Fifty years after its psychedelic heyday, it’s easy to look around at San Francisco and feel like the city has moved on from its countercultural spirit. What once was a mecca for artists, queer folks, and outsiders now caters to the Silicon Valley elite. But every year, Outside Lands festival mounts its three-day adventure in Golden Gate Park in an attempt to unite both past and present in San Francisco. At Outside Lands, you can see expansive, mind-blowing psychedelic rock and socially-charged hip hop, all while participating in this upscale experience that seems to be more concerned with satisfying as many techbros as possible — and, well, that’s San Francisco in the year 2023.
But of course, Outside Lands works overtime to ensure that it never feels like a Salesforce company retreat. The 15th anniversary edition of Outside Lands this past weekend (August 11th-13th) was, as it is every year, a completely unique festival experience. Not only is the natural beauty of Golden Gate Park on display at each and every Outside Lands stage, the park’s frequent onslaughts of thick fog and mist make you feel like you’re in a totally different universe. The lineup this year, which featured headliners Kendrick Lamar, Foo Fighters, and ODESZA, as well as Lana Del Rey, The 1975, Megan Thee Stallion, and Janelle Monáe, felt in conversation with past, present, and future.
But it’s not all just great music — there’s heavily-upgraded Grass Lands, which allows attendees to purchase and consume cannabis from local California growers. Wine Lands, a usual purveyor of “Napa Valley Vibes” at Outside Lands, moved to the shady McClaren Pass this year, and the newly-mounted Cocktail Magic featured boozy drinks amidst scratch-heavy DJ sets.
As Outside Lands has expanded the breadth of their experiences, so too has the festival’s overall volume and density. This year was one of the most packed editions of the festival in their 15 year history — with somewhere around 250,000 tickets sold, Outside Lands was particularly ambitious with how many attendees they could hold this year. This certainly came at the detriment of the festival’s SOMA tent, which experienced such a massive influx of people early in the day on Friday that the stage’s dancefloor reportedly collapsed.
Still, if you played your cards right and expertly planned your bathroom breaks, then Outside Lands 2023 was one to remember. The festival was streaming via Amazon Music this year, so if you caught a bit of the festival this year — or you didn’t — here’s what went down.
The overall volume of attendees at Outside Lands this year was bewildering. I’ve been to quite a few editions of Outside Lands and many festivals myself, and I’m a huge supporter of getting to the grounds early to check out artists in the 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. window — but I have never seen a festival so crowded for a 12:45 p.m. stage-opening set. This is great for the smaller undercard artists who might have feared playing to an empty field, and ended up playing some of the rowdiest sets of the festival. But it did mean that when the late afternoon and early evening hours rolled around, the density was high, and the lines for food and bathrooms were very long.