During her Sunday night set at Outside Lands, Solange paused to acknowledge the violence of the previous day in Charlottesville at the hands of white nationalists. “Stay up. Find your self-care, find your joy,” she implored the audience, specifically shouting out her black, LGBTQ, and Muslim fans.
“Hey! What about the white people?” screamed a young, white man behind me.
Solange’s remarks were clearly meant to uplift those whose civil rights were threatened by the marchers in Charlottesville — a threat that didn't apply to him. But when I turned around to explain, he retorted, “So you think I’m a white supremacist just because I’m white?”
If the interaction confirmed anything, it was that there's a clear disconnect between Outside Lands’ mostly white attendees and the nation’s state of affairs — one that was felt through most of this year's festival.
Saturday’s bloody protests, resulting in the death of anti-racist activist Heather Heyer, dominated news feeds over Outside Lands weekend. In his initial response, President Trump avoided calling out white nationalists, instead condemning hatred and bigotry “on many sides” and refusing to answer reporters who asked if he wanted white nationalists' support. On social media, white supremacists, neo-Nazis and former KKK leader David Duke celebrated that the president didn’t specifically implicate their movements. (It's wasn't until two days later, after public pressure, that Trump named the KKK, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists, calling their racism “evil” in a White House speech.)
Meanwhile, at Outside Lands, there was scant acknowledgement of Charlottesville that I saw, apart from comments by Solange, Cage the Elephant, Young the Giant, and a few others. On Friday, before the violent clash took place, Noname and Henry Rollins had spoken against the Trump administration in explicit terms. But on Saturday and Sunday, after a car plowed into a group of people — killing Heyer, and injuring 19 others — the majority of the artists’ silence was deafening. A few bands, including Metallica, Dawes, and Bomba Estéreo, offered vague feel-good sentiments about the power of music to bring people together.
An artists’ impulse to avoid bad news during their performances is understandable. But it’s also possible to put on an entertaining show while taking the time to acknowledge a national trauma. Much like the president's initial refusal to call white supremacy by name, an artist failing to identify a source of discomfort while offering hollow pleas to “come together” can't possibly provide the specific healing they claim to want. In that moment, their performance becomes casual diversion.
Because of this, artists’ and attendees’ silence made Outside Lands feel like an island, isolated from the news by privilege, rather than what a mass of thousands of people in Golden Gate Park has been, historically, during national crises: a community united against violence and hate.
For the carefree folks enjoying themselves at the festival, the violence in Charlottesville might have seemed like a world away. But it’s not. As KQED's John Sepulvado reports, the man credited with organizing the Charlottesville rally, Nathan Damigo, is a San Jose-raised California resident who brought his group Identity Evropa for a bloody protest to UC Berkeley in April. Another of the Charlottesville protestors was identified as Cole White, now-former employee of Top Dog, a popular eatery in liberal Berkeley. And according to Mother Jones reporter Shane Bauer, a future white supremacist rally is scheduled in Berkeley for Aug. 27.
We like to think we're in a progressive bubble in the Bay Area. We take for granted that a huge gathering like Outside Lands implies, by dint of its location, tolerance and acceptance. The man behind me during Solange's set Sunday proved otherwise: namely, that white people who go to music festivals — and I say this as a white person, who goes to music festivals — have some stepping up to do.
As Lorde tweeted minutes before her Sunday evening Outside Lands performance, “All white people are responsible for this system's thrive and fall. We have to do better.”
See more of KQED's Outside Lands coverage here.