Inside Out(side Lands Music and Arts Festival 2022)

Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

“The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”- Mark Twain

Last weekend, San Francisco’s highly awaited Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival returned at last, bringing roughly 220,000 Bay Area music fans together for three days of live music in the city’s expansive Golden Gate Park. Even better? It actually felt kinda like an Island in the Sun.

San Francisco’s unofficial weather mascot, Karl the Fog was nowhere to be found at this year’s festival, replaced by an unlikely visitor in the form of… the sun! (Practically unheard of in a city known for its chilly summers.) Needless to say, festival goers did not need to outfit plan around their coats and jackets this year.

Outside Lands finally returned to its original August slot last weekend, after two years of Covid-related… well, let’s call them accommodations

The 2020 festival was canceled (obvi), while 2021’s was rescheduled for October (complete with Halloween costumes and the Delta variant lingering in the air). Like Coachella, Lollapalooza, and even Burning Man, Outside Lands tested the virtual waters on Twitch, cleverly renaming itself Inside Lands.

“We’re thrilled that it’s back,” said Tamara Aparton, spokesperson for San Francisco’s Recreation and Park Department. “The festival is part of the cultural fabric of the city and provides vital support to the park.”

Outside Lands made its groundbreaking debut back in 2008, when Radiohead took the stage and set the scene for what would become San Francisco’s biggest music and arts festival. Each year, performances from “hometown heroes” bring a special element to the fest and keep it true to its Bay Area roots. This year’s local stars included Green Day, Illenium and rapper Larry June.

In a city that’s always looking for the shiny new object, what keeps music fans coming back to Outside Lands?

As an experiential pro, I view every event with a critical eye, catching the subtle details most attendees wouldn’t notice. Here’s what stood out for me as some highlights of last weekend’s Outside Lands festival. See what you can emulate at your next activation…

1. “The best damn chicken tenders ever”

Outside Lands is known for more than just the music. The festival’s food offerings showcase some of the Bay Area’s greatest culinary talent.

This year’s lineup featured over 96 restaurants, 35 wineries and 30 breweries. Food and drink venues were conveniently spread across different sites cleverly named Wine Lands, Beer Lands, Cheese Lands, GastroMagic and Cocktail Magic, in addition to the vendors that lined the main stages.

Photo by Maya Knighton

Singer and Euphoria star Dominic Fike made a highly anticipated appearance alongside celebrity chef Roy Choi at the GastroMagic Culinary Stage to make “the best damn chicken tenders ever” (in reference to singer’s 2020 track “Chicken Tenders”). The collab drew in more than 7,000 attendees to the Culinary Stage – the most attendees to that stage over the course of the whole weekend.

“One of the best places to get a unique experience that you can only get at Outside Lands is the GastroMagic Culinary Stage. We’ve really elevated both the musical and culinary talent over there this year — don’t sleep on it.”

Allen Scott and Bryan Duquette, Co-Founders of Outside Lands.

2. Brand partnerships that didn’t suck

Monster Energy paired up with graffiti artists to create live murals during the fest. Artists Hiero Veiga, JEKS ONE and Balloonski (who is, you guessed it, a balloon artist) immersed passersby in their artistic process, an oddly therapeutic experience between EDM sets.

The House by Heineken’s “backyard party” had its very own lineup and its very own air of exclusivity. Each day, the line for the outdoor tent grew longer as word of mouth (and word of Instagram) spread the hype. Once inside, attendees enjoyed DJ sets from artists such as Noizu and Franc Moody and drank the bar’s only offering (I’ll give you one guess…). The House by Heineken has the style and artist curation to become a future mainstage attraction.

3. Onsite tech! No really!

In past years, cell service at Outside Lands has been an obstacle. Faulty service at a music festival becomes especially problematic when you lose your group and try to relocate your friends. Meeting up at the windmills – or should we say windmill – looked a little different this year. A note for newbies: the windmills are usually the primary meeting spot for OSL attendees because they’re centrally located and you can’t miss them! But WiFi was booming compared to its previous track record. While it wasn’t perfect, I tip my hat to the poor soul whose job it was to “fix the WiFi.” You came damn close, my friend.

Photo by Maya Knighton

Venue lockers were also a game changer, especially for those of us who’ve been traumatized by past SF summers and brought jackets. Festivalgoers could rent mobile charging lockers for the weekend to store personal items and charge their phones (a true miracle in festival culture).

4. Built-in social distancing

Even pre-Covid, 75,000 people packed into one venue would have made me nervous. This year, Outside Lands upgraded their venue to help keep us safe from whatever airborne-variant is leading the pack this week. This year’s SOMA Tent headliners (short for South of Market, a San Francisco neighborhood known for its nightlife and club scene) once again drew in large crowds. In response to the number of attendees from last year, the festival increased its SOMA Tent size by 60% to ensure more room and less chaos for guests and crew.

But, it wasn’t all perfect. Here’s some of the challenges from the weekend

1. The restrooms (of course)

Waiting in line at a festival is a given. With 220,000 people crammed into one weekend, of course you’re going to have to wait a few minutes to do literally anything. However, the bathroom lines were outrageously long this year, and the porta-potties themselves were… let’s just say, not clean.

My advice: take notes from Coachella’s restrooms, and for the love of God, please upgrade. Coachella has roughly three times as many attendees as Outside Lands and their restroom situation is far nicer. Something about flushable toilets makes people feel like humans and actually act like them. Nicer restrooms will “hopefully provide a cleanlier and more tasteful alternative to the coffins of Hell.”

2. The exhausting, dehydrating and dirty journey home

Each day, the festival attracted more people. Getting into the park was fairly easy, but leaving was another story. By the time Sunday came around, exiting the venue had become a slow (and dusty) process. Everyone designated their line leader and linked together as they shimmied their way out. I felt like I was walking through mud, all the while kicking the shoes of the person in front of me.

With a festival this large (and growing!), offer more than two exit options for attendees. The limited number of exits created a logjam where people were antsy — and sometimes hostile — to GTFO. Multiple large-scale exits keep attendees happy and safe from crowd surges. Why not open an extending fence, since there’s no need to monitor the number of people on their way out?

Photo by Maya Knighton

All in all, Outside Lands 2022 was great. Two years later, the iconic summertime festival returned to its original place on our calendars – with next year’s dates already set. I’m an eager beaver to see how festival curators will ramp things up for next year. (Hint: See above.)

The festival has already started booking artists for 2023, and rumor has it that future headliners could include Fleetwood Mac, Bruce Springsteen and Rihanna…

In the meantime, I’ll watch Trainwreck: Woodstock ’99 on Netflix to remind myself just how far music festivals have come…

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XP Land is for experiential creatives and experience-makers, brand leaders, and IP-owners, space stewards and venue visionaries — all those in the business of epic gatherings and live, immersive storytelling.