Over the years, Outside Lands’ headliners have been somewhat hit or miss. Take Tenacious D, who headlined in 2009 as a replacement for the last-minute cancellation by the Beastie Boys. Kind of a letdown. Some folks would say the same for Kings of Leon, who capped off last year’s festival. But there’s no question that this year’s lineup, which features Muse and Arcade Fire, alongside the enormously popular jam band Phish, is Outside Lands’ most ambitious lineup to date. And judging by ticket sales, fans agree. Outside Lands has already sold out of single-day general admission tickets for Friday and Saturday, and it projects to sell out entirely by showtime.
That’s fantastic news for a festival that’s still experimenting with format in its fourth year. Changes are afoot, says event producer Rick Farman, one of the partners at Superfly Productions — a New York-based company that co-presents Outside Lands each year with Berkeley-based Another Planet Entertainment. He said that not only are the headliners better, the mid-level and local acts have improved as well, with the addition of up-and-comers like tUnE-YarDs and Ty Segall, as well as mainstream acts like Big Boi, Erykah Badu, Girl Talk, The Black Keys, and The Decemberists. Farman, who moved to the Bay Area three years ago, credits Another Planet for making wise programming decisions. “They [the bookers] really have their fingers on what’s starting to break locally and nationally,” he said.
And Farman is quick to point out that music isn’t the only draw at Outside Lands. Now christened the Outside Lands “music, food, wine, and art festival,” it’s increasingly trying to be all things to all people, with lots of culinary programming, artisans, vendors, and vintners. “In terms of art, wine, and culinary programming, this year it’s gonna be the most profound that it’s ever been,” Farman said. By having so many amenities, Outside Lands has managed to carve out its own niche in the national festival market, he said.
The only act some fans might question is the aforementioned Phish. Though the jam-band scene has a strong history and presence in the Bay Area, Phish’s hippie fanbase might seem out of place on a lineup with Arcade Fire. But the mix is intentional, says Farman. “The fact that we have the original Meters, MGMT, and Phish all on one stage is not by mistake,” he assured. “We know Phish fans will recognize how special it is that we have the original Meters there, and we know that some Phish fans are hip enough to appreciate MGMT.” In fact, he added, some of them will even be disappointed about missing The Shins, a stylish indie-rock group that’s scheduled to play around the same time. Such are the perils of abundance.