A perceptibly lower-decibel main stage, extremely long entry lines and an EDM tent that experienced a floor malfunction not once but twice—Outside Lands 2023 was as full of craziness as ever. It even veered into the realm of tragedy when police found a body in a duffel bag elsewhere in Golden Gate Park late Sunday night.
After 15 years, some things about San Francisco’s biggest annual outdoor music festival will probably never change, like Brenda’s French Soul Food pelting Cocktail Magic attendees with fresh beignets while hype men dump powdered sugar on everyone. But other things—Shaquille O’Neal, for instance—are clearly you-had-to-be-there one-offs.
Here are some of the most gonzo things we saw at this weekend’s 225,000-person party.
Michael Bublé Joins Rock Gods
Let’s just get this one out of the way. Foo Fighters’ frontman Dave Grohl’s habit of plucking audience members to join the band onstage is so entrenched that punk satire site the Hard Times once published an article headlined “Dave Grohl Somehow Pulls Dave Grohl Out of Audience To Play on Next Foo Fighters Song.”
On Saturday, the Foo Fighters brought up a seemingly mismatched celebrity guest, Michael Bublé, to soft-rock out with them on the Lands End Stage. Call it committing to the bit, or call it jumping the shark, but Grohl & Co. have been covering the easy-listening demigod’s “Haven’t Met You Yet” on their tour this summer. So now they’ve officially met him.
‘The Music Den by Toyota’ Used Its Space the Best
Sound bleed becomes a problem when second-tier stages and brand activations get permission to get loud, but the natural amphitheater where McLaren Pass meets the Polo Field—i.e., the festival’s central point—enables a discotheque among the trees.
While all the trappings of corporate silliness were there, complete with a Camry, the Music Den by Toyota managed to be exuberant and intimate at the same time. It worked for just about everything: a quiet acoustic performance by Geographer, tropical-techno vibes from Brazil’s Coco & Breezy, Soccer Mommy's "Circling the Drain," and Poolside’s effortless chill. When you have a few minutes between sets, or you’re waiting for friends to use the restroom, this is always a fun, convenient spot to hang—and it's not like anyone can make a quick dash in and out of the SOMA Tent.
This Year Was Sexier Than Ever
Apart from Megan Thee Stallion mimicking fellatio with her microphone and the neon “I Licked It So It’s Mine” sign at one of the ice cream vendors, Outside Lands had a particularly amorous vibe this year. This was true of the crowd as well as the performers, with lots of exposed rear ends—wind be damned.
In particular, the small LGBTQ+ stage Dolores’ was full of drag at its most aggressive, and drag nun Sister Roma got it on with some male strippers during Baloney & Friends. There was no full-frontal nudity, of course, but lots of unapologetically queer and trans bodies gyrating all weekend. This might not sound unusual, but as recently as eight or 10 years ago, music festival lineups were overwhelmingly straight, white and—especially—male.
Good thing the haters could only hear Outside Lands from their living rooms, not see it.
Unsanctioned Hot Dogs for $15, Fries for $20
Outside Lands is a music festival; it’s also a food festival that supports Bay Area small businesses. Running a booth can mean baking 1,000 pizzas in a rented oven, and earning $15,000 in profit, but it can also mean small portions of dubiously loaded “fries” might set you back $20.
Upon exiting at 30th Avenue and Fulton Street, an impromptu night market routinely pops up with water, hot dogs and even lumpia for sale on the sidewalks. While certainly difficult to drive through, it was still a fairly orderly scene when The Standard milled about, without much rowdiness or broken glass. But hot dogs can go for $10 or even $15 each.
Incredible Pyrotechnics, for a Change
Once upon a time, the final Sunday night set on the main stage was reserved for iconic legacy acts like Neil Young or Elton John. When Sir Paul McCartney played OSL in 2013, his set was full of sentimental favorites like “Blackbird” and “Yesterday”—with the Bay Area’s Kronos Quartet! But it also had a fatally humdrum fireworks display.
No so for Odesza, the electronic duo from Washington State, who filled Lands End with fireworks, lasers, “The great and powerful Oz has spoken!”-style flames and a drumline bathed in blue light the color of the alien superlaser in Independence Day. Fog routinely ruins San Francisco’s July 4 fireworks displays, but it amplifies Outside Lands’ pyrotechnics—especially when Odesza closed out the festival with “The Last Goodbye,” a banger featuring the peerless vocals of Bettye LaVette.
- DJ Diesel, better known as Shaquille O’Neal, growled over his brand of dubstep at cochlea-crushing volumes, like Skrillex on steroids. Wut.
- An unauthorized hippie in a white sundress was coaxed off of Dolores’ after seizing the opportunity to open her crown chakra while Hard French’s stage was briefly free of drag performers.
- Brixton the Therapy Dog, part of SFO’s visitor-greeting “Wag Brigade” made a cameo dressed as a canine companion to OSL mascot Ranger Dave.