Just remember, no matter who’s headlining, Golden Gate Park is always the star...
It was ten years ago this month when the Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival took over San Francisco’s famed Golden Gate Park, with headliners ranging from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to Radiohead. Now a decade older, the festival has continued to be a force in what’s become a crowded landscape, a feat partly due to the guidance of Rick Farman, whose Superfly Productions has fostered the fest’s growth and stature (along with co-promoter Another Planet).
With the 2017 iteration of Outside Lands in the books and its 11th installment officially in the planning stages, here are five takeaways concerning Outside Lands’ past, present and future after what Farman says was a fantastic year, despite the absence of what had been one of this year's big draws, A Tribe Called Quest.
No matter who’s headlining, Golden Gate Park is always the star
When Farman and his Superfly partners first set out to anchor a music festival in the San Francisco Bay Area, they had only one location in mind. “I honestly don’t think you can get better than Golden Gate Park in terms of a festival venue,” he says of the picturesque thousand-acre park with the park’s namesake bridge in the distance. “It’s completely gorgeous and the topography and configuration is set up in a way that you can create all of these different experiences.” In fact, Farman and his team were so intent on having Outside Lands at the park that they waited three years to get the proper permissions. “It took a lot of work to get there, but we thought if we got the park we’d be in a really good place to create an amazing event. It’s a jewel.”
Outside Lands’ Lineup is as varied as the festival’s audience
Like past iterations of the festival, 2017’s lineup ran the gamut from legacy acts like The Who and Metallica to pop powerhouses like Lorde and Tove Lo, folk acts like Fleet Foxes and The Avett Brothers and hip-hop stalwarts like Schoolboy Q and Action Bronson. According to Farman, the varied lineup is akin to a big “art project.” “We definitely think a lot about how to put the pieces all together and I think we’ve established ourselves rather uniquely in the landscape as a real multigenerational event,” Farman says, pointing to the cross-section of spectators Outside Lands regularly lures. “You have a lot of people coming across the age spectrum to the festival, like parents with their kids, and they all wind up sharing these special musical moments. A friend of ours yesterday was telling us how his daughter was taking him to see Lorde and he was taking her to see The Who.”
Metallica and Gorillaz dominated this year while A Tribe Called Quest was MIA
When it comes to 2017’s stacked lineup, Farman points to Gorillaz Friday night set as an “incredible” highlight. “What they do has so much dimension to it,” he says of the veteran act who was hot off of releasing the video for their latest single “Strobelite” last week. “Their performance was deep and pretty amazing.” Meanwhile, Farman says Metallica and the festival have a special relationship. “Whenever they play Outside Lands, it feels like the hometown gig that it is for them. I think they love doing it too, so there’s a special bond between the band and the festival.” One lowlight for 2017 was the fact A Tribe Called Quest first rescheduled and later ultimately cancelled what was to be a Friday night set. “The messaging that went out to the public is that due to travel circumstances they didn’t arrive in time for their performance,” Farman explains of the cancellation. “While it’s disappointing for fans who wanted to see them, there’s a lot of amazing stuff going on at the same time. Nobody really comes to the festival for one act. It’s about the whole experience.”
Ten years on, the festival business isn’t slowing down anytime soon
With Farman’s Superfly also the forces behind Bonnaroo and the upcoming debut of Arizona’s Lost Lake fest, the domination of music festivals in popular culture sees no signs of slowing down. “We’ve completely sold out the last seven years,” says Farman of the festival that drew 210,000 people this year alone. “Tickets go relatively quickly too.” The reason, Farman points out, can be credited to our ever-connected but increasingly isolated society. “The short version is that people live these encompassing digital lives and at the same time are looking for real live connections and community. They have a need to congregate and celebrate and I think that’s one of the factors that have helped power the value people get out of a festival. It’s both a reaction against and powered by the digital and media experiences people are having on a regular basis.”
Don’t lump failed festivals like Fyre in with the wider landscape
While there have been a string of high-profile festival failures in the past few months, including the debacle that was the Fyre Festival, Farman is quick to note that poorly planned festivals are few and far between. “You have to look at them in context. There are hundreds and hundreds of festivals that go on across the US and world and the percentage of incidents where you have somebody who’s unprofessional or not funded properly is really small,” he explains. “Most people in the industry do things properly and the safeguards are mostly there.” As for how Outside Lands and other Superfly Productions have went off without a hitch throughout the years, Farman points to the team around him. “We’ve been doing this for a really long time and have a really professional team with really professional partners. We do our business properly; paying our bills, returning calls and emails and just basically doing things that smart business people should.”