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Outside Lands 2023: San Francisco’s own La Doña kicks off festival’s 15th anniversary

La Doña graced the stage on Day 1 of Outside Lands 2023, where she dedicated a song to “the old Frisco” and shared memories of raging in Golden Gate Park’s arboretum. | Source: Astrid Kane / The Standard

“Thank you, Obama, for putting me on your playlist!” La Doña said from Lands End, Outside Lands’ main stage, shortly after noon on Friday.

She was referring to the ex-president’s habit of issuing a list of summer songs he’s currently into, which includes her track, “Peñas con Pan.” For what it’s worth, the Bangles’ gong-filled 1986 banger “Walk Like an Egyptian” also made the cut.

The socially conscious San Francisco native—a “hyphy little mamí,” in her words—and her sprawling band, all with red flowers pinned to them, didn’t just play Lands End. They more or less stormed it, with cumbia and rancheras, for people who made the effort to arrive early. 

Exuding a brash, high-femme authority as she played the trumpet one-handed in a lilac dress and bustle, she dedicated a song to “the old Frisco” and shared memories of raging in Golden Gate Park’s arboretum.

Whoever takes the main stage first knows they’ll be playing to a tiny-ish crowd, but they tend to make up for it with vigor, and with songs like “Demow y Sexy” and “Paloma No Vuelve Amar,” that’s just what the banter-loving La Doña did with her brand of “femmetón” at her first Outside Lands performance to date.

Having begun in 2008, this is now the festival’s 15th year, and attendees shared memories of their own in chalk on a board near the iconic windmill in the center of the Polo Fields.

It’s a big one, for sure.

The general admission line for entry was reportedly very long by 2 p.m., and the always-popular SOMA Tent reached capacity shortly after. As EDM has grown in popularity, festival organizer Another Planet Entertainment reconfigured the former Heineken dome and moved it to a far corner, but it’s still notorious for reaching the “one-in, one-out” level early in the day. 

At around 3:30 p.m., however, a downed tree appeared to cut off access just as Disco Lines was set to go on inside. This is still very much a park! Winds weren’t especially blustery just yet, but unlike the relatively balmy weather of the past few years, no one’s going to need much sunscreen for this go-round.

That wasn’t even the worst of it.

Festivalgoers danced to Nala until the plywood floor cracked, forcing organizers to shut down the SOMA Tent for the rest of the day. Thankfully, no one seems to have been hurt.

Large multiday festivals are evolving to become more like Coachella, with brand tie-ins, better visuals, special guests and other bells and whistles. Top tier acts like Janelle Monáe, Interpol—who packed the Independent Thursday night, playing the entirety of their 2002 album Turn On the Bright Lights—and above all, Friday’s headliner Kendrick Lamar ought to deliver at least a surprise or two.

The closure of the SOMA Tent sent ripples through Outside Lands Friday evening, as EDM fans scrambled to find alternate acts to see and rumors flew that the tent had fully collapsed. In actuality, the floor merely splintered under the weight of so many bodies dancing, and that was that.

Willow—i.e., Willow Smith, daughter of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith—zigzagged from pop-punk to an aggressive, noisier sound. Later, the ever-beguiling Janelle Monáe strolled out to Richard Strauss’ “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”—think 2001: A Space Odyssey—and resisted revisiting many of their hits, leaning heavily on their latest release, The Age of Pleasure.

Meanwhile, on the Panhandle Stage, Monolink, the slightly enigmatic, Berlin-based musician who sings, plays live guitar and constructs ambient techno beats, showed a great deal of development over his earlier, folkier style. It would have been the sunset set had the sunset been visible, and he defiantly went over time with an extra song—a rarity at the typically tight Outside Lands.

For people with energy to burn off, Zedd’s Muppet-friendly jock jams brought megawatt lasers and thousands of fists in the air at Twin Peaks, while Kendrick Lamar was slightly quiet, burning through “King Kunta” and “Money Trees” with its reversed Beach House sample.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was that nobody trotted out a special guest—not even noted Outside Lands superfan Mayor London Breed, who turned 49 today.