Outside Lands Closes Out Three Days Of Music History, Tight Security And Legal Weed

Childish Gambino
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
– Childish Gambino
Childish Gambino closes out Day 2 of Outside Lands in San Francisco

There were two new features at San Francisco’s Outside Lands festival Aug. 9-11 that, taken together, were as disorienting as they were signs of the time we live in: when one could stand in one spot and see heavily armed security and simultaneously smell a copious amount of pot being smoked and realize the parties involved were blissfully oblivious of each other. 

Outside Lands had a heavy security presence — visible and otherwise — in the wake of mass shootings during the previous two weeks, including one in nearby Gilroy, Calif. The first obvious effort was the sight of a phalanx of more than 20 metal detectors followed by thorough bag searches at entry points.

And, in a historic first, the festival was granted a permit to allow open cannabis consumption in specified areas of the grounds — although there was no shortage of smoke wafting throughout the park; this is San Francisco, after all, where “no smoking” is generally understood to apply only to tobacco products. 

The Grass Lands location did brisk business with a couple dozen vendors hawking wares including $10 “dabs” and “nugs,” and a variety of edibles including chocolates and gummies, and several “cannabis consumption” areas that had the ambience of smoky beer gardens, with festivalgoers relaxing at tables with their accouterments of choice and cups of THC-infused brew. At the “Farm To Bong” stand, one could learn to carve one’s own bong from an eggplant.

Grass Lands
Deborah Speer/Pollstar
– Grass Lands
At the “Farm to Bong” booth, bong carving classes are taught.

Outside of the Grass Lands area, there are also featured Wine Lands and Beer Lands locations, plus dozens of higher-end food vendors to take care of the inevitable munchies. From $10 loaded tater tots — either spicy or as “Japanese poutine” — to a $25 Cajun “surf and turf,” the food and beverage options at Outside Lands would be hard to beat. In the VIP areas, Michelin-starred chefs served up comestibles for the swells willing to part with more than $1,600 for the privilege of sitting in elevated lounges and all-you-can-eat (and drink) food and craft cocktail offerings.

Of course there was music, too, and more history to be made. Childish Gambino performed what was said to be his final appearance as the alter ego of Donald Glover and drew a crowd estimated at 185,000 for an Outside Lands record attendance, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, on a cold and foggy Saturday night.

Among non-headlining highlights was Sunday’s set by Kacey Musgraves who, after what must have been a difficult week considering a “Fox & Friends” attempt at a “Dixie Chicks-ing” over remarks she made about gun control and a loose F-bomb during the previous weekend’s Lollapalooza, extolled the virtues of positive thinking and saying no to negativity. If the point weren’t clear enough, she ended her set with a joyous rendition of Gloria Gaynor’s disco-era anthem, “I Will Survive.” Ex-Fugee Wyclef Jean made a surprise appearance in the Heineken House, a pop-up tent in the middle of the Polo Fields, inspiring a chant that “Fox & Friends” producers apparently aren’t yet aware of with his performance of “If I Were President.”

Mavis Staples was another performer who pondered a presidential run from an Outside Lands stage, though for the most part politics and the outside world were largely kept at bay all weekend.

The final night featured the second post-semi-retirement concert appearance by Paul Simon, who completed his “Homeward Bound” farewell tour last year but left the door open for one-off shows to benefit environmental causes important to him. Rhymin’ Simon’s first such appearance occurred at the Fox Theater the previous Thursday night in a pop-up, pre-Outside Lands show in Oakland, booked by Outside Lands co-producer Another Planet Entertainment, which manages the theater. Outside Lands is also produced by Superfly and Starr Hill Productions. 

Outside Lands was also a family affair for Simon, whose wife, Edie Brickell performed a set with The New Bohemians Saturday afternoon. 

Simon put his money where his mouth is, touting San Francisco-based environmental organizations San Francisco Parks Alliance and Friends of the Urban Forest, which will be the recipients of the net proceeds from his artist fee. 

Simon’s performance from the massive Land’s End main stage at the west end of the park’s Polo Field may not have been as well-attended as Childish Gambino’s the night before — the field appeared about one-third full midway through his set, and likely those who weren’t yet born when he had his last radio hit were over the hill at the Twin Peaks stage taking in Kygo or Sutro stage for Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals — but for those of a certain vintage, he put on a show for the ages.

Opening with “Late in the Evening,” Simon’s set spanned his Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame career and closed with “The Sound of Silence” — but not before a surprise guest appearance as Bay Area royalty Bob Weir joined him during the encore on harmony for “The Boxer.” 

Grass Lands consumption
Deborah Speer/Pollstar
– Grass Lands consumption
Grass Lands “consumption areas” allowed consumers to openly sample their wares, a first in festival history.

In between, Simon gave an exhibition of some of the greatest songs of the American pop canon along with his crack band and, on numbers including a rare performance of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” the New York chamber group yMusic. Acknowledging that he’s rarely sang the song most identified with his former duo, Simon & Garfunkel, he explained that he “gave the song away” (presumably to then-partner Art Garfunkel) and was now “taking it back.” Garfunkel was a solo vocalist on the 1970 Grammy award-winning Song of the Year.

“This is live music, ladies and gentleman,” he announced as he went into the song.

The orchestral quintet first took the stage for a rendition of “René and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War,” as Simon told its origin story — inspired by a photo in an art book he opened up while visiting with Joan Baez before performing in a “Bread And Roses” concert, a benefit series that Baez and her late sister Mimi Farina organized. It was the first of several recollections with local roots.

Simon was all over the global musical map, as befitting someone who has done deep dives into world music including South African, Creole, Brazilian and other musical traditions. “That Was Your Mother” had Simon stepping into a Cajun jig; “Graceland” and “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” were accompanied by arm and hand movements evoking something between a maestro waving his wand and a Deadhead spinning to the music.

And of course there were the biggest hits: “You Can Call Me Al,” “Mother and Child Reunion,” “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover,” “Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard” and, in the encore, “Still Crazy After All These Years” and “American Tune” — a fitting choice to send the assembled masses back out into the real world, where weed is legal and weapons are seemingly everywhere, when it was all over. 

But for three glorious days — even the city’s notorious Karl The Fog kept his distance on Sunday — the politics, fear and weariness of the world was made to stay on the other side of the rows of metal detectors while everyone danced.

Childish Gambino Set List


Feels Like Summer

I. The Worst Guys

II. Woldstar

Me and Your Mama


Have Some Love

Summertime Magic

This Is America



IV. Sweatpants


Paul Simon Set List

Late in the Evening

The Boy in the Bubble

50 Ways to Leave Your Lover

Dazzling Blue

That Was Your Mother

Mother and Child Reunion

Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard

Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War

Can’t Run But

Bridge Over Troubled Water

The Obvious Child


Spirit Voices

The Cool, Cool River

Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes

You Can Call Me Al




Still Crazy After All These Years

The Boxer (with Bob Weir)

American Tune

The Sound of Silence