hot spot it is today. It was fantastic! You could walk in and catch Kitten On The Keys or Vau de Vivre Society do their thing… I stumbled across my first Paul F. Tomkins performance, a man that I quickly became a massive fan of. Oh, and Gallagher played. I missed that. Maybe on purpose?

Photo by Dakin Hardwick

The music line-up that year may have taken more risks than any other year of the festival. Sure, there were plenty of festival mainstays like Phish, Muse, Arcade Fire, The Roots, The Black Keys, etc. There have also never been this many performers that didn’t sing in English! We had ska-punk pioneer turned accordion folk rocker Julieta Venegas, outspoken activist and rapper Ana Tijoux, the psych pop of Ximena Sarinana, and Latin house pioneers Mexican Institute of Sound all opening the minds of music fans. It was a brave move, and no doubt paid off nicely.


You know it’s a big year when you have the three guaranteed festival headliners relegated to the second line. But, I don’t feel too sorry for The Foo Fighters, Jack White, and Beck. After all, they played second fiddle to two of the most important Bay Area bands of all time: Metallica, and Neil Young & Crazy Horse.

Photo by Diana Cordero

And, closing out the entire event – as well as marking the first time a day of the festival had sold-out – was Stevie Wonder. You know, the guy that managed to do a session where Paul McCartney played bass and Prince played guitar, without giving either act a “featuring” credit, but just dumped them in the liner notes.

All of that was cool, but the coolest thing to happen this year was when Jack White and Tom Morello pulled out acoustic guitars and did a short pick-up set right in the middle of Choco Lands to the very lucky few that happened to be there at the time. I got the text but sadly didn’t make it over in time. However, we had someone there. I’m still very jealous.


It’s funny looking back at old line-ups to jog memories of past Outside Lands experiences. I keep think that “this is the year that I just had fun, and nothing special happened.” And then I realize that I’m wrong. And, this year, the best thing I saw wasn’t that mind-blowing set of the greatest songs of all time by Paul McCartney. (Complete with a full fireworks show!) Nor was it the last minute set by disco legends Chic featuring Nile Rodgers, who replaced an ailing D’angelo. It wasn’t even The National performing backed by classical experimentalists Kronos Quartet. For any other weekend, these would be certain peak moments. Nope, it was Sunday night, in The Barbary. There were maybe 30, 40 people in the room, tops. In the very middle, people were playing this very strange version of ping pong,where folks just hit balls while walking in a circle. On stage, DJ Purple was efficiently making his way through the karaoke list, ensuring as many people as they wish can say that they performed at Outside Lands. Then, a man walked on stage. Not just any man, but a hero amongst men. He said nothing, but simply grabbed a mic. Then, immediately, the entire tent became captivated by none other than Craig Robinson of The Office belting out Muse’s hit single “Time Is Running Out” for the room. My face melted clean off.



Not going to lie, 2014 had one major disappointment for me. It was a rare event where both Jenny Lewis and Night Terrors of 1927 shared a bill. For those unfamiliar, Night Terrors of 1927 featured Blake Sennett. Sennett used to be the guitarist for Rilo Kiley, and famously informed the rest of the band that Rilo Kiley had broken-up via interview a few years before. I was hoping hard that this would have been the event that forced them to bury the hatchet, and hopefully reuniting the great Rilo Kiley. Sadly, it did not happen. Nobody remembers Night Terrors of 1927. Everyone that was there, however, remembers that absolutely killer Jenny Lewis set where she ripped through songs from her entire career, including plenty of Rilo Kiley material.

Jenny Lewis, looking for Blake Sennett so they could do a 20 minute version of “The Frug.” Photo by Paige Parsons

For the masses, there was one other big addition to Outside Lands this year. This was the introduction of the “Gastromagic” stage. This was a stage devoted to food-related performances. The most memorable of which was one where Big Freedia would give people a fresh beignet if they were willing to twerk on stage, a tradition that was brought back in 2015. And, yes, the beignet was crazy delicious.


The mind is a strange thing… Every year of the festival, my memories are a clear as a bell. Except for 2015. This one required me to look back on my notes. (Yes, I make notes at every festival I go to. Stop judging me!) This may have been the single greatest year for The Barbary. In one year we had Tig Notaro, Ron Funches, Jen Kirkman, Cameron Esposito, Pete Holmes, and Hasan Minaj. Literally the six funniest people alive, all in one festival. I also told my hippy friends that I was really excited to see one of my favorites play 3 sets at the festival, including one that was entirely improvised, and that was Jen Kirkman. This was definitely a legendary year for this stage.

Jen Kirkman doing set #3 of the weekend. Photo by Dakin Hardwick

Oh, the music was good, too. We had Givers make up for their set missed in 2014, and D’Angelo finally took the stage after missing 2013, and both sets more than made up for the lost time. However, the most massive set of the entire weekend was, by far, Kendrick Lamar. I was talking to a friend that was working at The New Parish a few years ago, and telling me about how Lamar played to a half-full house not so long ago. Comparing it to the massive sea of people, all in sync with one of the most gifted MCs of all time was a life-affirming experience.


This brings us to 2016. Last year. This was the single warmest year of the festival… The only time I never ended up putting my jacket on. (Please bring a jacket!) The folks who booked this year managed to pull off the single most impressive booking of any music festival in the world. This was the year we were treated to an incredibly rare live performance by none other than DR TEETH & THE ELECTRIC MAYHEM!!!!!!!!! Thus fulfilling my lifelong dream of seeing Animal play drums live. But seriously, live Muppeteering is impressive. They had to build an extra stage above the stage to hide the puppeteers while performing, and they had to sync up perfectly with the music. It was a fun and trippy experience. Never in a million years did I think I’d see the Henson magic done live, and that alone was worth the price of admission.

…and that brings us to 2017. I have no idea what strange and wonderful thing will be the brightest memory of this year’s festival. I know that I’m excited about seeing The Daily Show’s Roy Wood Jr comment on whatever terrible thing the President does that day. Action Bronson is going to be reading live from his cookbook, which only sounds boring if you have no idea who Action Bronson is. Gorillaz will be one upping Dr Teeth by being a cartoon band that performs live, instead of simply being a puppet band. And, well, there is simply too much to do in a mere three days. Tickets are still available here, but don’t sleep on them! This sells out every year, and I don’t want you to miss out!

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