Enter Outside Lands: The Bay Area Mega-Fest Celebrates 15 Years

Cover photo by Alive Coverage

“When you’re enveloped in the fog, it feels like you’re a million miles away from everything,” Lars Ulrich says. 

The Metallica drummer and co-founder calls from San Francisco, but it’s not this unusually cold winter he’s referencing. He’s talking about early August, when Outside Lands is traditionally held.

“There’s no place I’d rather hang out in August that weekend,” he notes.

Metallica headlined the festival twice: first in 2012, then in 2017. As fans, they’ve gone nearly every year, only missing out when their own tours overlap. This year, Ulrich won’t be in attendance but he’s still eager to celebrate Outside Lands’ 15th anniversary. 

Rick Farman, co-founder at Superfly, likens building the festival to raising a child. When he and Another Planet Entertainment President of Concerts and Festivals, Allen Scott, debuted Outside Lands in 2008, outdoor live shows in the Golden Gate Park never continued after the sun went down. The two of them set out to change things, enlisting Radiohead to become the first band to play after dark. 

“It was magical,” Farman says. “Radiohead was firing on all cylinders at that time. In Rainbows recently came out. It was just a moment in Bay Area history.”

Ulrich claims Outside Lands was something special from the very beginning. Reflecting on the past decade and a half, Farman and Scott agree it took around eight years before they started feeling fully satisfied with Outside Lands. Now, they call their 74,000-per-day-attended festival a teenager. It’s matured and developed its own personality.

Outside Lands is their love letter to San Francisco. Their teams work to capture all that defines the Bay Area. To create an event that is multi-genre and multi-generational. It speaks to the city itself, its location archetypal San Francisco, with Golden Gate Park one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. Fans walking in through the woods are brought into the festival’s own little world, as though they’re being transported to fairyland where they can wander various lands of beer, wine, weed and music. The stages are all named after some of the city’s most iconic locations, including the Sutro Stage (for the Sutro baths) and Twin Peaks.

“It goes to the pillars of the festival,” Scott emphasizes. 

Figuring out how to appeal to San Franciscans came easier to Farman and Scott than most. Both reside right across the bay in Oakland. Ulrich describes them, and the rest of the Another Planet Entertainment crew, as the quintessential San Francisco team, locals who have embraced the city’s music culture for decades.

Photo by Alive Coverage

“We all live here,” Farman says. “The large majority, certainly all the leadership that put on this event, we live here. This is our community. We care deeply about representing it and uplifting it in a way that’s beneficial to the city and the people who live here.” 

That Another Planet Entertainment was founded by Gregg Perloff and Sherry Wasserman, who previously worked with Bay Area icon and legendary concert promoter Bill Graham, cemented their status as the ideal San Francisco representatives. Shortly after Perloff left Bill Graham Presents to launch Another Planet in 2003, he invited Scott to join APE and merge his own company, Mystery Machine Productions.

Over 15 years, Outside Lands has steadily grown to become one of the largest music festivals in North America. Another Planet and Superfly collaborate fully on every aspect. It’s earned its place alongside mega-events like Bonnaroo, which Superfly also co-founded, Lollapalooza and Coachella. For a festival that’s independently owned, reaching that level was no small undertaking. 

Part of Farman’s inspiration in creating Outside Lands came from New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Fest as Superfly was founded in New Orleans and got its start booking shows at local venues timed around the Jazz Fest. When he and Scott set out to launch Outside Lands, they wanted to bring that essence of incorporating local food and a  celebration of the community to San Francisco. 

“I think we have always felt we were creating a festival on that level,” Farman says. “We’re in one of the top music markets in the country and probably the best festival site. I’ve been to festivals all over the world, and I’m telling you, Golden Gate Park, the actual, physical beauty of it and the history of it, make it as top tier as you can get.”

That first year in 2008 sold 130,070 tickets and grossed $11.1 million. Their most recent edition in 2022 completely sold out, with 222,518 fans attending over three days, grossing three times the amount.

“It’s remarkable how quickly it  became part of the established festival circuit,” Ulrich says. “Within a couple of years, it was a must-play along with Coachella and Lollapalooza. It found its footing very quickly.” 

Outside Lands wasn’t Another Planet’s first Bay Area festival. The year before, in 2007, Scott launched a two-day festival on Treasure Island, located in the middle of the Bay between Oakland and San Francisco. While Hardly Strictly Bluegrass already existed in Golden Gate Park, there was yet to be a more contemporary music festival in the market.  

The two companies were inventive, which comes as part of their Bay Area nature. They were one of the first to enlist local restaurants to present quality food offerings rather than simple hot dogs and hamburgers. They brought in wineries from Napa Valley and became the first festival to sell cannabis on-site. 

“There was never a major music festival that had wine incorporated,” Scott says. “And we had 36 different wineries. Peter Eastlake has curated the wine since the beginning. He’s even gotten a sommelier of the year award for his work on Outside Lands.” 

Both acknowledge all the accomplishments they’ve made over the years, but prefer turning their focus on what else they can do to elevate the experience. 

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SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – AUGUST 05: A general view of the atmosphere during the 2022 Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival at Golden Gate Park on August 05, 2022 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)

Part of that is working with Tanya Kollar, who curates the festival’s food programming. The same beloved restaurants often return year after year; new ones are only invited when slots open up.  

“We want it to be like you’re walking around the Bay Area, able to try these different restaurants,” Kollar says. “Menu diversity is a huge element.”

From Michelin-starred dining at Sorrel to local favorite mom-and-pop places, Kollar curates the ultimate festival experience. She collaborates to adjust restaurants’ food styles so a meal can be held in one hand while a cocktail sits in the other for attendees’ convenience while walking the fairgrounds.

Outside Lands exclusively works with Bay Area businesses. Over the past few years of consistent, post-pandemic struggle, returning to the festival provides both a boost in finances as well as morale. The event also provides several hundred jobs from full-time staff to vendors and seasonal employees.

“It’s something they can look forward to,” she says. “Sometimes, it can be tough to go in and do the same thing day after day. Having a change of scenery and adding the music and just the vibe of being out there in Golden Gate Park, it’s really something special for them.”

Another Planet and Superfly pushed the envelope further with Grasslands in 2019. They invited local cannabis growers to sell their product onsite at the festival, marking the first time fans could legally purchase cannabis at a festival site. Located close to the festival entrance before fans walk onto Polo Fields, the area allows legal sales of cannabis for those over 21 years of age. 

Since the festival’s inception, Scott says they’ve generated $1 billion for San Francisco’s economy. By exclusively enlisting local vendors, and by being an independently owned company of their own, the money generated goes back into the city. 

“Particularly, at this time in San Francisco’s history with office vacancies where it is, some of the companies moving out, this is an important event for the city fiscally,” Scott says.

Golden Gate Park, a central location in the city, is sometimes difficult for fans to get to. The two companies understand this, working with the city to create their own transportation systems. Shuttles pick fans up from Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, which is exclusively booked by Another Planet, and drive fans up the steep winding roads to drop them off at the front gates. Those living in the surrounding neighborhoods have also adopted the festival, walking from their homes to enjoy the three-day event. While attendees number in the tens of thousands, the entire park is cleared within 45 minutes from when the last note is played and the headliner leaves the stage. 

San Francisco itself is a major tourist destination, but Outside Lands is its own attraction for out-of-towners. 

“It’s like we’re so woven into the fabric of San Francisco now,” Scott says. “It’s just a part of the city.”

Scott remembers the day everything clicked into place. It was 2010, with Kings of Leon and Phoenix closing out the weekend. The event still had yet to sell out, with around 35,000 to 40,000 people in attendance. The sun was shining, those in the crowd able to shed their layers. That Sunday, everything felt right. The next year the festival sold out, as it has ever since. 

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SAN FRANCISCO, CA – AUGUST 11: Musicians Robert Trujillo, Kirk Hammett, Lars Ulrich, and James Hetfield of Metallica perform at the Lands End Stage during day 2 of the 2012 Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival at Golden Gate Park on August 11, 2012 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by FilmMagic/FilmMagic)

This year’s lineup has the team particularly excited. They aimed big to celebrate the 15 year milestone, finally snagging Foo Fighters after years of wanting the band to headline. Kendrick Lamar is another get they had been focusing on, describing him as someone who, despite being from Southern California, represents Bay Area culture.

“Oftentimes, we’re having discussions for years before an artist ends up headlining,” Scott says. “One of the things we try to do is keep it as fresh as possible. We try not to repeat artists. The earliest we bring them back would be around three years.” 

Scott excitedly goes down the lineup, enthusiastic about each name, which includes Lana del Rey, ODESZA, The 1975, Megan Thee Stallion and Zedd. The underbill also hosts a slew of exciting artists. This includes Lil Yachty, Orville Peck, Father John Misty, Ethel Cain, Soccer Mommy and many others.

“There’s something for everybody. I think that’s one of the things that makes this particular lineup such a masterpiece. It’s hard to do with that many acts, to make it cohesive and at the same time apply really broadly.” 

Backstage, the artists can hang around and sit in lounging areas. There, they’ll find Another Planet Entertainment CEO and founder, Gregg Perloff, along with his family. They’ll bump into Sherry Wasserman. Other Bay Area artists, ones who aren’t performing but consider the festival to be like home, also hang around. Ulrich, along with his other Metallica bandmates, is often spotted with his family. The atmosphere there, much like the rest of the Bay Area, emphasizes community. 

Over the years, Another Planet and Superfly have made adjustments to better encapsulate the city. The Barbary, a long-running comedy tent located in the back of the festival near Marx Meadow, was replaced with the SOMA tent in 2021. They made the move to highlight the underground clubs and dance music scene that has thrived in South of Market for decades. 

The most magical moments from Outside Lands come after the sun goes down. The lights dance across the fog, creating an effect unique only to San Francisco. Despite being in the middle of the second most densely populated city in America, Ulrich describes the feeling of being on the last frontier.