Years from now, I suspect it will be impossible to contextualize the 10th anniversary of Outside Lands without mentioning another number that comes with fewer bragging rights: two. That’s how many acts dropped off the top of the lineup in the weeks — and hours! and minutes! — leading up to the fest, with Queens of the Stone Age canceling “due to injury” and A Tribe Called Quest simply not showing up for several days in a row. Both events forced the organizers of the San Francisco festival to think quickly, turning what was supposed to be a victory lap into a hurdles race with little room for error.
The good news is that the last decade has prepared co-founders Allen Scott of Another Planet Entertainment and Rick Farman of Superfly for just this sort of scenario. As my colleague Zack Ruskin recently touched on in his chat with the pair, Outside Lands has been on the brink of disaster, more or less, since it debuted in 2008. The festival has weathered last-second cancellations (the Beastie Boys in 2009) and more serious recalibrations (a pared-down two-day format in 2010) in years past, and never has it been more prepared to do so than in the present. Recent additions such as Wine Lands and the Barbary comedy tent all but ensure that a diverse crowd makes its way through the gates, and the festival now wields enough clout to lock down a top-tier rock act like Cage the Elephant on short notice.
Still, it was difficult to look upon the foggy fields of Golden Gate Park this year without the sense that something was missing. The festival’s blueprint was basically unchanged, its vendors offered more local food options than could possibly be sampled in a weekend, and its generation-spanning headliners all performed with admirable spunk. So what was it? Perhaps it was the discernable lack of women — even a single woman, really — at the tip-top of the lineup, even though Lorde appears to be as ready as anyone for that spotlight. Or perhaps it was the general lack of cohesion amongst the smaller fonts, many of whom killed it individually (see: Mondo Cozmo, Swet Shop Boys, and Kamaiyah) but failed to contribute to any sense of a narrative playing out over the course of the weekend. Then again, why overanalyze it when the answer — a hole the size of A Tribe Called Quest — is staring us straight in the face?
Whatever the case may be, and despite such relatively minor quibbles, what’s important is that Outside Lands will endure. The hordes of young people sprinting toward the stage to catch Bleachers or Tove Lo or ScHoolboy Q make that seem clear enough, as do the rich old folks camped out with their chardonnays in the VIP lounge. This is a festival that’s grown to be bigger than any one act or demographic, and future iterations will undoubtedly scratch any itches this one couldn’t quite reach. And besides: If all we’re left with after a long and misty weekend is a couple of transcendent performances from the likes of Gorillaz and Solange, that isn’t half-bad.
In the following pages, we’ll run through those performances and other notable moments we experienced at Outside Lands 2017. In return, all we ask is a simple favor: Remind us not to forget our heavy coats next year.
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