For Mary Conde, vice president of production at Another Planet Entertainment and chief organizer of this weekend’s Outside Lands music festival, the comeback of the city’s entertainment scene began on a Monday afternoon last month when she told her team to “send the tweet.”
The message, from the Twitter account of The Independent music hall on Divisadero St., revealed a surprise last-minute Metallica performance that evening that Conde had secretly put together. Only 500 tickets were available, $20 each, vaccine documentation required.
Lucky fans who secured wristbands took to social media to express their glee, with one fan tweeting that it “feels like old times in the Independent in SF.”
That’s exactly the feeling Metallica super-fan Conde was looking for—a sign that things were looking up for the city’s live music scene, which had ceased to exist during the pandemic.
“I felt like I was legit in my happy place that night at the Independent,” Conde told Here/Say. “I think I had more fun selling the tickets to that show than I had at the show because it was so amazing, and people really showed up. I even had a doctor show up in his surgical garb.”
Now, Conde and her team are gearing up for their largest event, the 13th annual Outside Lands music festival, which kicks off this evening and runs through the weekend with six stages spread across Golden Gate Park’s Hellman Hollow, Speedway Meadow, and Marx Meadow.
The festival is being held for the first time in the fall, after being canceled last year. And the Halloween weekend promises some extra twists: Another Planet is encouraging participants to dress up for Halloween, though there are plenty of rules. Costumes such as headdresses that are deemed a form of cultural appropriation are not permitted; First responder costumes, such as firemen or health workers, are also prohibited, and toy weapons will be confiscated. Masks or costumes that cover your whole face are banned, as are hard-sided helmets and fake blood.
Conde said that otherwise the set-up of the event is similar to past festivals. Instead of a live comedy tent, the festival will host a DJ tent dedicated to summer. Other headliners include DJ Zoo, who grew up in the Sunset District.
Conde told us she is still dealing with pandemic-related issues ranging from supply chain to staffing. But the biggest challenge has been organizing a festival at this scale at this time of year while school is in session. To mitigate traffic issues around schools in the immediate area, Conde has hired extra police officers to help parents pick up their kids around school zones.
Conde and her team have also secured volunteers from SFPD on Halloween to enhance pedestrian safety for kids out trick or treating.
“I think when you start looking at the fact that it’s Friday and there is a major event happening kicking off the holiday weekend, it’s just a lot of activity happening in a small space,” said Conde.
Despite the logistical headaches of the festival, the payoff in terms of fun and finances for San Francisco could be great this weekend.
Mayor London Breed noted that Outside Lands is an economic boon to San Francisco in a social media post recently: “This festival brings the equivalent of 700-year-round jobs to our city, growing our economy and giving exposure to many restaurants, wineries, and breweries that struggled during the pandemic,” she said.
One notable food-focused attraction, “A Taste of the Bay Area,” will feature cheekily-named food vendors Bacon Lands, Choco Lands, Cheese Lands and the seafood-focused Outside Clams, as well as designated imbibing areas, among them Wine Lands, Beer Lands and Cocktail Magic.
The festival will offer up another full schedule of collaborative cooking demonstrations at the GastroMagic stage, a demo space that showcases creative performances involving food and has proven to be extremely popular. You’ll find some of San Francisco’s renowned chefs like Brenda Buenviaje of Brenda’s French Soul Food for the return of ‘Beignets and Bounce Brunch,’ with rapper Big Freedia and transgender performance artist Katey Red performing live.
Conde has been in the live music game since 1982, when she worked for Bill Graham at a Grateful Dead show in Oakland called Day on the Green.
“I was fresh out of high school and just felt like I saw something I didn’t know existed,” said Conde. “Everything from peeking behind the curtain and seeing the wonderful wizard. There is just all this magic to make events happen. And it’s not always glamorous, certainly, but it’s important.”
Her hope is that this year especially, Outside Lands will bring back a renewed energy that San Francisco desperately needs.
“I think the one thing that 2020 really brought home to me was that it’s really important to have these communal settings and people need to have this connection in the community that comes from everybody,” Conde said. “Tonight people will float out of Golden Gate Park after having that shared experience of seeing their favorite [artist] singing their favorite songs. And it doesn’t matter whether or not I like that performer or I sing along to that song as well. What matters to me is that we provided a space that was safe, was welcoming and that there was some hospitality.”