On Saturday, I took my 7-year-old niece Olivia and my sister-in-law Marie to Outside Lands. I had been begging my brother Mario for months to let me, and eventually they agreed.
Outside Lands 2017 marked my fifth year attending festivals, with my first being the very same festival five years earlier. It was very special, and after each band and thing we did I asked Olivia what she thought. I later followed up with her on the phone the next day. She proved to be my toughest interview ever, but eventually I wore her down and got her to give better than one-word answers. Those six months of journalism classes before I dropped out of college proved fruitful.
Since moving to LA, I haven’t gotten to see Olivia as much as when I lived in the Bay Area and often babysat her while her parents worked. She’s always shown an interest in music and I wanted to see how she would handle the experience. I also know she has zero idea about what I do with music festivals, so it was fun to show her in person. Hopefully one day I get to do the same for my other nieces and nephew that live in Texas but are too young for this kind of thing still.
I had bought this flower-crown making kit off Amazon a few weeks earlier, and Marie and Olivia picked me up and we drove to SF. We met up with my friend Sydney, her boyfriend Mike, and her mom to do the flower crowns and also put some glitter on Olivia’s face. I have known Sydney (and her mom) since sixth grade — she now works in music in LA and is one of the raddest people I know.
When we arrived at the house, she instantly made Olivia feel comfortable and they put the flower crowns together for her, Marie, and Sydney. The kit was really well put together and easy to do. We took an Uber to the park.
I knew ahead of time to scope out a plan that was more kid-friendly than the crazy running around I usually do at music festivals. Outside Lands is a chill festival that’s pretty kid-friendly — the weather in particular. We mapped out a plan to stop by the rock-climbing wall The North Face had brought, as well as a stop at Choco Lands for some sweets.
The only band I insisted we get up close to see was Warpaint — one of my favorites — but also because the band is comprised of four of the most bad ass women in music and I wanted my niece to see that women can rock as hard as anyone. As much as she likes music, I don’t think she’s been fully exposed to that so much — except for HAIM, who I played a lot around her when she was little.
It’s an aunt or uncle’s job to make sure the kid is cool, that they’ve got street cred when they’re older. So I made this post so that when she’s 17 and her friends are asking if she’s going to the 20th anniversary of Outside Lands in 2027, Olivia will be like, “Pssh…I went to Outside Lands when I was 7, and I have a blog post to prove it.” So the rest of this post will be Outside Lands 2017 in her own words. [I will use brackets like I am using right here to further elaborate or explain what Olivia was trying to say.]
“Those boys were dressed really silly — it made me think of when Spongebob and Patrick were dressed like that in one show. [I did some research, Spongebob and Patrick dressed like hippies in the episode “Spongebob’s Last Stand”.] The guitars were really rocking, but I was mostly just paying attention to my delicious pizza when we sat down to listen.”
[For Warpaint, we got into the front pit area and were 15 feet from the stage. Olivia had earmuffs protecting her hearing. A lot of the photographers took our picture and it made her really shy because she thought everyone was looking at us. She was also embarrassed by mine and Marie’s dancing.]
“When we went into the front of the crowd, the girl with the red guitar [guitarist/vocalist Theresa Wayman] looked right at me and smiled! I really liked her outfit. I liked the song “New Song”. But what happens when they make a new new song? Does that song become “Old Song”? I liked at the end of one of the songs when the two girls [Wayman and bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg] danced with each other. All four of the girls were always smiling too. You were dancing a lot while I was on your shoulders and it made my legs kind of sweaty.”
[The North Face brought a rock-climbing wall to Outside Lands 2017, and they donated $10 to The Trust For Public Land for every person who climbed. I e-mailed the publicist ahead of time to make sure they had gear for someone my niece’s size, and they did! I’ve been to loads of festivals, and this was easily one of the most memorable brand activations I’ve seen at any of them.]
“Everyone was so nice. We were waiting in line and the tall girl who worked there took us around the back. The guy who put me in the thing [harness] was nice and made sure the shoes weren’t too tight. The girl who helped guide me up the wall was helpful. I could hear you cheering, and when I got all the way up to the top, everyone waiting in line cheered and clapped –that was so cool.” [It got really dusty or something all of a sudden when that happened because my eyes got really watery for no reason at all. Hmm.]
Watch her scale up the wall super fast and get cheered on by the crowd:
My eyes got really watery when my niece made it to the top of @thenorthface #climbingwall at @sfoutsidelands yesterday and everyone cheered her. I’m gonna blame it on dust though. Yeah that’s it. #outsidelands #OL10 #festivals #outsidelands2017 #thenorthface #wallsaremeantforclimbing #GIRLBOSS #inthewallsyouweaken #upthewallsyouclimb
“There was so much chocolate all in one place! It took me a lot to even decide what to get, there were so many things. I got the s’mores [which was all over her face in an instant] and hot chocolate [which was really tasty]. We sat on a log — was that just there as a log or was it there for people to sit on? Sydney’s friend brought me a T-shirt and sticker [and bandana] and then we said bye.”
[We spent a bit sitting on the log and eating our sweets. I myself had never checked out Choco Lands before, but the hot chocolate was so good I went and got some the next night when it got really chilly.]
[I asked Olivia if she knew Vance Joy, she thought she didn’t. Then I started singing “Riptide” and she got excited and asked if he was going to play that song.]
“We were sitting down by the big tree way in the back. I didn’t really care I couldn’t see anything, I could still hear the music. I was playing Pac Man on mommy’s phone and then when the song I know started you put me on your shoulders and everyone was singing along. That was cool.”
CAGE THE ELEPHANT
“You told me I would know a lot of their songs but I thought I didn’t. Then when I was laying down on my blanket, a few times [five times] I sat up and said, ‘I know that song!’ Mommy got me some watermelon and fried chicken and cornbread and it was nice to sit at the way back. Their music blew all of the clouds away!” [All day, it was cloudy and Olivia kept saying she wished the sun would come out. A few songs into Cage the Elephant, the sun finally made its first appearance.]
“I didn’t see THAT many kids there but I think if they came, they would have fun. I liked all of the funny clothes people were wearing, and a lot of people had glitter on their faces just like me. Nobody was mean. I wish we could have done the mini golf, but maybe next year. It was never too cold, but we left before it got dark. I want to come back next time!”
Going to Outside Lands 2017 with my niece and sister-in-law was the highlight of my festivaling this year. It was also great to spend some time with just Olivia and her mom, we never really did that too often and it definitely was the difference in Olivia being comfortable in that kind of environment. Olivia is a pretty shy kid around strangers but Sydney and Mike also made her feel comfortable right away, and that got her to open up a bit more.
There was a point during Warpaint’s show I thought my niece was uneasy because a lot of people were looking at us, but she shook it off eventually. Afterwards, I found an upload of the live stream and she said, “Ooh, I liked that song” when they played “Elephants”. Marie really liked their show too. Now my niece has seen up close a group of bad ass women jamming their hearts out.
If you’ve been on the fence about taking your kid to a festival and you live near enough to San Francisco, I highly recommend giving Outside Lands a shot. There’s also the free Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in October that also takes place in Golden Gate Park, but I’ve never been. My one concern was because it was SF, people would be blowing pot smoke everywhere, but that never happened anywhere that we were stationed.
I think Olivia enjoyed the experience enough that she will remember it for a long time and want to come with me again. As much fun as I thought she had, it went double for me. When Sydney’s friend sent me that picture of her on my shoulders at Warpaint with a big smile on her face, my heart was so full. Thank you Outside Lands 2017, for many special moments.
Top photo courtesy of Chris Victorio