I was right near the stage, so close that I practically made eye contact with Kendrick Lamar, an Old Fashioned (complete with an orange twist) in one hand and a vape in the other. I was vibing unabashedly and had ample room to do so. Just before, I was draped in a plush wool blanket, seated on a tufted chartreuse sofa under a crystal chandelier, having my fill of lobster rolls and bottles of red, chatting with chefs, sommeliers, and the well-heeled. It was the first night of the Outside Lands Music Festival, a three-day event held annually at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, and I was firmly in the lap of luxury.
Summer is festival season, and every marquee event from Coachella to Pitchfork offers tiers of ticket options that attendees can purchase. I’ve been to my fair share of them over the decades and experienced the different levels—starting with general admission. In my 20s, my motley crew and I reveled in crowds. We had no qualms about standing in line, consuming copious amounts of Miller Lite and hot dogs, and planning the right time to get to the stage so as to get a decent view. We didn’t even mind using Porta Potties. All of this was part of the experience, part of the thrill. Then, by my early 30s, tired of spending time just entering a venue and drinking beer on tap, we splurged on VIP passes (the terminology differs from festival to festival). At most events of this ilk, these passes granted expedited entry and access to a better range of food and beverages, along with toilets that flush. But the best part was the ability to get in close proximity to the stage—not eye-contact close, but close enough.
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When it came to music festivals, I thought this was as good as it gets. Which is why I decided that my days of jamming en plein air to a roster of bands and musicians were behind me, a part of my life that didn’t require me to always carry a tube of Tums and Advil in my pocket. I’d been there, done that. Then I received an invite from Outside Lands to experience its Golden Gate Club, a tier higher than its VIP level, and my perception of how to attend a music festival altered immensely.
On the first day, a friend and I arrived around two o’clock at the designated parking spot for Gold Gate Club members. It was a ways away from the festival site, but golf carts were available to drive us to an entry point, where we then zoomed by the small queue. From there, we walked past the VIP section toward a guarded staircase that reached an elevated platform overlooking the area around the main stage, called Lands End. (That vantage point alone is worth the ticket price: $5,000 for three days) At the top, we were instantly greeted by the concierge and a tray of sparkling wine. But we decided to first check in our bags and use the secluded bathrooms filled with two-ply and Aesop soaps and lotions.
Once settled, we eyed our surroundings. The long venue was lined with crystal chandeliers, dressed with sizable bouquets in every corner, and filled with sofas, chairs, and coffee tables that mirrored the style of a chic bohemian boutique hotel. There was even a larger-than-life bust of Michelangelo’s “David.” We quickly realized that this festival experience was unlike any other.
Our first course of action was getting our hands on beverages. There was a full-fledged bar that served top-shelf spirits, but since Raveena was playing on stage, we wanted to gel with the chill vibe and headed toward the wine station run by Saison’s Mark Bright, and pretty much lounged for hours, wrapped in blankets provided by the concierge, chatting with fellow members, enjoying the fresh-faced acts that took center stage. Then, by four o’clock, a banquet created by the Liholiho Yacht Club, which included the aforementioned lobster rolls, was served. 1 Hotel’s Terrene also opened a cocktail pop-up at a corner, so we changed to hard liquor. At dusk, we were escorted to the front of the stage, drinks in hand, and fully enveloped ourselves in the star attractions of the night: Janelle Monae and Lamar.
Riding solo on the second day, I started out at the Golden Gate Club—where Champagne and caviar, along with burrata salads and smoked wagyu briskets by Miller & Lux, were being served—but decided to venture into the heart of Lands End. Indeed, Outside Lands is as much a music event as it is a culinary one, bringing together some of the Bay Area’s best eateries. The selection was certainly overwhelming, but I was given a must-try list: a steak and cheese sandwich from Horn Barbecue, Neapolitan slices from Mozzeria, a Cubano from Media Noche, and the best Shanghai rolls that I ever tasted from Abacá. There I was, surrounded by like-minded foodies, munching on a feast as Father John Mistry and Maggie Rogers serenaded us on stage. It was delightful.
I then headed back to the Golden Gate Club to digest comfortably and plan my evening schedule with the concierge. The Foo Fighters and Lana Del Ray were playing around the same time at different spots in the park, and I didn’t want to miss either. So, we decided that I’d watch Dave Grohl string his guitar for the first 20 minutes and have a golf cart and escort ready to bring me to the front of Del Ray’s stage. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I got the best of both acts.
On my last day, having experienced the Golden Gate Club in full and having tried the myriad food stations at Lands End, I set my sights on the other stages within Outside Lands. I began at Soma Tent, where I caught Coco & Breezy, then took a cart to the area called Cocktail Magic to dance at the Gasolina: Reggaeton Party, and then walked back to Lands End to see Lil Yachty and Megan Thee Stallion up close—amassing a motley crew along the way.
Tired from all the activities, I decided to relax on a tufted sofa, again wrapped in a blanket, pop two Advils and sip on tea at the Golden Gate Club for Odesza’s set, the last headline act of the festival, which concluded with fireworks. Perched atop that platform, I couldn’t have asked for a better view—a great ending to my Outside Lands experience.
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