Outside Lands: A First Timer's Take on an Eco-Friendly Gourmet Music Festival

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Outside Lands Windmill with recycling, composting, trash. Photo by Wendy Goodfriend
Outside Lands Windmill -- recycle, compost, trash.
All Photos: Wendy Goodfriend

Outside Lands, now in it's fourth year, drew nearly 180,000 visitors this past weekend. I was one of them. On Saturday morning, as I walked along a dirt path through Lindley Meadow into a eucalyptus grove with parachutes and rope swings dangling from the trees, I thought of how this seemed a cross between Burning Man and the board game Candy Land. Ok, Outside Lands was fifty degrees cooler than Burning Man and it's in the middle of Golden Gate Park, rather than the desert. Still, the music festival has this collective feel where everyone comes together to appreciate artistic expression, be it music, food, wine or other artistic endeavors. Then, everyone leaves the land no worse for wear, hopefully. In fact, this was the most organized compost and recycling program I have ever seen at a big outdoor event.

Wind Chime Swing. Photo by Wendy Goodfriend
Wind Chime Swing. Photo: Wendy Goodfriend

Choco Lands. Photo by Wendy Goodfriend
Choco Lands. Photo by Wendy Goodfriend

Outside Lands also has this feeling that everything happening on the periphery is just as interesting as the bigger events, whether they are major rock bands or pyrotechnic shows. And just like Candy Land, curvy dirt paths take you from one fun land to the next. Instead of Candy Cane Forest and Gum Drop Mountain you have Food Truck Forest, Choco Lands, Wine Lands and Eco Lands. Wander down a dirt path away from the polo fields, which hosted the likes of Phish and Arcade Fire, and you might end up, as I did, amidst cypress and eucalyptus trees watching a tiny carny opera with mime faced performers dressed in kilts playing Appalachian ballads and doing their own version of the River Dance. Before the opera I visited Eco Lands, which honors San Francisco's commitment to sustainability, with all sorts of educational booths, valet bike parking and emerging artists performing on a solar powered stage. This year introduced urban agriculture to Outside Lands with yet another land to discover, Farm Lands. Here you could play games like "Veggie Twister," take an urban gardening class and munch on organic watermelon slices from Full Belly Farms.


Arcade Fire. Photo by Wendy Goodfriend
Arcade Fire. Photo by Wendy Goodfriend

Wonder World Opera. Photo by Wendy Goodfriend
Flotsam's Wonder World Opera. Photo: Wendy Goodfriend

Full Belly Farms Farmers Market. Photo by Wendy Goodfriend
Full Belly Farms Farmers Market. Photo: Wendy Goodfriend

With my appetite whetted by healthy produce, I set out to explore the higher caloric choices at Outside Lands. There are more than fifty local restaurants and food trucks at this event. For a little hog in the fog action, one could try Flour + Water's porchetta sandwiches. Head Chef Thomas McNaughton said, because they only work with small farms, it took six months to prepare for the concert. Eleven acres of arugula had to be planted and, to be honest, I couldn't listen when he explained how many pigs from near Nicassio were slaughtered, let's just say it was enough to make 7,000 sandwiches over the weekend. McNaughton said the idea was also to create a little buzz for Flour + Water's two new projects, also in the Mission, Salumeria and Central Kitchen. Maybe I just knew too much about the porchetta sandwiches but I ended up trying a different meal with pork, Korean tacos from Namu. They were not really tacos at all but rather pork or chicken wrapped in seaweed with a delicious kim chee remoulade. I also had a taste of a veggie samosa from New Ganges Indian Food and a grilled cheese sandwich, with peppers, from The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen. They were both good but not as interesting as the "tacos." You can also read about my time at Wine Lands where i discovered some very delicious small lot wineries.

Thomas McNaughton and porchetta sandwich assembly line. Photo by Wendy Goodfriend
Thomas McNaughton and porchetta sandwich assembly line. Photo: Wendy Goodfriend

The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen. Photo by Wendy Goodfriend
The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen. Photo: Wendy Goodfriend

I am thinking Outside Lands might be worth another visit next year. I mean, what other festival can you listen to the arena-rock jams of English Band Muse while sipping a spicy Pinot Noir preceded by a worm composting workshop?

MUSE. Photo by Wendy Goodfriend
Muse. Photo: Wendy Goodfriend