Hope and good cheer in strong supply at Outside Lands

Despite pandemic, fans return to beloved music gathering in Golden Gate Park

The bathroom lines were long and the drink lines were interminable. After a brief, sunny start, the fog rolled in and stayed for the weekend. Scheduling conflicts pitted beloved acts against each other. Sound miscues bedeviled bands trying to be heard among the huge crowds assembled.

In short, it was a typical music festival in San Francisco. And no one could be happier.

After a two-year break due to the pandemic, the Outside Lands Music Festival returned to Golden Gate Park this past weekend. Despite the usual festival foibles and heightened safety measures, the majority of event goers seemed downright ecstatic to be attending a beloved gathering whose return marked a much-needed sense of normalcy.

“This is a big deal,” said Parker Kalan, who made the trip up from San Luis Obispo for the weekend for his first major festival since the onset of the pandemic. “I’m super psyched — it’s really exciting to see everyone out. I think everyone was just super pent up for so long and we are all just super grateful to be here.”

Kalan’s sentiments were shared by countless others who attended the three-day festival, which featured headliners The Strokes, Lizzo and Tame Impala, among a lineup that included more than 75 musical acts.

The Strokes close out the Lands End main stage on Day 1 of the 2021 Outside Lands music festival on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)

The Strokes close out the Lands End main stage on Day 1 of the 2021 Outside Lands music festival on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)

Nick Semasnky, a San Francisco resident who lives about a mile away from the festival grounds, arrived at the event early Friday, eager to see the festival’s opening slate of bands.

“I stayed in San Francisco throughout last year and it was a ghost town, so to be around this atmosphere is truly special,” said Semasnky. “So many people were saying the Bay Area is dead, but that’s not true and this festival is proof of that. People are excited that the world can reopen safely, or as safe as possible.”

Fans smile and dance as Khraungbin performs on Day 1 of the 2021 Outside Lands music festival on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)

Fans smile and dance as Khraungbin performs on Day 1 of the 2021 Outside Lands music festival on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)

The event took place over Halloween weekend for the first time in its 13-year history, a necessity after being canceled and then postponed due to the pandemic. Initially set to take place in August 2020, the event was pushed back a year, and then delayed again for another two months to allow organizers more time to implement safety measures.

All 220,000 ticket holders were required to show proof of vaccination, or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the festival. An array of silver wristbands confirmed the health status of those in attendance.

The stringent precautions in place gave solace to the fans, many of whom, like Kalan, were attending their first large gathering in more than a year.

“We probably would have come if there wasn’t a vaccination requirement but having one in place made that decision so much easier,” said Amanda Cruz of Sacramento, who was wearing a facemask nonetheless, “for an extra layer of protection.”

Matthew Aquino, who traveled to the event from Sacramento with Cruz, said the relatively safe and smooth rollouts of other big-time music productions assuaged some of his concerns as well.

“When summer got there and you had these big music festivals like Lollapalooza and others happen without a major spike in cases, that definitely made me feel better,” said Aquino, who was excited to see both The Strokes and Tyler, The Creator, who unfortunately shared the same set time on Friday night.

It wasn’t just fans who seemed bolstered by the attention to safety and security. Many workers at the site appreciated the health focus.

La Cocina incubator Peaches Patties, selling traditional Jamaican food, returned for a third year at Outside Lands after weathering the pandemic. Co-owner Shani Jones said they weren’t sure at first if they were going to return to the massive event.

“They’re taking all the precautions,” Jones said. “That kind of put us at ease.”

In prepping for the event, she said it was a reunion — one where they could celebrate the businesses that survived the pandemic. Peaches Patties, still waiting for the downtown clients to return in higher numbers, stayed afloat by delivering food to seniors through Off the Grid and other safety net initiatives.

“It’s like coming home,” Jones said. “Outside Lands has always been a boost for us. We’ve gotten a lot of exposure from it.”

The fact that the event took place during Halloween added to the festive and ebullient nature of the event. (Ted Lasso and Squid Game costumes were rife throughout the park.)

People in costumes on Day 1 of the 2021 Outside Lands music festival on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)

People in costumes on Day 1 of the 2021 Outside Lands music festival on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)

Ryan Schoenefeld, a San Francisco resident, attended for the first time and felt safe knowing all the precautions. He said going to Outside Lands on Halloween added a special touch.

“It’s like it adds a certain level of weirdness,” Schoenefeld said on the outskirts of the Sutro stage as Remi Wolf played. “I also liked that they [Outside Lands] called out no cultural appropriation costumes. No one wants to see a headdress.”

Not having tone-deaf costume on display was just one of the many reasons why the festival felt so joyous upon its return to Golden Gate Park.

People in costumes on Day 1 of the 2021 Outside Lands music festival on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)

People in costumes on Day 1 of the 2021 Outside Lands music festival on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)

Outside Lands has grown into a corporate behemoth that rivals the biggest gatherings in the world. But with its bucolic settings, laidback populace and ever eclectic collection of performers, it still has the ability to inspire — a certain kind of magic that entrances fans like Semansky.

“I’ve been a musician my whole life,” said Semansky, who plays in a band called Wavewise. “When I come here, I get a little bit of hope. Maybe I’ll be playing on that stage someday.”

After more than a year in which hope was in short supply, Semansky’s sense of optimism was the prevailing feeling at Outside Lands.

Examiner Staff Writers Ida Mojadad and Michael Barba contributed to this article.

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