REWIND: In honor of the Outside Lands that isn’t, the best Black artists from years past


Lizzo performs performs at Golden Gate Park during Outside Lands on Aug. 11, 2018. Joaquin Cabello/STAFF.

I was supposed to be at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park right now. And by “right now” I mean both as I’m writing this and as you’re reading it, since I’m assuming you click the link as soon as it publishes and because I always wait until the last minute to file.

Should I be upset that I’m not there? Probably. Am I in practice? Kinda. The first day is always a lot of fun, but by Sunday my poor arthritic knees are screaming and I’m sunburned and I’m tired and I vow that I’m never coming back. Then I do next year anyway. So I’m focusing on remembering how happy I am to be sitting down rather than lingering on the rose-colored nostalgia for the good times.

Anyway, since it’s still RIFF Rewind Black History Month (Week 10!) let’s take a look at some of the best Black artists to grace the festival’s stages. This can get challenging since prior to the last couple years they didn’t really put forward a particularly diverse lineup. I’m sure there will be snide comments on this topic so brace yourself.

2018 (and 2021): Lizzo

It’s a bit of a running joke in this column that I don’t like new music but… well, that’s not a joke. I really am an angry old man who doesn’t like any new music. And since 2020’s OSL schedule didn’t have a token old person like Paul Simon or The Who, Lizzo was really the only thing I was excited about.

Lizzo is one of the three best things to come from American music in the 21st century, along with Janelle Monaé and Fantastic Negrito. Possibly the only three good things. I’ve seen Fantastic Negrito many times, and I saw Monaé at Outside Lands 2018, so Lizzo would complete the set.


The good news is she’s booked for OSL 2021 so there’s still a chance! Assuming we can have festivals by then! And aren’t scavenging the ruins of once-great cities for supplies before hurrying back to our wasteland encampments!

[Gokhman note: Poor Willis. He was actually at Outside Lands in 2018, when Lizzo performed, but didn’t catch her set. I did].

2019 (and 2011): Mavis Staples

Childish Gambino is the obvious choice for 2019, and don’t get me wrong, he was good. Leon Bridges was also there, and Lil Wayne. And I absolutely loved CupCakKe. It’s a surprisingly crowded field.

All that said, it was an absolute honor to hear Mavis Staples perform on Sunday morning. I mentioned it in my writeup at the time but someone helped her out to center stage and she just absolutely blew the doors off the place, which is amazing since it was outside. She was legitimately that great.

I cannot stress enough how good she was.

[Gokhman note: Mavis Staples also stole the show at her first Outside Lands Appearance, in 2011. At one point she was jamming out with Arcade Fire’s Win Butler!]

2018: Salt-N-Pepa

Outside Lands 2018 had the aforementioned Janelle Monae, Janet Jackson, The Weeknd and Future. But I’m not picking any of them because, with the possible exception of Monae, Salt-N-Pepa was the best of the group.

The thing is, they weren’t on the schedule. This wasn’t announced. It wasn’t even on a real stage, they were crammed on a smallish platform in a walkway next to the Technodrome. (They don’t actually call the indoor EDM stage the Technodrome but they definitely should.)

Please let Salt-N-Pepa play on a legit stage. They got a much bigger and more enthusiastic crowd than Twenty One Pilots did in 2019 and they put on a better show.

2017: Dr. Octagon

The only Black musicians in the first two lines of the poster were A Tribe Called Quest and they just kinda didn’t show up, so the pickings overall were slim. The other competitors were pretty much Schoolboy Q and Thundercat.

That said, even if there were more than a handful of Black musicians, Dr. Octagon would have been my favorite. I’m still not sure what to make of him but whatever it is, it was great live. I would definitely go again given the opportunity, which doesn’t seem likely since Kool Keith only resurrects him on rare occasion. But these days anything can happen. I mean… usually the only things that happen are bad, granted, but you never know.

2016: Lionel Richie

I was not at Outside Lands 2016. Yes, I had to check, because no, I do not remember what year anything happened in.

It makes sense, though. My first article for RIFF was covering a talk by Against Me’s Laura Jane Grace on June 14, 2016 and the festival was only a couple weeks after that. I’m good, don’t get me wrong, but going from a new recruit to one of the biggest events of the year is a lot even for me. It took me a year and two weeks.

Anyway, despite not going there I’m assuming my favorite would have been the year’s designated old people act Lionel Richie. It’s almost assured that all the other Black musicians that year would have gotten old man complaints about how I don’t like young people music. Oh, and don’t even get me started on pre-Stepford Wife Grimes, the whining that would have happened there…

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