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Why this San Francisco music fest is better than Coachella

I exited the Lyft-designated festival drop-off and started walking among a sea of strangers. Everyone was drunk, and folks were also passing bags of illegal goodies back and forth, hoping to sneak them in.

We trudged through a seemingly endless dirt path as dust kicked up into the air and our lungs. I could hear the faint sounds of music and I thought the general admission entrance was close, but instead it was the VIP. I saw Gigi Hadid walk in, as if to remind me that I wasn’t special enough to follow. 

Once I finally crossed the security checkpoint (and watched many people get their weed taken), there were bicycle taxis waiting. I declined the $70, quarter-mile ride and kept walking. Eventually I got into the festival, ready for Coachella. It only took 20 minutes by foot, dust in my eyes and nose, embarrassment and half my available energy. 

That was in April. This past weekend at Outside Lands in San Francisco, I was dropped off right on Fulton and walked into the festival in all of four total minutes. This was when I realized the things I’ve come to expect from Coachella were not the things I’d be getting from Outside Lands. 

Attendees make their way into Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022.

Attendees make their way into Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022.

Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

After taking 11 years between Outside Lands festivals, only doing Coachella in between and coming back in 2022, I’ve decided that OSL is the true VIP experience and a better way to do a festival. Allow me to count the ways.

The walks through Golden Gate Park

The sun begins to set on the final day of Outside Lands, on Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022. 

The sun begins to set on the final day of Outside Lands, on Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022. 

Charles Russo/SFGATE

What a relief it was to attend a music festival with short walks between stages. I can’t count how many times I’ve been watching something at one Coachella stage and got a text that asked me to go to a stage on the other side of the festival. When this happens in Indio, I say my goodbyes, I curse my choice to wear Vans, then I cry just a little as I march through the triple-digit heat.

At Outside Lands, the furthest walk was from Twin Peaks to the Lands End stage, which was less than 10 minutes for someone with my stride. The other most common walk was from Sutro to Lands End, and that walk was even shorter. No stage ever felt tedious to reach and these paths were lined with food, other attractions and bathrooms the entire way. 

Attendees make they way from stage to stage at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Calif. on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022.

Attendees make they way from stage to stage at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Calif. on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022.


Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

A woman walks with a large crowd surfing balloon on her way to the Twin Peaks stage at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Calif. on Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022.

A woman walks with a large crowd surfing balloon on her way to the Twin Peaks stage at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Calif. on Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022.


Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

Concert goers pass by one of the many murals along the festival grounds at Outside Lands, on Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022.

Concert goers pass by one of the many murals along the festival grounds at Outside Lands, on Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022.


Charles Russo/SFGATE

The new windmill at Outside Lands in the Polo Fields in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Calif. on Aug. 5, 2022.
The new windmill at Outside Lands in the Polo Fields in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Calif. on Aug. 5, 2022.
Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE


(Photos by SFGATE)

As someone who’s big on maximizing trip efficiency, OSL made a lot of sense. I could be at Twin Peaks, grab food and use the bathroom on the way to Lands End without deviating from my line. What an OCD joy. There is no direct walk between stages at Coachella that gets you to bathrooms or food quickly, or without going out of the way. And trust, the way is long. 

The San Francisco weather

The weather can be looked at as a plus or minus. Some people enjoy hotter weather, others prefer wearing hoodies 365 days a year. That said, Coachella is not just hot, it’s hot-hot. If you’re at one of the many parties, the heat is a plus, because there’s almost always a pool. If you’re trying to see one of the daytime shows, however, prepare to sweat right through your culturally inappropriate headdress because it’s triple digits. To be fair to Coachella, though, the night shows are amazing. Once the sun goes down, the weather becomes the best part. And it’s consistent. Every year it’s hot and clear. 

OSL is all about the actual festival and, as a result, has more daytime shows than Coachella. This means the last show ends before 10 p.m. So if you’re gonna sit through The Linda Lindas at noon, you’ll be thankful that it’s a nice 71 degrees out. In fact, most of the shows at Outside Lands are daytime shows, so a culturally appropriate T-shirt does just fine.

Festivalgoers wait for an act at the Twin Peaks stage at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on Aug. 6, 2022.

Festivalgoers wait for an act at the Twin Peaks stage at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on Aug. 6, 2022.

Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

Now if you forget your hoodie, you might skip SZA because you’ll be shivering. But after I saw her performance, I sat on a curb drinking beers with strangers at midnight. Everyone had tees on and no one was complaining. So when it’s a clear weekend like it was this year, advantage OSL.

The music hits different

This is tough because the ‘Chella has more acts than OSL by far. Some of the main headliners at OSL have never had a font size above 14 on the Coachella flier. The stages are bigger. The production is bigger. I’ve watched The Weeknd mid-day play to a relatively empty crowd and still expected him to bring out a famous guest.

The music at Coachella is so good that some performances (Tupac hologram) have become legendary, while others have been so bad that they become memes (OutKast). The shows have higher production value and beautiful people flock to them, but they have a cold, LA feel. The people aren’t always enjoying the show together, it’s more like they’re enjoying the show individually, but at the same time. 

Larry June performs at the Twin Peaks stage at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022.

Larry June performs at the Twin Peaks stage at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022.

Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

That’s just not how I felt about Outside Lands. Most of the shows felt like we were all partying together. For example, the Larry June show. June came out to “Private Valet” while wearing a bright orange jacket and holding a bottle of orange juice, to a stage filled with orange trees. Talk about a responsive crowd, everyone was immediately lit. 

This woman behind me held up her phone with a message that said “F—K ME LARRY.” Then the dude next to me starts freestyling. What he didn’t know is that I got bars for days, so we started trading verses over Larry’s next two songs. It felt like the bay shows I remember from back in the day, where everyone was smoking weed, thizzing, bouncing, freestyling, etc.

Boom. My new freestyling friend starts making out with the “F—K ME LARRY” woman. Hard. Like, crazy hard. Like, everyone around them made a face like they were watching the Discovery Channel. I’ve never seen something go from zero to 100 that quickly, but then again, I’ve never been to a Larry June show.

Festivalgoers listen to Robert Glasper perform at the Sutro Stage at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on Aug. 6, 2022.

Festivalgoers listen to Robert Glasper perform at the Sutro Stage at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on Aug. 6, 2022.

Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

It was the greatest crowd response I’ve seen in a while. So why isn’t this a Coachella thing? Well, it is a Coachella thing, but not at the actual festival. The beauty of Coachella is the parties around town. Those parties are amazing. I once made out with my then-girlfriend in Palm Springs on top of a giant McDonalds cup while eating free McNuggets to the sounds of a G-Eazy show that we paid nothing to attend. 

That’s the real Coachella. The real Outside Lands happens at the festival grounds and still channels that energy. People let go. They turn up. Which leads me to …

The kids are all right 

On Day One of OSL, I overheard someone saying they could spend the rest of their lives inside the festival grounds. Next day, I heard someone talking about needing shrooms. I heard tons of people lament that they were not drunk enough. 

You know what I never saw? People acting like drunken assholes, fighting or needing to be carried out. This is not to say that it didn’t happen, but the fact that I didn’t see it means it couldn’t have been as frequent as at Coachella. 

Festivalgoers dance in the Sierra Nevada tent at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on Aug. 6, 2022.

Festivalgoers dance in the Sierra Nevada tent at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on Aug. 6, 2022.

Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

This is despite the fact that Outside Lands is by far the youngest median age music festival I’ve ever attended. And trust me, I felt every bit of the age gap. One stranger kept spotting me and just saying, “Dude, dope.” Other sets of bros were moshing and looking at me like, “Get in here,” and I was like, “Obviously not.” None of these kids were assholes. They were young, but they were dope, and made me happy for the future. 

The kids at Coachella just be like, “Are you in the NBA?” or, “I’m definitely about to puke on this tall guy in front of me,” or, “You don’t know Oliver Tree? How old are you?” You might even hear, “My friend hooked up with Mike Posner in a limo.” 

The only time I felt like the OSL kids were disingenuous was during Pusha T’s set. Pusha T is not a spring chicken, mind you. My man is 45 years old and has been making hits for decades. The show was packed (especially for a 3:45 p.m. start), but not many were singing along. It was clear to me that the youth there didn’t really know his music.

Pusha T performs at the Lands End stage at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022.

Pusha T performs at the Lands End stage at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022.

Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

It then hit me that Pusha T is more famous than his music these days. His Kanye connection has helped him remain socially relevant in ways that other rappers of his style and age aren’t. The kids flocked to his show because it was cool, and not necessarily because they understood his catalog. 

To be fair, at the end of his set, he did all his big guest features and more of the crowd knew those tracks. But for the most part, his set was the concert equivalent of shoes that resell for five times retail and when someone asks why, you realize you don’t really know. 

Where there’s smoke

To date, OSL is the only festival I’ve ever attended that sells marijuana. To my friends who haven’t been, it’s amazing. What a novel idea! OSL’s got its own whole section dedicated to weed. At Coachella, people hide weed in all sorts of crevices of their bodies because it’s not allowed in. Both festivals take place in a state that has fully legalized weed, so why does only Outside Lands get it? They might cut your band off at Coachella for weed, but in the bay they don’t even care if you walk in with it. 

Mary Jane statue inside Grasslands at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Calif. on Aug. 5, 2022.
Mary Jane statue inside Grasslands at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Calif. on Aug. 5, 2022.
Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

Festivalgoers enter Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Calif. on Aug. 5, 2022.
Festivalgoers enter Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Calif. on Aug. 5, 2022.
Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

The entrance of GrassLands at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Calif. on Aug. 5, 2022.
The entrance of GrassLands at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Calif. on Aug. 5, 2022.
Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

Kevin Alphonso take a hit from a joint at GrassLands at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Calif. on Aug. 5, 2022.
Kevin Alphonso take a hit from a joint at GrassLands at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Calif. on Aug. 5, 2022.
Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE


(Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE)

And at GrassLands (where the weed is sold at OSL), they don’t overcharge like everything else at the festival. Many of the shops sold 10 pre-rolls for $20, a reminder that weed is cheaper and better than alcohol. I said what I said. 

But what my hottest take may be is that all this weed being allowed in the festival is part of what makes everyone much more chill. If Coachella is all molly and coke, OSL is weed and wine, and it shows. For example, I snapped up a couple pre-rolls and made my way over to Wet Leg. I took this opportunity to light up, but I was having trouble with the breeze, so a random woman helped me light it. I took a video of the moment and sent it to my group chat and they all replied, “this dude Rod is LIVING.” I certainly was. 

The final Outside Lands vs. Coachella verdict

When it’s all said and done, OSL isn’t like other festivals. It’s one that feels lighter, tighter, and more communal. If Coachella is more about the scene and the parties, OSL is all about the music festival. Even the parts of music festivals that I hate are better there. 

Attendees walk past the Outside Lands sign on their way to the Twin Peaks stage at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022.

Attendees walk past the Outside Lands sign on their way to the Twin Peaks stage at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022.

Adam Pardee/Special to SFGATE

Usually leaving a festival is much worse than the walk in. I’m always tired. It’s late. I’m over it. But as the OSL closed, and I was walking up the hill toward the Lyft pickup area, I could hear Post Malone echoing throughout the park and into the hills. It was pretty dope. The music was faint enough that it felt like Post Malone was singing bedtime stories. 

“Now they only say congratulations …”

Congratulations were in order, I suppose. For Outside Lands. 

The music hit different, everything was convenient, the people were both high and cool AF, and it was set in Golden Gate Park, one of the most beautiful music settings there is. I can’t say I won’t do Coachella again, but I can say that I’ll always want to do Outside Lands again, no matter how old I get.


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