Outside Lands Music Festival: 18 Memorable Moments

The good times in Golden Gate Park were punctuated by the fest’s first (and second!) female headliners, a new area devoted to cannabis, and much more.


SAN FRANCISCO — For the eleventh year in a row, Outside Lands host/mascot Ranger Dave invited a few friends to party down in the Panhandle: The 2018 installment of the festival saw San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park blessed with two days of rare August sunshine before ol’ Karl the Fog remembered to make an appearance.

In addition to noteworthy musical performances from acts like Florence + the Machine, Beck, and Janelle Monae, the 2018 installment of the festival also featured a vast array of gourmet eats, fine wines, comedy, art, and the inaugural appearance of Grasslands — an area focused solely on the newly legalized recreational cannabis industry in California.

Embracing the Bay Area’s renewed focus on sustainability — as well as the influence of neighboring Silicon Valley — many brands got creative in their efforts to entice festivalgoers. Treasury Wine Estates’ 19 Crimes offered the chance to experience life aboard a prison ship with a VR rig, while new start-up Plenty opted to launch their company at Outside Lands and provided free samples of the greens they’re vertically growing in a warehouse 11 miles from the festival site.

While the beauty of Outside Lands is truly in the tiny details that make up the day — whether spotting an old friend or finding a new favorite band you never intended to see — here are 18 of the top moments from another wild weekend with San Francisco’s favorite ranger.

1. Shannon & the Clams
Shannon Shaw was genuinely surprised to see so many faces in the crowd for her band’s Friday early afternoon set at the Twin Peaks stage, but anyone who’s heard the Oakland punk rocker’s doo-wop-inflected sound knows that Shaw and her band are not to be missed. While the matinee performance may have been one the Clams’ earliest (time-wise) gigs to date — between songs, Shaw recalled one show in Spain where they played at 6 a.m. — there is simply no wrong time to float on the surf-rock-meets-vintage-girl-group-meets-greasy-basement-show vibes of Shannon and the Clams.

2. West Coast Craft
A staple for San Francsicans who prefer a flesh-and-blood alternative to Etsy, West Coast Craft is a no-brainer addition to the veritable village assembled by the team behind Outside Lands each year. Featuring crafters who make everything from jewelry to clothes to soaps and more, this outpost of the seasonal fair was a huge hit all weekend long. Bringing a refreshingly necessary element of social activism into the equation was Gretchen Carvajal of the earring company BRWNGRLZ, who is donating a percentage of the proceeds of her weekend’s sales to the Protect Black Women fund in Oakland—a campaign created in the wake of the recent murder of 18-year-old Nia Wilson.Jewelry for a good cause reflects the best of what West Coast Craft can be, and proves it should become an annual member of the expanding Outside Lands family.

3. Janelle Monáe
For everything Janelle Monáe (pictured above) has already accomplished, there was no way she was going to let a nasty bout of food poisoning stop her from slaying the Land’s End stage on Sunday. “I was throwing up just before I got on the stage,” Monáe told the crowd deep into her staggeringly impressive late-afternoon performance. Looking not one iota worse for the wear, Monáe instead joined forces with her profoundly talented assemblage of dancers and backing band to run through hits like “Electric Lady” and “Pynk.” As she sang while perched in a raised throne at center stage, Monáe seemed to look out at the world from a seat of hard-earned power.

4. Perfume Genius
Mike Hadreas was born to be beltless. The only accessory the man better known as Perfume Genius needs is the divine spirit guiding his knack for striking the perfect pose. As he ran through tracks like “Queen” and “Slip Away,” the undulating bass and blooming synths at the core of his songs was the ideal companion to a stage presence that is both triumphant and vulnerable. With his longtime partner Alan Wyffels situated at the keyboards, Hadreas fully embodied his lyrics as he boldly declared, “No family is safe when I sashay.”

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5. Jonathan Van Ness
Of course the breakout star of Netflix’s “Queer Eye” reboot has a podcast. When Jonathan Van Ness hit the Barbary tent in knee-high gray Stella McCartney boots, it honestly didn’t matter if he had any guests — Van Ness could easily have filled an hour with his endearing brand of stream-of-consciousness commentary that touched on everything from the upcoming midterm elections to his preferred marijuana strains. Van Ness, however, did have guests — comedian Michelle Wolf and rockstar Florence Welch. Wolf and Van Ness discussed the former’s recent gig hosting the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, while Welch was remarkably candid in discussing her realization that music doesn’t have to come from a place of self-destruction. If Van Ness ever tires of styling hair, he definitely has a future chatting up his famous friends — look out Fallon!

6. Caleborate
Bay Area rapper Caleborate’s set Saturday afternoon at the Panhandle stage was a victory lap of sorts. Since the release of his latest album, “Real Person,” the days when the artist born Caleb Parker could walk the streets of Berkeley without being recognized are quickly nearing an end. The reason is simple — Caleborate is a rapper of remarkable talent, able to channel the zeitgeist into spitfire lyrics that are at once clever, compassionate, slick and sincere. Making his Outside Lands debut, Parker was all smiles as he hustled to cram as many songs as possible into his set. The crowd was with him all the way, leading to one of those rare festival moments in which the energy of the audience and the performer on stage overlap into an addicting surge of raw, empathetic joy.

7. Grasslands
Many Outside Lands attendees were likely somewhat crestfallen to learn that Grasslands — the festival’s new area dedicated to the rapidly expanding legalized cannabis industry — would not be offering any product for purchase. There was also no on-site consumption allowed, which was to be expected at a festival set in the middle of a forest. While California’s laws have yet to make it possible to sell recreational cannabis (or even provide free samples) at public events, companies like PAX, Kiva, and CannaCraft made the most of the opportunity. PAX offered custom engravings on their vaporizer devices (with options inspired by local landmarks), while Kiva provided non-medicated samples of edibles line. One industry veteran quipped that instead of GrassLands the area should be called “Blue Balls,” but this year’s edition may be just the first step towards a more fully-realized on-site cannabis experience.

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Zack Ruskin

8. Florence + the Machine
It took eleven years, but on Saturday Outside Lands welcomed the first female headliner in the festival’s history. If the wait was too long (it was), at least the payoff was substantial. Florence Welch has a staggering voice and energy level: Whether she was running through the crowd to belt from atop the barricades or radiating in night’s brisk winds as they swirled around her, there was no denying Welch’s radical charisma and unbridled talents. When she launched into a spirited rendition of her blockbuster single, “Dog Days Are Over,” it was as if her words were a promise to everyone lucky enough to witness her performance.

9. Salt-N-Pepa
For an act that wasn’t even on the poster, Salt-N-Pepa stole the show on Sunday with their set at House By Heineken. As the most successful female-fronted hip-hop group in history, it’s a little surprising the group was slotted as the main event for the Heineken area, which usually plays host to DJs and offers festivalgoers a place to take a break from the mayhem. Regardless, Salt-N-Pepa — accompanied by longtime DJ Spinderella — stormed the stage with a crew of dancers and plenty to say. With tight choreography, a seemingly endless supply of crowd-pleasing hits, and the same empowered attitude that first brought them acclaim in the mid-1980s, Salt-N-Pepa reminded everyone that 31 years into their career, they’re not going anywhere.

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10. Pastrami Cheese Fries
The menu at Outside Lands includes an answer for every diet. From gluten-free delicacies to decadent creations that defy any efforts to count calories (looking at you, s’more tacos), the real challenge is finding enough room in your stomach for the bounty of tasty bites never more than a few steps away. However, no tired festivalgoer should ever attempt to run a three-day festival gauntlet without at some point refueling with Wise Sons’ pastrami cheese fries. The beloved Bay Area Jewish delicatessen has created arguably the ultimate Outside Lands staple by offering French fries topped with crumbling pastrami, cheese, Russian dressing, scallions, and pickle relish.

11. 19 Crimes Wine
Given Outside Lands is a festival with an entire area called WineLands, it can be hard to stand out from the crowd. Kudos to the Australian-based Treasury Wine Estates for thinking up a compelling — and probably unique — angle to draw in customers: Their 19 Crimes label features the visages of grizzled convicts, and by downloading an app, users can bring the faces to life with AR technology that turns the bottle labels in talking portraits. Going a step further, the 19 Crimes booth also featured a VR rig where one can experience a short scene of life in the cargo of a prison ship. Naturally the offerings concluded with a chance to sample the company’s wares — and to take a mugshot for good measure.

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Zack Ruskin

12. Chvrches
No one can blame the Scottish trio Chrvrches for missing their intended Outside Lands debut in 2014, when work visa issues prevented them from traveling to the gig. They scheduled a show at Oakland’s Fox Theater shortly thereafter to make-up their absence, but it’s clear the synth-pop outfit still had some unfinished business. “You beat the shit out of a trash can at the airport,” singer Lauren Mayberry reminded bandmate Martin Doherty as they recalled the incident onstage. Fortunately, no such problems plagued the group this time around, ensuring they were able to deliver a blistering set consisting largely of tracks off their latest album, “Love is Dead,” with Mayberry gamely twirling about between cathartic choruses.

13. Plenty
With EcoLands and a local populace dedicated to eating local, healthy, and sustainably, it’s not hard to see why Plenty decided to launch their company at the 2018 edition of Outside Lands. Built on the concept of vertical farming — Plenty grows greens like arugala and kale in “indoor farm environments — festivalgoers were invited to try a plate of greens on their own, or wrapped with figs and prosciutto. A sandwich board invited interested patrons to “text an emoji” to the company’s number as a way of registering for more information, and after snacking on a few leafs of kale, it shouldn’t surprise the folks at Plenty if they find themselves with a surplus of smiley faces after this weekend.

14. Beck
When Beck played the inaugural Outside Lands in 2008, it was not his finest performance: While it’s never ideal to play right before Radiohead, fans seemed to know his set was missing something. Beck returned in 2012, but it’s clear that the third time was the charm. Kicking off his set with the 1996 classic “Devil’s Haircut,” Beck quickly let a sizable crowd know that their decision to skip headliner The Weeknd would not go unrewarded. Performing cuts from across his nearly 30-year career, the snappily dressed multi-instrumentalist presented a master class in how to show fans a good time. By the time he closed things out with with the “Odelay” anthem “Where It’s At,” the chorus became a question that answered itself.

15. GastroMagic Demostration with Chef Naomi Pomeroy and Portugal. the Man
One of the many unique offerings of Outside Lands is the GastroMagic stage, where culinary creators and music artists combine forces to do…something. In the case of James Beard-winning chef Naomi Pomeroy and the rock outfit Portugal. the Man, the task at hand was making some Portuguese sausage. Of course, the opportunity for innuendo was fully embraced. “These guys are amazingly talented at shoving the meat through the hole thing,” Pomeroy observed at one point. Things veered even further into the land of the bizarre when band member Zachary Carothers was asked to lob a sausage into the air so a man dressed in full medieval knight regalia could slice it in two with a sword. If this was the onus for a cooking show yet to come, let’s just hope the network schedules it for after the kids go to bed.

16. Lucy Dacus
On her breakout sophomore record, “Historian,” Lucy Dacus established herself as formidable lyricist and gifted guitarist with a knack for writing songs weighted in personal truths. If a sun-soaked Saturday afternoon set at the Panhandle was perhaps not the atmosphere immediately conjured by her work— the near-silence of audience watching in rapt attention at a darkened club might be a more accurate fit — the change of scenery did nothing to lessen her formidable powers. Finding strength in empathy — and some damn fine guitar licks — Dacus may soon near the end of the whirlwind tour that’s followed the album’s release, but make no mistake: she’ll be back again, and it won’t be a minute too soon.

17. Pale Waves
Pale Waves hasn’t even released their first album yet — “My Mind Makes Noise” is set to drop on September 14 —but  that didn’t stop the Manchester quartet from playing like a band that’s been at it for years. Fronted by singer and guitarist Heather Baron-Gracie, Pale Waves bears the unmistakable influence of goth rock pioneers The Cure. However, with darkness comes melodies — birds of prey that soar from Baron-Gracie and take flight. Within their sound are other touchstones, but as with all new bands of such immense promise, the true appeal doesn’t lie in their roots, but in what will grow from them. In the case of Pale Waves, the answer is a dark and delicious fruit that many will soon finally have a chance to feast on.

18. Carly Rae Jepsen
If there’s still anyone who thinks Carly Rae Jepsen is simply a pop star who struck gold with her 2012 mega-hit, “Call Me Maybe,” they’ve clearly never seen her live. Decked in white, she hit the Twin Peaks stage wearing sunglasses and a smile that was not to leave her face for the entirety of her performance. To say Jepsen’s charisma is infectious would be a gross understatement — you simply can’t avoid getting in on the fun whenever she’s around. The crowd was a healthy mix die-hard fans and the unconverted — and following Jepsen’s Outside Lands performance, it’s safe to say she’s earned some new disciples.