It was a year of firsts and lasts for San Francisco’s Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival.
We learned on Saturday from the iconically-shirtless Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino that the crowd gathered before him in Golden Gate Park was the largest in the festival’s 12-year history.
“I just found out that this is the biggest crowd they’ve ever had at Outside Lands!” Glover cheered. And the biggest crowd cheered back.
The festival also made history by becoming the first in California to allow festival-goers to buy and use cannabis (legally), giving other festivals throughout the Golden State something to think about.
And where final day headliners went out with a bang, the last Outside Lands of the 2010s ended with the uncharacteristic sound of silence that left an audience in awe.
The eclectic lineup of artists that keeps bringing more and more people to Outside Lands remained the same. Choosing a top performance would be impossible with Anderson .Paak, Childish Gambino, Flume, Tierra Whack, Kacey Musgraves, Mavis Staples, The Lumineers, Flying Lotus and so many others putting on performances that won’t be easy to forget.
Epic only begins to describe the triple-threat’s set on Lands End Stage—and on the field—Saturday night. Childish Gambino knew how to perform on stage, on camera, in the audience, everywhere. He also didn’t stay to one album as he varied his set with many hits from Because the Internet and Awaken, My Love!, plus works in progress and fan favorites including “This is America.” The glittery, sway-inducing “Summertime Magic” felt as much a dance as a song.
Gambino let us into his church, especially with his powerhouse choir and his two rules: respect each other and phone’s down. Given the thrill of having the biggest Outside Lands crowd ever, he let the second rule slide as he took selfies with the audience and had us light up the stadium with our phone flashlights at one point. There were even fireworks. He wanted us to feel boundless light and energy that night.
“To fully enjoy this show, be somewhat high,” he said early on. “Even if you’re high on love.”
As one of many powerful moments, Gambino rushed out to the crowd between the bridge and outro of the newer song “Human Sacrifice.” He timed his leap back onstage right as the choir sang with a slow, spiritual gravitas, “Holy Spirit!” Gambino bowed to the crowd as he sang back, “Holy Spirit!”
And later, in the last seconds of his performance, he slowed the final line of the “Redbone” chorus as if to savor it, “Now don’t you close…your eyes.”
Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals
“Say ‘Yes, Lord!”
“I like that.”
The set began with a lone trumpet player strolling on to the fading sunset glow of the Sutro Stage. The muted notes acted like a deep breath before what was arguably one of the most explosive performances of the weekend and the festival.
Once Anderson .Paak and the rest of The Free Nationals took the stage it was all energy thereafter. At the end of Brandon Paak Anderson’s first drum roll in his opening song “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance,” a wall of flames spewed from the stage. By then the crowd was all in.
Whether Anderson was on the kit or bouncing across the stage, it was rare to look up and see him without a wide, contagious grin. He also gave love to other artists, covering Kaytranada’s “Glowed Up” complete with fireworks and also Mac Miller’s “Dang!” which included a recording of the late rapper.
"Hi. This is Flume. Outside Lands. It is so good to be here. Outside. On the Land. Thank you for coming to see me play. I hear you guys like to smoke weed. 420 hellz yeah. 420 smoke weed everyday hell yeah. Cool cool hell yeah. Awesome cool. Hell yeah. I love you all."
-- Flume, speaking in a computer generated voice before playing “Insane.”
In my all my years of going to Outside Lands, there was never a crowd like the one Flume brought to the Lands End field on Saturday. Every hand was up, waving in the misty afternoon set as one as Flume’s Harley Edward Streten commanded the crowd. People weren’t just sitting on people’s shoulders, they were standing on them and flailing like palm trees caught in a Category 4 hurricane.
Flume didn’t seek to disappoint in his second visit to Outside Lands, bringing out singer Vera Blue with an unreleased song “Rushing Back,” smashing pots on stage and ending the set with a remix of Disclosure’s “You and Me.”
A guess as to why Flume’s crowd decided to let their freak flag fly like it was Fourth of July was because Big Wild had just unleashed many of them from his own set 15 minutes before. Hopping from drum pads, cajon and the microphone, producer Harley Edward Streten never let the energy dip for the packed crowd at Twin Peaks. When he felt it wasn’t enough, the long-haired Massachusetts native would hop on to the feedback speaker to get ‘em moving.
When his remix of Sylvan Esso’s “Hey Mami” came on, Streten seemed like the leader of a troupe of whistling, marching elephants, conducting the crowd to wave their arms back and forth like trunks.
Tierra Whack celebrated the day before her birthday with the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd around the Twin Peaks Stage. Her outfit matched the stage backdrop with a red-and-white Dr. Seuss theme, which hinted at the whimsy to come.
Reminiscent of Lizzo at last year’s Outside Lands, Whack was a true entertainer. She gave us a tutorial on how to say “Whack” in a quick monotone before she broke into bizarre sounds: “Whack. Eek. Aack.” And when a big balloon near the stage popped, she told Zack the DJ to stop the song “Gloria.”
“What the fu*k, you guys, you just killed the balloon?” she cried to the audience. “You guys are crazy.”
She can play and she can rap. She hit on songs “Hungry Hippo” and “Black Nails” from her album Whack World, that last a minute each but have enough musical complexity to feel like more time passed.
With Yaeji, house beats and crisp vocals went hand-in-hand to make a mesmerizing club scene materialize on the grassy knolls of Sutro Stage Friday night. Even the spaces between songs carried a beat to create a seamless tapestry of sound. She stunned the crowd with her thrilling remix of Drake’s “Passionfruit” and dialed it up even more for her “Raingurl” finale, with lights and heads in pure motion. As a parting gesture to the cheering crowd, Yaeji raised her arms above her head and curved them inwards to form a heart.
The fog might’ve set in during Ella Mai’s set, but her bright, soulful voice shone through at Twin Peaks Stage Saturday afternoon. “I want to hear you sing this so loud,” she told the crowd during “She Don’t,” and the song became a sing-along. She had heads and raised hands swaying throughout, especially when she closed out with fan favorites “Boo’d Up” and “Naked.” It’s been almost a year since the English R&B singer released her debut album, and it’s gone platinum -- she wanted her fans, including her day-one fans, to be included in that success.
Though underrated by a noon set time, 24-year-old Melbourne native Fatai and two-piece band didn’t seem to mind at all. Fatai glowed and her expressions morphed as she sang her latest single, “Road Less Traveled,” which showed off her impressive vocal control.
It was easy to see why she caught the attention of Sam Smith and hundreds of thousands of people through her online performances.
And to give something the crowd to remember her by, a guitar-wielding Fatai and the band laid down a jamming, funky medley of Destiny’s Child songs.
After exiting the inter-dimensional visual vortex of Flying Lotus 3D, we decided to ground ourselves at the end of Friday night during the final songs of The Lumineers. “Donna,” a song from their new album III set to release this September, began with a melancholy near-lullaby piano solo. The slow swaying of the crowd soon turned into a festive dance by the final song, in which the folk rock group honored Tom Petty with their cover of his song “Walls.”
Weyes Blood’s Natalie Mering asked the early-bird crowd strewn about the sunny lawns of Sutro Stage on Sunday if anyone was starting a journey at her show that day. If so, Mering told them she’d help them along the way. Connotation or not, the journey began when she opened her set with “A Lot’s Gonna Change,” a crescendoing synth-piano ballad on one of the year’s best albums, Titanic Rising.
It was easy to let go and become enraptured by impressive depth of Mering’s voice, from the commanding beauty of “Everyday” to the haunting observances of “Andromeda,” both off Titanic Rising:
"Running from my own life now
I'm really turning some time
Looking up to the sky for something I may never find."
Paul Simon wasn’t the only music legend on Lands End Stage Sunday. Gospel and blues singer Mavis Staples’s rich, husky voice filled the air early afternoon, accompanied by back-up singers and a full band.
“We bring you greetings from the windy city, home of the Down Home Blues, [and] Muddy Waters,” Staples said, referencing a type of Chicago blues and a blues musician from the late 1940s and 1950s.
Her set covered many songs from her album We Get By, released just this year. In a time when walls get discussed, she sang about building bridges. Her activist spirit shone through, and she imparted a sense of hope, especially during the title track, which had an uplifting guitar solo. “We get by,” she sang the final lyric in a slow, reassuring way.
“When I say ‘yee,’ you say ‘haw’”
-- Kacey Musgraves
Kacey Musgraves went for the full spectrum in more than one sense. She began her set with the pure, sing-along strummer “Slow Burn” and ended with disco-denim banger of “High Horse” all the while sporting a rainbow studded jumpsuit and belt.
The Grammy award winner felt comfortable with her crowd, asking them to chant or raise both middle fingers high into the air. With a backdrop of beautiful kaleidoscope visuals, the hippiefied pop country star’s voice shone as she worked her way through a set made up primarily of tracks from her incredible 2018 LP Golden Hour including “Butterflies,” “Velvet Elvis,” “Wonder Woman,” and “Golden Hour.”
A big surprise was her disco moment covering Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”
Where often Outside Lands headliners have ended their sets with a bang -- from the intense, distorted final note of “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails in 2013 to The Who’s epic “Won’t Get Fooled Again” in 2017 -- Paul Simon chose to end the festival alone with an acoustic guitar.
The chatter of the crowd is an almost constant buzz in the ear during the festival; it died away almost immediately when Simon’s fingers picked the first iconic notes of “The Sounds of Silence.”
Even after Simon’s performances with an amazing consortium of talented bandmates on stage that night -- from Graceland bassist Bakithi Kumalo to a treasured, surprise duet of “The Boxer” with The Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir -- it was the simple combination of steel strings with Simon’s pure, but aged voice that struck hardest.
Maybe it was because it could well be Simon’s last-ever performance in the park. The 77-year-old folk and rock legend announced last year that he will be ending his touring career for good.
Should it turn out to be his final notes in Golden Gate Park, Simon still left us something to remember; the man said it himself:
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Within the sound of silence
“We're gonna keep playing music. You know why? Because we're contractually obligated!"
-- Mark Hoppus.
blink brought it back to 1999 and it was everything we wanted. Whether it was Travis Barker’s fireworks drum solo before “Violence,” Mark Hoppus fucking with the crowd after they cheered for “Adam’s Song” -- a song about the time he almost committed suicide -- to a discography-wide setlist with new material and dirty tracks like “Family Reunion,” the Friday afternoon show was an unadulterated jammer.
Celebrating 20 years since their breakout album Enema of the State was released, the band didn’t hold back on mixing in lesser known songs like the opening track “Dumpweed” and “Dysentery Gary” with the crowd-pleasing, radio-favorite hits “All the Small Things” and “What’s My Age Again?”
“Let’s bring it back to 1999, shall we?” Hoppus asked the crowd before going into “Dumpweed.”
While guitarist-singer Tom DeLonge is no longer in the band, the crowd didn’t seem to mind as Delonge’s replacement Matt Skiba took on the main parts for “I Miss You,” “Reckless Abandon,” and a song from their upcoming album Nine called “Blame It On My Youth.”
Outside Lands 2019 Photo Diary
By Will Houston and Spencer Tierney