Compared to Coachella's Mess, SF's Outside Lands was a Dream

Part 1 of a 2-part review, focusing on the festival's planning. To read about the music, see part 2

Recently, the 3rd edition of the Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival was held in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, and LAist was there to see if our neighbors to the north can put on a festival that compares with our own legendary Coachella fest. And the answer is yes... yes, they most certainly can.

Obviously, there are some marked differences between Outside Lands and Coachella; Coachella is 3 days, Outside Lands was 2. Outside Lands takes place right in the heart of the city, whereas most Coachella attendees drive at least a couple hours. To be sure, Coachella is a little bigger, with a more extensive lineup (and much more expensive tickets) but Outside Lands seems to have gone with a "less is more" approach this year, and it worked. While the '09 edition was a 3-day affair, this year they scaled it back to 2. The lineup was solid, though not quite as star-studded as the first two years. The silver lining is that the crowds seemed slightly smaller but much more manageable.

Anyone who attended Coachella this year knows that the record-setting crowds caused record-setting levels of frustration, confusion, disorganization, long waits to get in, rampant counterfeiting, and just general chaos. Just getting in and out of Coachella this year was incredibly stressful and time-consuming (assuming you were lucky enough to actually get in).

Compared to Coachella 2010, Outside Lands was an absolute dream in the areas of organization, planning and crowd control. Parking was very limited, so organizers offered a shuttle bus service with 3 different routes picking up people throughout the city. They also strongly encouraged public transit, and clearly explained all the options on the website. Thousands of bicyclists took advantage of the free bike valet parking, compliments of the SF Bicycle Coalition.

Entering the Outside Lands festival grounds was actually a pleasant experience. Walking along Golden Gate State Park's nature trails, surrounded by trees, was nice. With 2 general entrances and a separate VIP entrance, lines were nonexistent. Walking through the security check in the early afternoon (theoretically the busiest time of day, right?) took all of 2 minutes.

Once inside, Outside Lands continued to impress. The selection of food vendors seemed like it was curated as a food festival, and SF's reputation as a foodie-friendly town was clearly reflected. A giant "Wine Lands" tent was like a wine festival unto itself, offering tastings and full pours from 26 different wineries in a comfortable, well-decorated environment. The VIP hospitality area was beautifully decorated, with a great view of the entire polo field area, and offered great amenities, including massages. And there were no beer gardens… if you had a 21+ wristband, you could buy a drink and walk around the entire festival with it, which felt very liberating compared to the way most fests corral you into beer gardens.

The greening/sustainability aspects of Outside Lands were apparent as well. Clusters of trash cans were clearly labeled as compost, trash or recycle, and most were staffed by a Clean Vibes "Trash Talker" who would look at people's trash and advise them which can to throw it into. There was an entire "Eco Lands" section of the festival, including many vendors and one of the four stages, that was completely powered by solar energy. There were 2 water stations for those that brought (or bought) refillable containers.

The weather was great, too. Mostly cool and overcast on Saturday, on Sunday the sun came out but it never got hot. Nothing like the oppressive heat at your typical Coachella. Even the timing of the performances seemed well-orchestrated. The two large stages set up at either end of the polo field would alternate sets, eliminating the "sound bleed" you get at many festivals.

Overall, we came away from Outside Lands extremely impressed with the festival's organization, planning, amenities and overall vibe. Coachella should take a few cues from Outside Lands and go with a "less is more" approach in 2011.

Oh yeah, the music at Outside Lands was really good, too. To read more about that, see part 2 of this review.