How San Francisco’s Outside Lands Shaped Music Festival Culture Over The Last Ten Years

Managing Editor, Music
08.01.17

Andrew Jorgenson/Tom Tomkins

With every passing month, it becomes more clear that we’re living in “peak festival” culture. In the midst of such rapid growth, there are bound to high points and low points in the festival landscape, outliers that bookend the spectrum of events that are cropping up every year. As far as I can tell, when it comes to the west coast, San Francisco’s Outside Lands has become that high point, and it may even be the country-wide pinnacle. I guess I’ll have to determine that for myself once and for all in a couple weekends, when I finally get to attend the event for the first time.

Until the fall of last year, I was living on the east coast in New York City, which means my access to festivals three time zones away was generally limited by budget, time constrains, and the hassle of traveling. Even so, my peers who did have the resources continually told me that Outside Lands was one of the festivals they most looked forward to attending. This pricked up my ears, because that’s definitely an outlier in the music journalism world — in fact, plenty of other festival names come muttered under the breath, like dirty words.

So what makes this San Francisco-based event such an outlier? After all, it’s not like it’s an easy feat to throw an event that brings thousands and thousands of people into a park in the heart of one of the country’s most densely-packed metropolises. Over the last ten years, however, Outside Lands has built a festival that celebrates the city it’s located in, relying on the community itself instead of attempting to overshadow or ignore it.

Tom Tomkinson/Outside Lands

“Our defining ethos is to take care of the audience and the artist,” said Allen Scott, of Another Planet, the Northern Californian production company that puts on the event every year in conjunction with Bonnaroo founders, Superfly Productions. “It’s an attention to detail that we and our partners have on these festivals, and with Outside Lands specifically, it’s always always been about a celebration of San Francisco and the Bay Area. In every single detail, that’s what we want to do.”

Before the inception of Outside Lands, Superfly co-founder Rick Farman remembers wondering why a city like San Francisco — which is the third largest music markets in the country — had gone so long without a city festival.

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