Outside Lands 2023 in San Francisco brought big and small musical artists alike to play the same stages from August 11-13, 2023. | Photo: Alive Coverage/Sipa USA

Outside Lands is everything you’d expect from a San Francisco musical festival. Forest fog, about a hundred different food options, a designated area for smoking weed, and of course, hordes of vintage-clad people clamoring to see their favorite artists.

The August 11-13 lineup included big names like Kendrick Lamar, who got the weekend off to a fervent start on the main stage, a. k. a. Land’s End. He performed hits from his latest album, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, along with older favorites like “King Kunta” and “Money Trees.” Dancers dressed in chef-esque clothing kept the show visually appealing while Lamar focused on hitting each bar (which he did flawlessly).

Saturday saw festival goers split between the Foo Fighters and Lana Del Rey for the last show of the night. As a Gen Zer with an affinity for dramatic performances, Lana Del Rey was more my speed. She too started with a newer song, “A&W,” that brought the energy up before swinging it right back down into her more melancholic discography.

Lana Del Rey sings on the Twin Peaks stage on Saturday night of Outside Lands 2023. | Photo: Alive Coverage

The 1975, another favorite of former or current Tumblr kids, capped off the Twin Peaks stage on Sunday while dance music fans and/or people on MDMA migrated over to ODESZA’s set. The 1975’s ever-controversial lead singer Matty Healy sang to a notably smaller but just as obsessed crowd.

These headlining artists, however, are not unique to Outside Lands. Many have been playing across the country, making stops at all the big summer festivals, like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza. What makes Outside Lands or really any music festival special are the smaller artists.

Eight hours before the headliners come on, the festival ground atmosphere is much more enjoyable. Bathroom lines are short and there is plenty of space to spread out on the lawn with a snack while up-and-coming acts take to the stages. There’s time to truly appreciate the music before the majority of people show up for the big names.

No Vacation plays on the Music Den stage at Outside Lands 2023. | Photo: Hannah Weaver

Nala, a Miami-born, L.A.-based deejay wonder woman, had a busy Friday with three Outside Lands sets. She started out in the early afternoon at the SOMA Tent playing some riot grrrl anthems.

“I walked into the Soma tent without knowing anything about what I was going to get into,” she said. “I saw that it was a rager so I said, ‘Okay, I guess we’re playing all the bangers … from the get go.’”

Later that day, she played in The Music Den amongst the cypress trees, followed by some “deep and heavy” tracks at an official Outside Lands “afterparty” show.

“I like yelling at people. Getting on the microphone and yelling is real fun for me,” Nala said of her performance style. “Frankly, I get a little bored with most dance music at times. There’s amazing dance music out there, [but] do we really need another tech house DJ? [So I try to] add a different layer of information to what we’re already getting.”

Nala has worked to carve her space out in the majority-male deejaying world and is now hoping to help other women do the same with her new Mi Domina label. She offers the following advice to those just starting out: “No one is good at the beginning. And no one is good at 10 years either. It takes a lot of support and it takes working with other people to get your music to sound as top tier as everyone else. So don’t be afraid to ask for advice and don’t kick yourself if that year three, you don’t sound like Avicii.”

Getting to the festival early helps music-lovers discover new artists. But the crowd was already familiar with the San Francisco–bred shoegaze band No Vacation, who opened the main stage on Saturday. Only a few hours later, they headed up to the Music Den for a slightly shorter set.

“We wanted it to be different. So we played three repeats, our top three songs,” guitarist Nat Lee said of the two sets. “We wanted people who came in the first time to really get something special versus people who came later on. But I think people really showed up at the beginning [which made it] really worth it … it was super awesome.”

Back in their early days as USF students, the band would play shows around the city, itching for any chance to perform live.

“There was this thing called The Secret Show Society where all the bands would have underground shows, or house parties, or the actual Lands End, or in the middle of nowhere and it would be only word of mouth … that’s where we played our first show,” Lee said.

Though one of seven local artists in the Outside Lands lineup, before they came on the Music Den stage, an announcer called them “hometown heroes.” But the band finds themselves more estranged from the San Francisco music scene as the members have moved around the country and seen the bands they started alongside fade away.

“There are a lot of potential hometown heroes that are not here,” drummer James Shi said.

“That was our scene when we started here,” guitarist Harrison Spencer added. “Those are still our friends [but] now they’re all in L.A.”

Regardless of where in the country everyone in the band has ended up now, it’s still a special full-circle moment for the band to play at the music festival they spent years going to as listeners.

“You definitely feel more nervous [in front of such a large crowd] but at the same time, it’s like every time you want to try your best in everything,” lead singer Sab Mai said.

After all, Outside Lands wouldn’t be the same if it didn’t pay homage to the bands that made the city’s music scene what it is today.

“The fans have been with us since day one, they’ve always had the same amount of energy,” Lee said. “I think our fans are super awesome because they just really make the show.”


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.