Outside Lands 2021: A return to hallowed ground

Outside Lands 2021 - crowdPhotos by Sarah Felker & Marc Fong // Written by Molly Kish //

Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival //
Golden Gate Park – San Francisco
October 29th-31st, 2021 //

After postponing its 13th edition due to the COVID-19 pandemic and experiencing disappointing lineup cancellations in the months leading up to it, Outside Lands had quite a lot to make up for going into its 2021 relaunch for Halloween. Asserting themselves as hosts of the first “mega event” in Golden Gate Park during the pandemic, Bay Area concert promoter Another Planet Entertainment braved an entirely new entertainment landscape, time of year and crowd dynamic.

Following statewide safety protocols, attendees had to wear a mask and show proof of vaccination or a negative test result at all entrances before scanning their way inside the gates. Clear backpacks were enforced and costume guidelines were added to the laundry list of rules and regulations for all ticket holders. But even with the adjusted security measures and slight changes to the event’s production, concertgoers came out in record numbers. Averaging crowds of approximately 70,000 people per day, OSL 2021 wasn’t short of attendees willing to happily follow the new guidelines in order to return to the beloved three-day festival.

Outside Lands 2021

While at times the interactive experiences in 2021 seemed lacking with the obvious downplay of live art activations, comedy and representation of the Bay Area’s creative culture, OSL still provided a larger platform for community-based initiatives. This year the fest added a brand-new stage in the SOMA Tent, which focused on burgeoning talent across the local electronic scene, and also dedicated attention and space for both local and national non-profits with an extended Eco Lands footprint.

Relaunching OSL over Halloween weekend was one of the smartest pivots Another Planet could have made. The energy surrounding the holiday was palpable, providing a dialed-in event and location with an additional reason for both local and visiting attendees to celebrate. Costumed crowds filled the fields all three days and created an increasingly whimsical buildup to what felt like a triumphant return to the city’s historical Halloween legacy. With many hoping the holiday tradition would continue for years to come, OSL successfully stoked the sold-out crowd’s excitement for its return in August 2022.

Outside Lands 2021 - Moses Sumney


Moses Sumney

OUTSIDE LANDS 2021 AWARDS:

Headliner of the Weekend: Tyler, the Creator

Breakthrough Performance: The HU

Favorite First-Timer: Brijean

Best OSL Addition: SOMA Tent

Favorite Festival Food: Pork Lumpia from Abacá

Most Magical Cocktail: Silver Girl’s “St. Olaf’s Fizz”

Most Entertaining Activation: The Aperol Spritz Piazza

Best Wine Lands Pour: Brut Rose by Angels & Cowboys

Favorite OSL Night Show: Drama at Bimbo’s 360 Club

Most Popular Costume: Skeleton

Largest Crowd: RÜFÜS DU SOL

Biggest Dance Party: Khruangbin

Best Stage Production: Tame Impala

Funniest Band Interaction: The Neil Frances vs. Neal Francis beef

Local Standout: Kehlani

Most Impressive Pipes: Brittany Howard

Biggest Lasting Impression: Moses Sumney

Best Improvement: Open-air layout at The House by Heineken

From T-Pain to Usher, Smokin Grooves Fest turns up the heat in 2019 with a slew of top-notch talent

Smokin Grooves Fest 2019 - Usher


Usher

By Rochelle Shipman //

Smokin Grooves Fest //
The Queen Mary – Long Beach, CA
June 15th, 2019 //

Much more than a supremely awkward sunburn, this year’s Soulection-helmed Smokin Grooves Fest went off without a hitch. The day began just like all of the best R&B songs — dark and moody, with the empty threat of rain and no sign of reprieve. After a few hours though, the sun broke through the drear, bathing the stylish, half-dressed attendees in a golden light fitting to almost every act playing the one-day festival at the Queen Mary.

The obvious draw in 2019 was the headliners — Usher making a rare, triumphant appearance and our queen, Erykah Badu, returning to continue her reign after last year’s installment. But if that wasn’t enough reason to attend, the young blood made sure no performance time went wasted on Saturday.

Rising star Choker kicked things off on the Groovin’ Stage, amassing an impressive crowd-in-wait for, as he called it, “a matinee show.” Armed with little more than some great earrings, a serious head of hair and his usual falsetto, Choker managed to deliver an intimate set despite the space between the stage and crowd. Fans in attendance could be heard soft-screaming to every word, clearly elated to finally see Choker in action.

The sun finally came out for none other than T-Pain. Bouncing onstage like Tigger, T-Pain made a case for deserving a later set time (and was probably indirectly responsible for the wave of people passing out around 6 p.m.). The man is a party in a human body, and he’s aging like a fine wine — his music, his dance moves, all of it. It’s clear he belongs on that stage, whether it’s 2:15 or 10:15 p.m.

Smokin Grooves Fest 2019 - T-Pain


T-Pain

If T-Pain brought the sun out, Raveena made it shine. The stunning songstress seemed to sparkle onstage, fresh off the release of her debut album Lucid. Her warm, dreamy vocals floated through the pristine afternoon, effectively hypnotizing a grateful crowd that didn’t seem to have an end. Even her smile was infectious. After another ethereal song, someone shouted out, “We love your energy!”

Bringing a different flavor of energy, though precisely what the crowd needed after Raveena’s mellow sound, was Leven Kali. The Los Angeles singer-songwriter has spent the last few years collaborating with some of R&B’s and hip hop’s most talented artists, but he just released his own first major project Low Tide. Kali’s performance at Smokin Grooves proved that we were right to wait for him to take his time. Fans of Anderson .Paak will recognize the same level of adrenaline, with Kali’s band delivering the psych-dance groove to form their own impressive foundation for the future.

Afternoon turned to evening with nothing but queens and Daniel Caesar, who, let’s be honest, sings like a goddamn queen himself. Chicago’s Ravyn Lenae brought her angelic voice back to Long Beach for another go-around as she stunted across the Smokin’ Stage in her high-heeled Converse boots. Kali Uchis, on the other hand, blessed us with the mere vision of her, running through the motions of her stellar Isolation tracks like she couldn’t be bothered while looking like a million bucks.

2018’s top dawg Ella Mai shook the crowd up, delivering a polished, poppy set to a group of spectators who couldn’t have been more in love. Dreamville’s first female signee Ari Lennox also returned for a second year, although this time, hot off the drop of her dazzling debut LP Shea Butter Baby, she was back with 10 times the amount of fans — and very deservedly so. The edge in her voice complemented the raw smile plastered on her face. Lennox knew she had earned her spot toward the top of the 2019 lineup, and that only made her fans scream that much louder.

Smokin Grooves Fest 2019 - Kali Uchis


Kali Uchis

As the sun set over the Pacific Ocean, the crowd swelled in front of the festival’s main stage, waiting for our lord and savior Erykah Badu. We waited. And we waited. Finally, 30 minutes later, Ms. Badu walked out and surveyed the scene before all was forgiven. Her shortened set was still probably more than the sun-dried fans could handle, with her vocals perfect and her vibe far-reaching and unmatched. As she threw her body left and right, jutting her limbs into the air and even jumping down to clasp a few lucky hands, you could feel a collective healing washing over the grounds. Before she left, she even thanked us for waiting for her, as though we had done her a favor. Psh.

How do you follow Erykah Badu? I didn’t think it could be done until about five seconds into Usher’s performance. He came out swinging, energy and choreography at 110 percent, so fast and fierce that I yelped, “Holy shit!” I grew up listening to Usher and respect him for days, but I didn’t expect him to put on one of the most enjoyable shows I’ve witnessed in 2019 so far. To say “he’s still got it” wouldn’t nearly be enough. So, just trust me when I say “you’ve gotta get yourself to an Usher show.”

Proving to be a supremely enjoyable day of music at its heart, Smokin Grooves showcased some strong, young talent and reminded us how lucky we are to have some of the OGs still willing to dance with us. With R&B’s new crop of talent continuing to innovate and inspire, here’s hoping that the festival will keep coming back year after year.

That’s right … I’m lookin’ at you, Joe Kay.

Noise Pop 2019: Celebrating Bay Area indie culture with great music & a whole lot more