This is a music site, so we mostly cover the music at Outside Lands, San Francisco’s annual music and arts festival. But every year there’s more and more to do other than listen to music. The Barbary comedy tent is usually full—so full we didn’t get inside this year. GastroMagic is many people’s highlight for the diverse demonstrations and pairings of chefs with musicians and pop culture celebrities—and the now-annual tradition of Bounce and Beignets to kick off Sundays at the fest. There’s a produce market right there. Yeah. And so much more.
Now that Outside Lands 2019 is in the rearview mirror and the music is done, let’s take a tour of some of the “lands” that make up Outside Lands and recap the non-musical aspects of the festival. After all, it’s never too soon to start planning for next August.
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first.
Marijuana has been at music festivals since there have been music festivals. Yes, it’s been illegal, but Reefer Madness or not, anyone who thinks it hasn’t been a festival staple since the ‘60s doesn’t know anything about the ‘60s.
But starting in 2019, it’s not illegal anymore. Outside Lands became the first major festival to get a permit from the city for the sale and consumption of cannabis.
We asked Sonoma County resident Angel Vega if it was weird to be sitting outside smoking joints with friends, and he summed up the attitude of the assembled crowd.
“Hell no. It’s how it should be,” he said.
In fact, some concertgoers came with a specific budget to spend at the on-site dispensaries and marijuana product businesses. Rebeckah Williamson of Rocklin and Sara Thixton of Sacramento had $50 burning a hole in their pockets for Grass Lands, and they weren’t planning to take their purchases back home with them. They were planning to consume everything in Golden Gate Park.
“If we are not randomly drug tested,” they joked.
In addition to the traditional, plant-matter form of marijuana, concentrate was available for vaping purposes, though in smaller quantities. All consumption was required to be in a separate area behind an opaque barrier, according to the terms of the permit, but like in the 40 or so previous years, open consumption on the festival grounds wasn’t exactly uncommon.
For those interested in a more conventional intoxicant, Beer Lands was one of the two major options. Located on the polo field directly in front of—if fairly distant—from the main stage, it allows somewhat of a view of the show if not the best sound quality.
Featuring 30 primarily Bay Area breweries, it contained a substantial amount of beer. It provides drastically more beer options than the “Bud or Bud Light” you get at most concerts. But, being a captive audience who’s expected to be there all day, that also comes with a price: A smallish cup of beer starts at $10 and goes up from there.
Do you find Beer Lands to be a bit low-brow? Is your knowledge of beer limited to what you overheard the help discussing before you chastised them for slacking off? Do you prefer the San Francisco Giants to the Oakland Athletics? Then Wine Lands may be for you!
OK, so I might be a bit bitter because my attempts to interview Wine Land patrons were for naught. Most wordlessly sneered at me, and the few who talked to me refused to give their names.
But if you are into that sort of thing, Wine Lands had a staggering 50 wineries and even some related beverages like sake. I didn’t sample any myself due to the price and the limitations of a reporter’s salary; at one booth, an ounce of wine cost $8. That’s about two thirds of a shot glass… for $8.
Beer Lands and Wine Lands are great, but who has that kind of time? If your friends are going to drag you to a set by a SoundCloud rapper, you’re going to need to get a solid buzz on faster than that.
For that you should swing by Cocktail Magic, an area at the top of a wooded hill in McLaren Pass, just off the pathway from Land’s End to Twin Peaks; a bit out of the way, but it’s a remarkably peaceful oasis in the chaos of an overcrowded festival.
Each of the six represented cocktail bars offered two drinks for $17 each, which seems steep until you remember that a glass in Wine Lands costs more than a bottle of the same wine in the real world. And really, it’s not much worse than the trendier bars.
True to the name, there’s not just cocktails… but magic. Well, magicians. Four of them specifically, performing on a small stage to the left of the booths. So just hang around and wait for a magic show rather than follow your friends to Lil Whoever.
Bubble Tea Party
The Alice-in-Wonderland-themed area in McClaren Pass, new since 2018, sold boba tea.
Near Cocktail Magic and even more peaceful, mostly on account of the lack of magicians and liquor, it provided a great break from the chaos. There were couches and chairs, some pillows on the ground, and a vaguely creepy face painter dressed like the Mad Hatter.
The down side? As you might expect the actual tea was priced like the bubbles were made of platinum.
Cannabis or alcohol, wine or beer; y’all can have your debates. Find me by the bacon.
A small, hidden booth near the polo field, Bacon Lands is the gem of the festival. Featuring four gourmet bacons cooked by bacon experts, including a rarely seen uncured selection, you can probably find it just by following the wonderful smell. And in addition you can get that bacon on an extremely delicious bacon grilled cheese sandwich.
The down side? Well, you can take a guess from the pattern. One single, solitary strip of bacon costs $4, while the tasting menu with a strip each of all four is $12. While they’ll usually slip another strip or two in there if you get the sampler, that’s still a bit steep when for under $5 you can get a pound of the generic, mass-produced, factory stuff.
That said, I’ve gotten the sampler for two consecutive years, and also a bacon grilled cheese. It’s pricey, but it really is delicious, and while there are brewpubs, wine bars and cocktail bars everywhere, how often do you find artisanal bacon?
Located near Wine Lands for obvious reasons, once you have gourmet bacon, you can sample some award-winning cheeses.
Prepare yourself to drop $20 on a plate that they adorably call a platter but, I must say, those are some extremely tasty cheeses. If you’ve never had a really, genuinely good cheese, absolutely treat yourself.
As an added bonus, they include bread from the fantastic Acme Bread Company of Berkeley, which adds to the cheese without overshadowing it. These people truly know and care about cheese, and it’s wonderful.
I didn’t go there. Shellfish are snot stuck in rocks, and lobsters are just giant waterlogged cockroaches. It’s gross.
What are we missing, and what would you like RIFF to get the scoop on next year?
Photographers Joaquin Cabello and Martin Lacey, and editor Roman Gokhman contributed to this report. Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.