Outside Lands 2017 has come and gone! As I sit on my couch this afternoon following a lengthy BoltBus ride back from the Bay, I’m here to detail you all the best and worst parts of the 10th anniversary of the San Francisco festival.
If you want a much cuter recap of what it was like, you should check out my 7-year-old niece Olivia’s perspective of Outside Lands! Saturday was her first music festival experience and it was a blast to share with her. Without further ado, here’s the Best and Worst of Outside Lands 2017.
BEST: Gorillaz pull out all the stops for Friday headline set
From what I’ve gathered, the Gorillaz must have it built into their festival contracts to perform on the same night as many of their collaborators so they can bring out special guests during their show. That was pretty evident on the opening night of Outside Lands 2017, as the group brought out the likes of Pusha T, Kali Uchis, De La Soul, Del the Funky Homosapien, and Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon. Both Little Dragon and Kali Uchis had sets earlier in the day at the festival.
The Gorillaz’s show featured 26 songs, and there was never a lull in the action. It also marked the first time in seven years that they performed “Empire Ants”, their collaboration with Nagano, which was a pretty special moment.
WORST: A Tribe Called Quest cancels not once, but twice
1) We are deeply disappointed that we’ve just been informed A Tribe Called Quest will not make their scheduled performance at Outside Lands.
— Outside Lands Help (@outsidelands411) August 13, 2017
It’s a shame that hip-hop legends A Tribe Called Quest couldn’t find the strength to perform at Outside Lands 2017, considering the Bay Area is where the dearly departed Phife Dawg was a longtime resident up until his death. On Friday, it was announced last minute that they would not perform “due to unforeseen travel issues”. They were moved to Saturday, but not long before they were supposed to say the stage, the festival had to announce they would not be performing.
The group later came out to apologize for their no-show, saying it was a “wave of grief” that kept them from making their scheduled appearance. Loss is hard, we’ve all been through it, and I can’t imagine what it must be like for these guys to perform without their brother on stage with them. But I also feel for the longtime fans that reside in the Bay Area or came long distances to say their own proper goodbye who didn’t get a chance. Here’s hoping ATCQ makes good on their promise to “correct this and regain your confidence” in a touching open letter published by the LA Times.
BEST: Maggie Rogers continues her star turn
I caught Maggie Rogers’ first music festival performance at Firefly, just up the road from where she grew up. A couple months later and the look of shock and awe and appreciation still hasn’t washed off the rising singer’s face. One of the most poignant moments of the weekend was seeing Rogers nearly break into tears as the massive crowd cheered her on the Sutro Stage. She has the charm of the girl next door but with some serious swagger.
These crowds are only going to get bigger and bigger as the “Alaska” singer continues her career, and she seems poised to handle it all. Even more amazing was it was so early on the last day and it was still jam-packed.
One fun tidbit about her: I finished reading the awesome Lizzy Goodman book Meet Me in the Bathroom a month ago, and in the thank yous at the back of the book I discovered Rogers had done a lot of transcribing of interviews for the book while a student at NYU. When she was on the stage at Outside Lands, she told the crowd all she ever wanted to do was share her music with the world, and it’s awesome to see her doing it.
WORST: Dr. Octagon’s visuals
I enjoyed taking in the Kool Keith persona Dr. Octagon, but I was really turned off by the visuals that accompanied their show. I’ve always considered Outside Lands a much more family-oriented festival than most, and seeing sexually explicit content flash across the screen nonstop didn’t seem appropriate for the setting.
Dr. Octagon’s backstory is he is an “extraterrestrial time-traveling gynecologist and surgeon from planet Jupiter,” and although some may have known the content wasn’t family-friendly, imagine walking across the park with your family as you made your entrance and seeing skeletons performing oral sex on each other and bare breasts bouncing up and down on a massive screen? Let me just say I’m glad I brought my niece Saturday and not Friday.
BEST: Action Bronson’s sandwich toss to guy in tree at GastroMagic set
One of the things unique to Outside Lands is their GastroMagic stage, which combines music and cuisine. Action Bronson’s Sunday set was one of the most anticipated sets of the weekend — he does have a VICE food travel show and is a former chef on top of being a killer rapper.
The New York native threw a bunch of weed treats into the crowd, from edibles to vape pens. That wasn’t even his best trick of the day. At one point, Action Bronson launched a chicken parmesan sandwich at least 50 feet up to a guy in a tree, who magically caught it. The video below sort of catches it. Amazing.
— Joe Zolnoski (@tweetjoez) August 14, 2017
WORST: Sound on Twin Peaks stage
The handful of times I made it to the Twin Peaks stage and it wasn’t for a DJ, I was pretty disappointed by the sound. For Electric Guest on Friday, the bass was way too overpowering for the lead singer’s voice. Later in the day, the sound was just way too loud in general for Sleigh Bells (though that is generally what they go for) and I could barely make out the singer’s voice. On Sunday, I was a bit let down by SOFI TUKKER‘s sound on the same stage. These are all acts I’ve seen thrive in live performances before and it feels like some fans didn’t get the full experience from seeing them perform there.
BEST: The North Face climbing wall
I didn’t get an e-mail notifying me this was happening until about a week before the festival, but this was very cool. The North Face brought an 18-by-20 climbing wall to the space across from the Panhandle stage, and even better, they donated $10 to The Trust For Public Land for everyone who climbed. As I mentioned earlier, I brought my 7-year-old niece to the festival on Saturday and this was one of the highlights of our day. As she scaled the wall to the top, everyone waiting in line cheered loudly for her, which was awesome to experience.
I’ve been to countless music festivals and am often disappointed by the brand activations that are on site. This was highly memorable, and was a great fit for the SF/Bay Area crowd, as I consider them to be rather outdoorsy. This was to my knowledge their first venture into the festival space and I hope we get to see more.
Five Favorite Sets of Outside Lands 2017:
- Gorillaz — It was my first time getting to see them and they pulled out all the stops. When you put out a new album that has as many collaborations as theirs did and you’re headlining festivals, you best be bringing some guests with you. They did. They also just sounded great and it felt like a good fit for the festival. I’m hoping this is the kind of headliner booking they stick with moving forward, even though tickets moved slower than in previous years.
- Cage the Elephant — These guys will be headlining second-tier festivals on their next album cycle, no doubt about it. Few rock bands bring the energy to their live show as consistently as these guys, and they’ve really developed a solid catalog of material over the years. They clearly have connected with a wide demographic as my niece perked up five times during their show and said “Hey, I know this song!” and everyone was rocking out pretty hard around us way in the back.
- Hundred Waters — They may have been booked an early slot on Friday, but they made the most out of their main stage slot. Previewing a load of material from their upcoming new record Communicating (out Sept. 14 via OWSLA), they held the crowd’s attention with their moody synth-based ballads. Singer Nicole Miglis’ voice is a bit Bjork-like but the subject matter is much easier to connect to. If their Outside Lands set was any indication, it could be the best breakup record of 2017.
- Maggie Rogers — The rising singer continues to draw bigger and bigger crowds, and even better, handle them with ease. She was one of the most talked about sets of the weekend and she will be playing festival main stages much sooner than anyone could have anticipated. She only has an EP out and still managed to keep the crowd’s attention for the duration of her show, which included a mesmerizing cover of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon”.
- Warpaint — The only reason this isn’t higher is because they were only given a 50-minute set and considering how jam-heavy they are, it’s not enough time to completely immerse yourself. Still, they rocked hard and I got to take it in up close with my niece on my shoulders most of the time. I’m happy I get to see them again Thursday, August 17 at the Santa Monica Pier for the Twilight Concert Series, if you’re in the area, don’t miss it!
Outside Lands will forever be home to the first festival I ever experienced and I’m glad I got to return there again, and share it with my niece one of the days. It’s always like a high school reunion for me personally, too. Here’s hoping the Bay Area festival sticks to their guns and continues to book this type of lineup moving forward.
Photos courtesy of Outside Lands / Andrew Jorgensen
OTHER BEST + WORST FESTIVAL RECAPS: