The cool chill in the air, the trees lining the festival as a border between one of the most popular cities in the world and the 250k people that become part of the community of Outside Lands every summer.
For its fifteenth-year anniversary, the festival continues to do what it’s known for best, bringing in a mix of great music, food, drinks and letting Golden Gate Park do the work of being the beautiful backdrop for the weekend.
New to the festival was the outdoor dance club called Dolores’, the LGBTQIA focused dancefloor which highlights and pays homage to San Francisco’s rich history of queer celebrations and activism. Dolores’ was a fun space with various musical performers from the city, local drag queens serving as MCs and plenty of bubbles and beach balls bouncing above the crowds.
Like previous iterations of the festival, OSL’s focus on bringing in top notch food options from throughout the Bay Area continued with favorites like Smish Smash, having a special edition Vietnamese smash burger that used Pho aioli, and The Chairman with their taco-shaped steam buns.
There were also plenty of Ube options, from cold brews infused with the purple yam to a buttery purple waffle with jelly cubes from D.R.E.A.M. The Halo-halo mochi waffle was a highlight, with its Ube jam, leche flan, nata de coco and jackfruit.
Another item, the lemongrass pork Banh Mi from Bun Mee, had some of the best bread I’ve tried, and it being from a festival stand in the middle of a park was incredible.
With the Foo Fighters, Kendrick Lamar, Zedd, ODESZA, The 1975 and Lana Del Rey as the headliners for the weekend, the stages across Outside Lands were filled with some of the most popular artists of the last few decades, with Foo Fighters being the legacy act with almost thirty years of success under their belts.
With the tragic loss last year of drummer Taylor Hawkins, the show had emotional undertones as frontman David Grohl belted out lyrics in the cool Summer night. Overall the band was an unstoppable rock machine that Grohl piloted with charisma and energy for two hours, pulling from their extensive catalog and even a surprise appearance by crooner Michael Bublé to sing “Haven’t Met You Yet”.
What began as an ongoing joke on their tour was that their new drummer Josh Freese, who had been the studio drummer for Bublé’s song, would play “Haven’t Met You Yet” while fans from the audience would be brought up to karaoke it on stage. This culminated with the actual artist singing the song on stage to the delight of fans. These types of surprises are the reason people want to see live music so it got a great reaction from those in attendance.
The SOMA Tent, which is a dance party inside a closed and air-conditioned structure, was in its third year of existence at Outside Lands, promising to bring fans into a DJ dreamworld where they could jump and dance to their favorite EDM music.
What actually happened was the tent was prematurely shut down on Friday as attendees broke the floor of the tent with all that jumping and dancing. Outside Lands tried to remedy the situation for Saturday but the SOMA Tent was closed down halfway through the day, and closed entirely for Sunday. Instead a temporary stage was built for the DJ’s to perform in front of the tent, turning the enclosed warehouse vibes to one of outdoor fun.
ODESZA closed out the festival with fireworks and a sweeping soundscape of electronic music, playing to a packed Polo Field full of energy and emotion. A great sendoff for day 3.
Latinx artists shine on Lands End & Beyond
Throughout the years Outside Lands has brought in Latinx artists from all genres and popularity, from lesser known but incredible indie artists to the year they closed out the festival with a stadium-like performance from J Balvin.
This year they had a more low-key roster of Latinx representation, but those artists did shine during their sets.
Cuco, who has played Outside Lands in years past, came on Friday afternoon with his mix of Latin love ballads and psychedelic alt rock to the main stage of Lands End, the bilingual set was full of high energy hits as well as crooning homages to the 70’s and 80’s love songs from Latin America.
Always a hit, Cuco played trumpet solos to a few of the songs and pulled in a large crowd at his 4pm slot.
Speaking of trumpets, the other highlight in the Latinx music representation was La Doña, a Chicana singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist hailing from San Francisco who blends R&B, reggaeton, and oldies to fuse together a captivating sound all her own.
During her set as the opener on Friday for the main Lands End stage, La Doña played the trumpet in between singing about love, pain and femininity, delighting the crowd alongside her bandmates which included her saxophone playing roommate and La Doña’s father on the trumpet.
Saturday had a great performance on the Panhandle stage from Eddie Zuko, a Chicano singer, songwriter and producer from California’s Imperial Valley. Zuko has been working for a decade to reach bigger audiences, and this being his first festival makes the future look bright. His blend of bilingual reggae, hip-hop and Latin alternative is perfect for a cool San Francisco summer night and brought in respectable crowds for an energetic performance that will no doubt make him a lot of new fans.
The vibe of Outside Lands 2023 is one of cautious optimism, as we creep further and further away from the still very real threats of COVID and the pandemic, these music festivals show that there is still a real urge to get out, eat good food and listen to the best music the world has to offer amongst the beauty and serenity of Golden Gate Park.
Outside Lands closed with about 75 thousand people attending per day, and the 2024 date is set for next August 9-11.