We’re finally back! In just days, many of us will return to Outside Lands 2021 — the San Francisco’s first festival in little more than two years. The Golden Gate Park festival is headlined by Tame Impala, The Strokes, and Lizzo, and features a high-caliber undercard full of big names this weekend, as it takes place across Halloween weekend for the first — and maybe only — time ever.
Outside Lands will always be a special place for me personally. I won tickets to the 2012 festival when I was broke as hell and had never even attended a music festival. I was so broke, in fact, that my phone shut off midway through the second day because I couldn’t pay my phone bill, and I didn’t even care. I discovered so many awesome new bands, and discovered the beauty and serenity of a large-scale music festival where you’re surrounded by people who love music just as much as you do.
Nine years later, and it will be my sixth time attending the Bay Area festival. As someone who grew up there, I always look forward to bumping into familiar faces and seeing how the festival has continued to grow. This will be my first three-day festival since the pandemic, and I’ll be looking to drop some of the pounds I put on during quarantine by moving around and dancing my ass off.
Below, I’ve highlighted some of the acts I recommend catching early in the day before the sun goes down. Outside Lands ends earlier each night than most festivals because of noise ordinances, so I really recommend getting into the gates early to get the full bang for your buck! And catch these artists who will surely become some of your favorites!
Sutro Stage — 12:10 to 12:55 PM
This is basically a hometown show for the Oakland-based singer-songwriter Madeline Kenney, who first impressed me opening up for Wye Oak at the Lodge Room in 2018. She’s since collaborated heavily with that indie-rock duo, who produced her 2020 album Sucker’s Lunch. That and a January 2021 EP Summer Quarter are what she is playing in support of — and the laid-back vibes are a perfect way to start your weekend at Golden Gate Park. If you’re a fan of the likes of Jess Williamson, Gia Margaret, or Molly Burch, then Madeline Kenney is right in your wheelhouse.
Sharon Van Etten
Lands End Stage — 3:50 to 4:40 PM
I actually saw Sharon Van Etten live for the very first time at this very festival back in 2012 — my first ever music festival. Back then, she was playing the Sutro Stage at 1:15 PM and was the first act I saw. It showed me how great music festivals can be for the discovery aspect. I did due diligence and listened to everything in the days leading up to the festival and circled her name off the strength of the heavy and dark “Serpents” — and ever since that performance I’ve been a die-hard fan. She is in my opinion one of the best songwriters of the last twenty years, and she’s only gotten better with time. With Angel Olsen playing Saturday — I heavily expect the two to duet during one of their sets on their excellent collaboration “Like I Used To”. Her song “Seventeen” is one of the best songs of the last several years and an even bigger joy live. I’ll be front row for that one — and you should make sure to catch her, too.
Sutro Stage — 12:40 to 1:25 PM
Chicago psych rockers Post Animal released their last album Forward Motion Godyssey right as the world was coming to a standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic. They’ve since released a live record Levitation Sessions this year that is a perfect snapshot into how incredible this band is live. They will get the party started on Saturday by lifting you out of your Friday night hangover with heavy riffs and lots of noise. Who needs a coffee when you have a Post Animal set?
Lands End Stage — 1:10 to 1:55 PM
If you’re looking for precise playing and perfect vocals then this Spanish four-piece are NOT for you. What I love about HINDS is they are having as much fun on stage as the people in the audience. I remember hearing one of their first singles in 2014 “Bamboo” when it was just the two women Carlotta Cosials and Ana Garcia Perrote, but they soon after fleshed out their sound as a four-piece. Their 2020 release The Prettiest Curse showed tremendous growth as they fill out their sound. They still have some sloppy fun shouting their lyrics at their adoring fans, but songs like “Good Bad Times” are a lot tighter than their earlier work. Their energy will pass on to the crowd to help give them their second wind for a long weekend.
Panhandle Stage — 12:00 to 12:40 PM
Note: Do not confuse with Neil Frances and vice versa!
Rock and roll is NOT dead — and Chicago-based Neal Francis is living proof of that. I get hardcore Steve Miller Band vibes with much more of a funky feel to it. His show at the Moroccan Lounge last year was one of the last ones I saw before the pandemic shut everything down, and I’ve been looking forward to catching him again ever since. He’s put out a series of singles as he is set to release his sophomore record In Plain Sight on November 5 — so this show basically doubles as an album release show. “Changes” is what really got me into him, but the new stuff slaps just as much.
Sutro Stage — 12:40 to 1:25 PM
Chicago bedroom-pop artist Claud got the Phoebe Bridgers co-sign and was the debut release on the indie-rock queen’s Saddest Factory Records — and Claud lives up to the moniker of the label. Lots of sad songs that are easily relatable. Claud’s sound isn’t easy to pinpoint, and they dropped their debut album Super Monster back in February. We caught Claud opening for Bleachers earlier this month and have them circles on our schedules to help us get our third wind on Sunday night.
Panhandle Stage — 1:25 to 2:05 PM
NOTE: Do not confuse with Neal Francis and vice versa!
Yes, the organizers of Outside Lands 2021 are certainly having a little fun with us by booking both Neal Francis (Chicago rock group) and Neil Frances (indie-pop duo) back-to-back on the same stage on Sunday. I can’t wait for the utter confusion as I’ll definitely be there for both sets (love them both!).
I first caught this duo at 1 AM at SXSW a few years ago when my neck and back were in sheer pain. I was initially sitting down at the back and then the smooth bass lines and falsetto vocals drew me to the front of the crowd. They have catchy songs but it’s another thing to see them live — the bass lines are so groovy and the rhythm of the songs are easy to dance along to. Looking forward to catching this weekend!