There was something familiar in the air this year at San Francisco’s Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival.
The event has taken place at the city’s idyllic Golden Gate Park each of the last 12 Augusts — but this year’s festivities marked a notable first: Following in the footsteps of Mendocino’s Northern Nights festival in July, Outside Lands made history as the first major U.S. music festival to include on-site cannabis sales and consumption.
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Confined to a festival-within-a-festival called Grass Lands, the area required a separate ID check but allowed for all attendees ages 21 and up to purchase pot from a number of the industry’s most reputed brands in flower, concentrates, vaporizers, edibles and more. There were also several designated “consumption” sites within Grass Lands (essentially outdoor picnic table enclosures) and a contest to carve gourds into bongs sponsored by craft cannabis distributor Flow Kana.
Oh yeah — in addition to the weed, there was music! Headliner Childish Gambino welcomed the largest crowd in Outside Lands history on Saturday when attendance for the day hit 90,000; legendary songsmith Paul Simon bid farewell to the Bay Area (again) on Sunday following what was originally supposed to be his last show in town in 2018; and per tradition, earlier sets at Outside Lands offered a solid mix of rookie and veteran acts, from the breathless fury of L.A.’s Cherry Glazerr to the antics of Lil Wayne.
To recap a dozen years at Outside Lands, here are the top 12 moments from the festival’s 2019 installment.
Welcome to Grass Lands
As noted, no single aspect of this year’s festival garnered more attention than Grass Lands, where attendees were permitted to purchase and consume cannabis. Featuring on-site activations, educational panels, performances, and more, the area drew a big crowd throughout the weekend. As part of the programming, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” contestant and avid pot fan Laganja Estranja stopped by to join “Bong Appétit”’s Vanessa Lavorato for a THC-infused chocolate ganache cooking demo on Friday. Speaking to Variety, the outspoken drag queen shared that, in addition to the welcome practicalities of accessing cannabis, Grass Lands also deserves kudos for its inclusive spirit. “I’ve never been able to be myself at a festival,” Estranja explained, “which is why I don’t really perform at them. I think that Outside Lands is breaking ground — both within the cannabis industry for its law-abiding abilities and its incredible platform for people to medicate publicly, but also because they’ve shown open arms to everyone. There’s no judgment here, and that’s how it should be. Any person who loves and supports cannabis should be able to come and share that passion. I just think it’s so cool that San Francisco was the first to do it — although it’s also very predictable. If anyone was going to do it, it was going to be San Francisco, and here we are!”
Childish Gambino, Shirtless in the Fog
Donald Glover likes to show a little flesh when he performs as his Childish Gambino alter-ego, and his headlining set at Outside Lands was no exception. Despite the fog wafting across the festival’s main stage, Glover arrived in his usual Gambino attire: no shirt and white cotton pants. Over the course of a mesmerizing performance that saw Glover focus heavily on his more overtly R&B material — songs from his still-unreleased next album as well as 2016’s “Awaken, My Love!” and 2013’s “Because the Internet” — Glover seemed to become one with the music, gyrating and responding to his sensational live band. At one point, Glover stopped to tell the crowd that he’d just been informed it was the largest in the festival’s history. Considering that it may stand as Gambino’s penultimate performance ever — Glover, who promised to retire Gambino after this tour, said as much on stage — it was a historic evening in more ways than one
Old Tricks for New Blink-182
While seeing Blink-182 without longtime guitarist-singer Tom DeLonge — who left to pursue his extraterrestrial interests — still feels a bit like sacrilege, Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba rose to the challenge with the support of founding members Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus. Together, the revamped lineup shredded their way through cuts off the band’s forthcoming eighth album, “Nine” (due on September 20) and fan favorites like “Dammit” and “Adam’s Song.” It may not have been a mirror image of Blink’s original incarnation, but it was hardly a case of imposter syndrome either
One Last Meeting with Better Oblivion Community Center
Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers weren’t scheduled to be here: Their band together, Better Oblivion Community Center, toured hard this spring but decided to reconvene for one last run of shows to promote their highly-lauded, eponymous debut album. “What a nice day to be playing in the park,” Oberst observed during the band’s late afternoon set on Saturday. It was overcast, with the sunlight fading, but he wasn’t wrong. Though Better Oblivion’s songs may be dreary, they deliver a catharsis that is both potent and sincere. Whether Better Oblivion is done for good or simply resting, their performance at Outside Lands was a master class in collaboration.
Wyclef Jean Throws Shade at 50 Cent
Last year, groundbreaking trio Salt-N-Pepa were the Heineken tent’s surprise guest — this time, it was Fugees frontman Wyclef Jean. Although his performance was spirited and crisp, Jean seemed less than pleased that his allotted time was so short — a symptom of his appearance being tied to that specific stage. “They say I have five minutes left,” he sang-explained in frustration after only a few songs. “If you wanted a 20-minute show, you should’ve hired 50 Cent.”
Cherry Glazerr Bites Back
Playing one of the day’s earliest sets can sometimes lead to a lackadaisical energy from the crowd, but Cherry Glazerr’s Clementine Creevy was up for the challenge on Sunday. Now with three albums to its name, the group is a polished rock outfit that wears its cynicism like armor. With the rare prospect of clear skies greeting the group’s lunchtime performance (counterintuitively, San Francisco summers are usually chilly and cloudy), their set was imbued with the allure of a college backyard barbeque – good friends, cold beer, and great music.
Paul Simon’s Second Farewell
While Paul Simon played what was assumed to be his final Bay Area performance during his farewell tour just over a year ago, he since agreed to perform at Outside Lands and offering to donate his net proceeds to two local environmental organizations: the San Francisco Parks Alliance and Friends of the Urban Forest. No one was complaining: If the sound of his unmistakable voice ricocheting through the trees in Golden Gate Park weren’t enough, the knowledge that nature will benefit from his efforts made Simon’s two-hour, hit-studded performance all the more special. He also managed to deliver one last surprise when he brought out Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead for a moving cover of the Simon & Garfunkel classic “The Boxer.”
Kacey Musgraves Shines a Light
Still touring behind her Grammy Album of the Year “Golden Hour,” the girl from Golden, Texas kept spirits high with a Sunday afternoon set of heartfelt ballads and downhome charm. Despite the fact that the outspokenly cannabis-friendly Musgraves didn’t make the most her chance to launch into her song “High Time” at 4:20 p.m. (she tackled it at 4:40 p.m.), the spirit of Grass Lands was alive and well as she gave what may very well be her last non-headlining appearance in the Bay Area.
Alyssa Edwards vs. the World
Drag queen Alyssa Edwards doesn’t have time for shenanigans. After first gaining notice as a contestant on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” the Mesquite, Texas entertainer landed her own reality show on Netflix, Dancing Queen. On Friday night, she held court at the festival’s Barbary tent, where she shared stories from the road, brought up a staff member wearing a sandwich board with beer prices to try and understand his choices (no dice), and sent everyone searching for their snatched wigs after closing her set with a superb display of lip-synching and choreography.
Mavis Staples Kicks Off Her Campaign
At 80 years old, soul legend Mavis Staples continues to bring the church wherever she goes with a powerhouse voice that’s as timeless as the stars are bright. During one of the weekend’s surprisingly few overt political references, Staples suggested that she might be the best person to lead the country. “I’m going up to that White House,” she said. “I might just run for president! If [Trump] can be president, I can be president!”
An Erratic Offering from Lil Wayne
Over 20 minutes into Lil Wayne’s Friday afternoon technically began, with the DJ hyping the crowd, the rapper had yet to take the stage. Concern that he may not appear at all was valid — over the course of his current tour with Blink-182, the rapper suggested he might quit the joint venture at a July stop in Virginia and later missed a Tampa date due to illness. Eventually, he did make it, but there wasn’t much to see: Either screaming or mumbling his lyrics, Wayne did what some might call performing until he was apparently sure he’d met his stage time obligations, and then he was gone. “Obligation” is a good way to summarize what it felt like to watch him as well.
Less People, More Space
For a variety of reasons, turnout for this year’s Outside Lands seemed smaller than previous incarnations of the festival. That may be due to the fact that many of the lineup’s bigger names — Musgraves, Simon, Anderson. Paak, Better Oblivion Community Center — had all played Bay Area shows in the recent past, or simply the result of a saturated market for concerts in the Bay Area. Although with news that Oakland’s Treasure Island festival will not be returning, we’re hoping that Outside Lands will be back, stronger than ever.