As gates opened on the first day of Outside Lands 2022, the sky was clear. Food vendors set up their booths, staff members drove golf carts through fenced-off areas, and festival goers slowly trickled into the wide-open spaces and slender pass-throughs of Golden Gate Park.
The geese flew low, the seagulls flew seemingly without direction, and I walked into the festival around noon with my editor-in-chief, unaware that I’d soon be marked in red by sunshine that wasn’t forecasted.
On the Sutro stage – the one closest to the main entrance – American art pop artist Spellling made her ethereal presence known at the start of the day, playing a magical set with her backing band comprised of songs from her most recent album, “The Turning Wheel. “
The singer danced across the stage in a flowing skirt, spun around with a tambourine covered in streamers and dazzled the crowd with her dynamic, Broadway-esque vocals.
Band members were adorned in various shades of black and green, and they powered through an eclectic set of rock, folk, pop, dance, R&B, singer-songwriter and dark synth tunes, despite several sound engineering goofs and some sound bleed from the main stage.
As a Spellling fan, the show was everything I’d wanted and more. Familiarity with the source material aside, the singer and her band brought their A-game and christened the Sutro stage with their setlist. Like many other festival acts, they ended with their most popular song, “Little Deer.”
The first performer at The Music Den, THE BLSSM, also kicked off the whole weekend with a noon set at the Panhandle stage. The non-binary indie rock artist got some of the hilly venue’s crowd off their feet with their three-piece band. Dozens of watchers also stayed seated – not as a sign of disrespect, but because of the stage’s laid-back nature. It reminded me of the kind of shows you see at a farmer’s market.
The next artist, Paw Paw Rod, was the festival’s biggest surprise so far. The Hawaii-born, Oklahoma-raised musician spent his set singing, dancing, rapping, laughing and working the crowd like a 50-year industry professional.
Rod joked with the audience, reminded everyone to drink water, complimented attendees, smoked a joint during his song “Lemonhaze,” and sang his praises for the crowd during a setlist that saw him play all six songs he’s released, including his debut track and biggest hit “HIT EM WHERE IT HURTS,” as well as a few unreleased cuts.
After Rod, the next artist to play the Panhandle stage was Lido Pimienta, a Colombian Canadian afro-indigenous artist who combines traditional South American genres with electronica. Her powerful vocals and magnetic dancing – and one-time guttural metal scream – captivated the audience, along with the sound textures she created by looping her vocals and weaving them together with her band’s percussion section.
After Lido Pimienta’s set, the Zambian-born and Australia-based rapper Sampa the Great took to the stage with a puffy jumpsuit, stylish shades and braided hair that went past her knees. Her band played a combination of hard rock and jazz fusion, a smooth ferocity that Sampa matched with gritty, soulful vocals on the first song of the set, “Energy.”
We decided to take a break from the music by heading over to Grass Lands, where Outside Lands attendees aged 21 and over can legally purchase and consume cannabis products. Edibles, joints, vapes, beverages and flower are available. There, recreation areas feature cornhole, DJ performances, a community mural. Food booths offer grilled cheese, waffles and drinks.
Despite Outside Lands’ FAQ stating that the festival is cashless this year and there are no ATMs on the grounds, Grass Lands requires customers to pay in cash, and you’ll have to cough up $ 5 in fees to use their ATMs. We pulled out some money, ordered a $ 5 joint and smoked half in the Arts District before making our way toward the main entrance for food.
We walked out of Grass Lands and were immediately met with a main stage show by experimental satire musician Oliver Tree, whose over-the-top character quickly grew tiring as we made our way around Polo Field. The artist’s blend of rock, rap, pop and country aesthetics is obviously intended to be performance art, but it’s more like an endurance sport for anyone who doesn’t “get” it – if there even is anything to get.
What Oliver Tree does understand, along with musicians like Hobo Johnson and comedians like Nathan Fielder, is that the power of cringe is one of the last things that can truly make an audience uncomfortable. Gone are the days where Eminem and Marilyn Manson can shock the nation with a song lyric; nowadays, you’re bound to hear fouler things from mainstream politicians and podcasters. While I think Oliver Tree’s execution is lacking, I can appreciate that the man knows what he’s doing. Kind of.
As we made our way toward dinner, we walked past the gorgeous graffiti murals strewn about the festival, and I saw colorful and creative clothing; robes, capes, corsets, bodysuits, flare jeans, and at least one eyepatch.
Rapper Lil Uzi Vert, who recently changed their pronouns on Instagram to they / them, played the main stage next. They arrived after a short delay, but their DJ kept the crowd entertained with snippets of other artists’ popular songs, like Kanye West’s “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1. “
Young attendees showed up in force for Lil Uzi Vert’s set, leaving me occasionally surrounded during by a sea of Gen Zers singing along to lyrics like “Turn to a savage, pocket got fatter, she call me daddy.”
After another trip to Grass Lands to finish off our purchase and use the least crowded set of bathrooms, we caught the beginning of Phoebe Bridgers’s set. She walked out – dressed in a white suit – to Disturbed’s “Down with the Sickness,” a song that epitomizes teenage angst the same way that Bridgers’s music encompasses the despair of young adulthood.
As blue and pink lights dappled the stage, the indie superstar sang sad songs as adoring fans screamed in support of her every move. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an artist at Outside Lands with a more passionate crowd in front of them. As she led what was essentially a group therapy session, her voice was the emotional focal point, broadcasting every feeling she puts into her music.
A few songs into the set, she paused to reflect on the overturning of Roe v. Wade, called the USA a “fucking shithole” and shouted out the Mariposa Fund, which helps provide abortion care for undocumented people.
Around that time, a light drizzle began to fall. At first, it could only be seen when lit by spotlights, but as the wind picked up, the light rain could be seen twisting through the sky.
Headliner SZA was the last show of the night, starting at the main Land’s End stage 10 minutes after Phoebe Bridgers began. SZA’s set featured hits from 2017’s “Ctrl” like “Garden (Say It Like Dat)” and tracks SZA has featured on like Doja Cat’s “Kiss Me More.” Her audience didn’t seem to mind the light rain at all.
We walked out of the festival the same way we came in, trudging down dirt paths and distancing from other attendees as much as possible. With sunburns on my arms, a bit of dirt in my eye, and rain and fog covering my glasses, I looked out across the sea of people and thought to myself, “I get to do this for two more days?”