Love it or hate it, Outside Lands is a noisy weekend in the city—especially around the three-day mega music festival’s epicenter in Golden Gate Park.
But we don’t have to tell you that. Just ask the neighbors.
“It is very noisy, especially the bass,” said Carol Rothman, who’s lived at 30th Avenue and Fulton Street across the street from the park for over 50 years and has dealt with the voluminous sounds and crowds that come with Outside Lands since its inception 15 years ago. “The house actually shakes with the base, and you get that ‘boom, boom, boom, boom.’ Hours and hours and hours. And it gets to you.”
While Rothman says that the organizers of the event, Another Planet Entertainment, have made improvements over the years to mitigate the noise, traffic and trash the event generates, the low rumblings from the park remain a perennial annoyance that makes her dread the weekend of the festival.
If you live in the Richmond or Sunset districts around Golden Gate Park, you may feel the same way.
Over the years, residents of the nearby neighborhoods have railed against the swarm of festival attendees that descend upon the park looking for parking, blocking driveways, trashing sidewalks and even urinating in public.
In 2019, two San Francisco residents filed a California Environmental Quality Act appeal with the city in an attempt to block lawmakers from renewing Outside Lands’ permit unless the festival agreed to some volume control. And to the chagrin of some and the enjoyment of others, Green Day rocked San Francisco last year with a vociferous concert heard ’round the city.
Outside Lands noise complaints have varied throughout the years, according to city data, reaching a high of 384 complaints in 2011 before dropping off in the 2010s. Complaints peaked again in 2018 before the pandemic canceled 2020’s festival and jumped up again in 2022.
More recently, however, sentiment toward the festival has warmed as more locals have come forward publicly at community meetings to praise the festival for its cultural and economic contributions to the city and defend the concerts from the fun police.
But we get that loud music is not everyone’s jam. And what should you do this year if the Foo Fighters, say, give you more of a headache than the urge to headbang?
While Another Planet and the city’s management of Outside Lands may be lackluster to some locals, the two groups do have policies in place to mitigate the sound effects of the concerts and address noise complaints from the community.
First off, the city and Another Planet have a permit agreement that states that Outside Lands organizers will “use commercially reasonable best efforts to limit sound to the close environs of the concert grounds” and annually review its sound system plans ahead of the festival “to minimize any sound impact in the surrounding neighborhood” and modify the sound system accordingly in response to sound complaints from the community.
While no specific noise limit or cap is specified in the agreement, “there are mechanisms to measure the noise and ensure it’s not bothersome to nearby residents,” SF Recreation and Parks Communications Manager Daniel Montes told The Standard.
“Rec and Park take noise impacts connected to Outside Lands very seriously and appreciate concerns from residents in neighboring areas,” Montes added.
The agreement also stipulates that Outside Lands must implement additional delay speakers, which help dampen sound, at the Polo Fields main stage should the festival’s attendance exceed 40,000 or 55,000 people a day. It also includes a provision that the festival must deploy at least three sound monitors in the neighborhood to measure audio levels and record data. This data must be “promptly transmitted” to festival production staff, who must use it “to adjust sound pressure levels as required,” according to the permit agreement.
As for Outside Lands, organizers said they hold up their end of the data-collecting bargain and respond in real time to a variety of environmental factors—from the clouds to the wind—that can contribute to the concerts’ music being carried to nearby neighborhoods.
“We work with a team of acousticians who analyze the conditions near the venue; they employ state of the art equipment to help prevent sound from going into the neighborhood,” an Outside Lands spokesperson said in a statement to The Standard. “If atmospheric conditions create areas of concern, we dispatch a team to collect data. The speakers used on our stages have the ability to be focused and adjusted in real time as the festival occurs to mitigate sound issues.”
But what to do if you’re still not all about that bass?
Outside Lands has set up a community hotline where you can dial in your gripe about the noise. That number is 415-965-8001.
Rothman says the city or Outside Lands will eventually address your issue, though that may take a few hours or even half a day, so be patient.
“We know living out here, we’re going to have to put up with some concerts and it’s OK," Rothman said. "We’ve made our peace with it.”
Or you could take the even more Zen approach of Richmond resident Alex Brenner, a sage retiree originally from Odesa, Ukraine who’s lived in San Francisco for almost 44 years and who enjoys sitting in Golden Gate Park and watching the world roll by. Allow the music of Outside Lands to wash over you, he says.
After all, Brenner asks, “What is life without noise?”
Christina Campodonico can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org