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Could extending Outside Lands reverse San Francisco’s ‘doom loop’?

Outside Lands attendees scream along to Rico Nasty’s music at the Twin Peaks Stage in 2021. | Source: Camille Cohen for The Standard

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect news that Outside Lands organizers and District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan have come to an accord. 

Throughout the years, Outside Lands has been met with equal shares of excitement and dread. 

For some locals, the multi-day extravaganza of music, art and food in Golden Gate Park is the highlight of their year. For others, the influx of people, traffic, trash and noise the festival generates in the park’s surrounding neighborhoods is reason to hightail it out of town or hunker down in their homes for the duration of the event. 

Complaints and controversy about the music festival can produce just as much chatter as the announcement of the festival’s headliners, which have included big-name acts such as Bay Area-born Green Day, hip-hop flutist Lizzo, alt-rockers Radiohead, Phish and hard rock band Metallica. 

Billie Joe Armstrong, Green Day lead singer, performs at the Land’s End stage at the 2022 Outside Lands Music Festival. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

A point of contention is a proposal by Mayor London Breed to follow the Outside Lands festivities with a series of smaller ticketed concerts in Golden Gate Park for three years starting in 2024. 

Those performances would also be accompanied by a suite of free concerts in Downtown over the same time period. 

But political and public sentiment appears to be turning in favor of the proposal. The plan got a nod of approval from opposition leader Supervisor Connie Chan, according to a Parks and Rec press release distributed Friday morning, and received resounding support from community members at an outreach meeting Thursday evening.

A handful of residents raised concerns about expanding the concert series during an info session held at the Golden Gate Park Senior Center on Thursday. But the majority of people who spoke up at the Parks & Rec and Another Planet Entertainment-hosted meeting voiced support for bringing more concerts to Golden Gate Park, saying it would boost the local economy, bolster the city’s public image and cultural cache and potentially help it rise out of its so-called “doom loop.” 

Another Planet Entertainment held an outreach meeting with the city to listen to the community’s thoughts and concerns about the impacts of a new concert series proposed to take place on the weekend after Outside Lands, beginning in 2024. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

Gil Payne, the co-owner of Nombe, which created an Outside Lands signature dish known as the Ramenburger, underlined how the event creates jobs for San Franciscans who might be out of work. 

“I’m slinging about 1,000 orders a day during Outside Lands,” Payne said. “I have to feed 1,000 people a day. I can’t do it myself. I’m 52. I’m tired. So what do I do? I hire people.” 

Gil Payne speaks during the July 20 outreach meeting. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

He also pointed out how the event could draw positive economic activity to the area, citing as an example the draw of tens of thousands of Deadheads to San Francisco for the final farewell tour concerts of Grateful Dead spinoff band Dead & Company at Oracle Park.  

“A bunch of my friends called this week, and they’re like, ‘Dude are you going to Dead & Company? [..] We’re at a hotel. We’ve just spent three grand to be here this week to enjoy this concert. And that means a multiplier by all of those different young people that came and spent a lot of money for three days in a part of town that people consider dead.

People lined up to share their thoughts at the town hall Thursday. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

“We are under siege by the media, by people that like to take their shot at San Franciscans when they're down,” Payne added. “This is one day that’s a positive that can be worked on by all stakeholders. And I hope that people don’t just shake their heads and shake their fingers […] Let’s all try to roll up our sleeves and make this work.”

Another longtime Richmond resident noted that the expansion of more Outside Lands-style concerts in Golden Gate Park could counteract the prevailing media narrative that the city is in an economic and cultural death spiral.  

“There’s a narrative that everybody knows about, I’m sure, that San Francisco is in a doom loop,” he said. “Having people come to town from out of town, having friends come and see that it’s not what the news makes it out to be—it’s a beautiful city still.”

Neal Patel writes down attendees’ feedback on a poster. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

It’s life or death for a lot of our members economically,” stressed Andrew Bennett, president of Local 16, the union which represents technicians for shows like Outside Lands.

One local artist and business owner also pointed out how Outside showcases San Francisco’s creative side to visitors from around the world.  

Another Planet Entertainment's President of Concerts and Festivals President Allen Scott, left, speaks with San Francisco Recreation and Parks Manager of Permits and Reservations George Ridgely during the community meeting. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

“I feel like we as artists and creative folks, we have a duty to represent our city and make sure the culture of San Francisco doesn't fade so hard for artists and musicians to live here, to move here, to stay here. And I see Outside Lands as one of those beacons of maintaining and celebrating San Francisco culture,” she said. 

A small but vocal minority of community members, however, cited concerns over traffic and the environmental impact on nature and wildlife in Golden Gate Park. One man who lives near the park worried that adding concerts in the weeks after Outside Lands could extend the impact of the concert series for not just weeks but many years to come and make the park inaccessible to nearby residents for longer lengths of time.

Community members listen as people share their opinions about the impacts of the proposed concert series. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

“The question I have is, ‘When does it stop?’ I get that you go another week. It's another five days. We lose another weekend. Are we going to be here in two years saying, ‘Well, we need some more money, and we're just going to go another week?’” he asked. “Is this the tip of the iceberg? Are we going to lose the park for substantial amounts of time?”

However, another Outside Lands food vendor pointed out how more concerts could be more bang for the city’s buck.  

“My analogy is don’t buy a small latte—get a freaking medium or large. We’ve already paid $4 bucks. Another quarter more you get a lot more,” he said, cheekily adding that the event has such a draw for his family and friends that only the prospect of birthing a child has prevented some from attending. “Me and my wife, we have families from L.A. and San Francisco and some are in Seattle. [...] They would never visit us in San Francisco, ever! But Outside Lands in August, unless you’re pregnant, they're coming. And that’s a real story.”

Pusha T fans dance at Lands End stage at the 2022 Outside Lands. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

The proposed concert series would take place from 2 to 10 p.m. over two to three days the weekend after the music festival to make use of Outside Lands’ festival infrastructure at Golden Gate Park’s Polo Fields.

A press release from the mayor’s office says that “the event’s footprint would be significantly smaller than Outside Lands,” drawing 65,000 people per day as opposed to the 75,000 per day that attend Outside Lands and “focus on a single headliner with multiple supporting acts.”

As part of the proposal, Another Planet Entertainment has also offered to host a series of free concerts in Civic Center Plaza, Union Square, and Embarcadero Plaza as part of an effort to revitalize the city’s beleaguered Downtown core for three years also starting in 2024.     

But the proposal’s Golden Gate Park extension was met with pushback from Supervisor Connie Chan, whose district encompasses neighborhoods north of the park, including the Inner and Outer Richmond. Earlier this month, Chan delayed a hearing for permitting the proposed concert series, essentially leaving its fate in limbo at the time.

The event proposal was stalled in the city’s Budget and Finance Committee, which Chan chairs, but if approved by the Budget Committee on Sept. 6 is expected to come up for review a couple weeks later by the full Board of Supervisors, according to a city press release.           

Attendees clap after a community member speaks. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

“Given the fact that the current Outside Lands concert series already imposes the park closure for two weeks every year, the additional concert series will increase the park closure to the entire month of August,” Chan wrote in a May 17 letter to the Recreation and Park Commission. “The traffic, public transit, and neighborhood impact on our communities, especially families with school-aged children, will be significant as most schools—public and private—begin sometime in August. Golden Gate Park is not the most ideal location for additional concert series to Outside Lands.”

The concert series’ organizer, Another Planet Entertainment, which also puts on Outside Lands, touted in an email to Chan that the event series would raise millions for the city. The city stands to gain $1.4 million in permit fees for a two-day event and $2.1 million for a three-day event.  

Outside Lands—one of the highest-grossing festivals of its kind worldwide—is typically an economic boon to the city. In 2017, it generated $66.8 million in economic activity, according to reporting by SFGATE

Pussy Riot performs at the Panhandle stage at last year's Outside Lands. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

“If the goal of the City, the Mayor and the Recreation & Parks Department (RPD) is to host 2-3 large scale, world class concerts that raise $1.4M-$2.1M for the Recreation and Parks Department and tens of millions of dollars for the City’s economy, we believe the only place to host these events is in the Polo Fields in Golden Gate Park,” wrote Allen Scott, president of concerts and festivals at Another Planet Entertainment. “Based on third-party economic impact studies of the Outside Lands Festival in the past, we expect that 80% of the audience for concerts like those proposed at the Polo Fields would come from outside San Francisco and generate tens of millions of dollars in economic impact to the City.”

Allen Scott, left, listens during the meeting with San Francisco Recreation and Parks Manager of Permits and Reservations George Ridgely, right. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

Scott told The Standard that Another Planet Entertainment has since come to an agreement with Chan on the proposal and is holding community meetings precisely to hear community members’ concerns and get feedback from the neighborhoods in the immediate vicinity of Outside Lands as well as show the positive impact that more concerts in the area could have. 

“I think it’s important for people to be aware of the positive impact that this has,” Scott said. “We know that there's an impact for some of the residents, but also the extreme positive impact it has for the entire city [...] Let’s celebrate San Francisco. And that’s what we do with outside lands. And that’s what we’ll continue to do with this, these additional concerts. Let’s remind people why this is a great city and that we can work together and lift ourselves, lift everyone up together.” 

Lori Schoenbrun (center) dances to Parcels at the Sutro stage at Outside Lands in 2022, in San Francisco. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

In a press release shared Friday morning, Chan said that her office, Park & Rec and Another Planet Entertainment had come to an accord. 

“With this initial agreement, Rec and Park has committed to continuing the outreach to our community, to ensure their concerns are heard, while still bringing the benefits to the Richmond and the entire city,” Chan said. “I appreciate Another Planet Entertainment’s willingness to come to the table and recognize the communities I represent. Our conversations have led to [prioritizing] community input in this process, to ensure prevailing wage for all workers, and to concrete initiatives for downtown revitalization.”

As part of the agreement, Another Planet Entertainment will fund free Muni rides to and from the Polo Fields for Golden Gate Park concert attendees and increase its contributions to community benefit funding for neighborhood-specific projects and programs in the Sunset and Richmond districts by $10,000 per neighborhood. The concert production company currently provides $25,000 annually to both the Sunset and Richmond districts.

Supervisor Joel Engardio, whose district encompasses parts of the Sunset District below Golden Gate Park, previously expressed concerns over hosting additional concerts at the Polo Fields, but declared support for the concerts in a text message to The Standard Thursday.

“They will pay for free concerts downtown, keep our parks from facing a deficit, and offer more community benefits for Sunset residents,” Engardio wrote. “We need more joy in San Francisco as we work to address the serious issues facing our city. Another Planet Entertainment agreed to everything I asked for to help our city. [...] Let’s go enjoy the music and have some much-needed fun.” 

Community members can ask questions about the proposed concert series at a listening session held by The Planning Association for the Richmond (PAR) at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 9 at Golden Gate Park Senior Center. Representatives from Rec & Park and Another Planet Entertainment will be on hand.

Christina Campodonico can be reached at