Posted Aug 31st, 2010 (11:07 pm) by Bo Smothers
The Festival Review: Outside Lands 2010

Still just an infant in the world of multi-day music festivals, Outside Lands just celebrated its third birthday in Golden Gate Park with over 60,000 concert-goers a day as guests. With the likes of Kings of Leon, Furthur, Phoenix, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes, Al Green, Bassnectar, Pretty Lights, The Strokes, My Morning Jacket, Cat Power, Empire Of The Sun and Wolfmother, among others, there to play the gig. The food, which catered to literally every craving, from Venezuelan maize carapas, to pork vermicelli bowls, all the way to gourmet pulled pork sandwiches. All much better than the usual pizza and ice-cream birthday fare, and the party favors consisting of free iTunes samplers, buzzing ears and great pictures, were a hit. It turned out to be a pretty good party.

Section 1: Festival Production (Organization)

The first thing you’ll want to know about Outside Lands is that you’ll be walking. A lot. Those stylish work boots you just got may look great, but aren’t the right choice for this festival. And although I know some of you may scoff as you read that, as walking and standing all day is intrinsically a part of festival life, walking here is a whole different ball game. First there’s the walk through the park to the festival itself, which unless you were one of the very, very few to claim a coveted parking spot within the park, was a 30 minute window that, no matter how beautiful the scenery, cut into your designated music time and may have even caused you to miss that band you were so stoked on seeing. Now that you’ve arrived there’s the stage placement to consider. The two main stages were at least ten to fifteen minutes away from each other and caused you to cut set after set short as you raced to get good placement for the next. Then there was the bathroom issue. Despite the great number of bathrooms in the designated spot, said designated spot was too far away to be convenient, which left many in a state of foot-to-foot hopping agitation as they decided whether to see the end of the show or relieve themselves.

Trash too got out of hand by the second day because trash cans were hard to distinguish from the compost and recycling bins, which led to them being ignored. To cap it all off, there was no camping thanks to San Francisco Park Code, Article 3, Section 3.12.

Thank God though, that those were the only problems to be found, as the rest of the festival, thanks to the friendliest staff I’ve ever met, ran smoother than butter on a skillet. The line up, designed as to never leave anyone, no matter their musical taste, waiting for longer than fifteen to twenty minutes for something they wanted to hear, was a registrar’s holy grail. The biggest dilemma of each day was deciding which closing band to see, there were very few conflicts. The festival organizers worked their asses off and it showed.


Section 2: Presentation

One of the coolest aspects of Outside Lands was their devotion to viticulture and its promotion. With a giant red tent cleverly labeled Wine Lands housing over fifteen of the finest local wineries and the beer stand selling red wine by the glass, Outside Lands was more of a Music, Food & Wine festival than a Music & Arts festival.

Which isn’t to say there wasn’t copious decoration; in fact, even the food stands looked great at Outside Lands, boasting an enormous mural along the top which depicted a rolling, stylized countryside scene which served to lift up the mood of those hungry patrons who waited in the long food lines. The stages too were beautiful; with enormous tapestries depicting what the stage was named for draped on either side and adorable bamboo frames holding cards naming the artist on stage at the time.

There was also colored ambient lighting at night that lit up the bordering Eucalyptus groves beautifully, which gave the whole night-time experience a magical feel. There were also giant metal flowers, buffalo bushes, and men riding bicycles with trees on the backs, and it was all wonderful. But it sure as hell wasn’t perfect. There was art, but it wasn’t exactly inspiring, there was decoration, but it wasn’t one of a kind. It was a musical festival, not the Sistine Chapel, and that’s alright.


Section 3: Sustainability Practices

Considering this festival took place in San Francisco, the arguable center of liberalism in the country, I was surprised at the lack of environmentalism. Sure, on the site it may boast nine or ten “green” practices, including the Panhandle stage, which was both completely solar powered and far and away the smallest stage in the festival. To be honest, the rest of it felt…gimmicky. There weren’t any real environmentally friendly practices being implemented (aside from the biodiesel rangers the trash crew drove and the separation of compostables, recyclables and trash) but rather just booths of initiative after initiative, asking people to help at another time. It was, in a word, disappointing.


Section 4: Non-Musical Attractions

Like I said before, the wine culture at Outside Lands was amazing. If you were over 21, you could have a blast tasting wines for hours in Wine Lands, and talking to the vintners themselves who showed up for the event. Unfortunately, aside from that, and the enormous, spinning metal flower in the center of the Polo Fields, and the recycled trees, also made of metal, that could be found next to both the metal flower, and Wine Lands, there wasn’t really anything else to do or look at. Outside Lands is a Food, Music and Wine festival, that’s all. Art shouldn’t be on the bill.


Section 5: Overall Atmosphere

All bullshit aside, Outside Lands was a truly great place to be. There’s something about being surrounded by enormous trees while so near the ocean, as well as the friendly staff and fellow concertgoers that just gets under your skin. It’s a bit pricey, somewhere between Pitchfork and Coachella, but it’s definitely within reach if you really need it to be, and the music pays for itself many times over. The only real problem, ambiance wise, would be the crowd, which, on the first day, was perfect, but on the second day toed the line at stifling. In short, it’s a musical festival. If you’ve been to one before, you’ve been to Outside Lands, and there’s little need to explain it. But if you haven’t, here it is. People are rarely friendlier than the ones you will meet in your two days in Golden Gate Park. Whatever you need, be it a lighter, the time, or even the extra dough to get some water (which happened to me personally), people got your back. On top of that, you have incredible, truly incredible, bands playing music for an enormous crowd, and performing their asses off. It’s a slice of Eden, minus the bathroom situation, for two days; if you’ve got a chance, go.



As we mentioned in the preceding section, this iteration of San Francisco's Outside Lands Festival fits the general definition of a music festival to a tee. While in reality, there was actually very little wrong with the event, there was also very little that made Outside Lands stand out from the pack. The lineup, location and organization were the fest's strong points; given a bit more creativity and effort, this festival could could be the crown gem of the west coast's dozens of musical gatherings. At the same time, we were let down by the lack of innovative sustainability practices and non-musical entertainment (that said, we found Wine Lands to be decidedly worth checking out). As a result of the unevenly uneven attention to detail, we were forced give this year's Outside Lands Music and Art Festival only a lukewarm recommendation.

Final Score (Multi-Day Festivals): 61/100

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