This 2022 edition of Outside Lands is something of a victory lap. Held annually each August since 2008, the date changed to late October in 2021 to sidestep a late summer spike in the Covid pandemic. As the organizers had predicted, cases subsided dramatically by that alternate Halloween weekend. Now this American festival staple, in league with only major names the likes of Coachella, Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo, is back to its normal calendar slot. With an always impressive slate of artists and ever growing number of unique features, it’s poised to only grow more prominent in stature year after year.

No feature is more unique than the setting of Outside Lands. While many major urban festivals are forced to opt for concrete parking lot space, it’s only lush grass to lay on and total enclosure of Monterey cypress in Golden Gate Park. And with approximately a mile between main Lands End and Twin Peaks stages, there’s nary a noise overlap to reckon with. One of the newer features is the SOMA tent, which takes you away from the four primary stages and straight to the club. This year’s roster has major acts like Claude VonStroke and TOKiMONSTA, alongside recent breakouts like London’s I. Jordan. Another unique aspect is Grass Lands. In its 4th year, it’s the first cannabis experience at a major United States based festival. It’s the perfect accent for this Summer of Love-originating grounds upon which Outside Lands stands.

As Stereogum recently reported, it has been a struggle for many festivals to dust off the cobwebs. Even at the most established festivals, there’ve been mishaps and chaos abound. Primavera saw uncharasteric bottlenecks. Bonnaroo had an hour plus long line for entry after moving to just one GA admission spot for the first time. Rampant headliner dropouts haven’t helped much either. Despite all of that, Outside Lands went off without a single hitch. The general flow from stage to stage was seamless, even with the busier Saturday crowd. The grass was in great shape and held up across the whole weekend. Set times were kept and there wasn’t a single major dropout to speak of.

Here is a rundown of three standout sets from the weekend:

Best Sets:

Pussy Riot - 8/4 - 10:00pm - The Independent (Outside Lands Night Shows series)

In 2011, Pussy Riot burst on to the global indie music scene with viral videos showcasing their DIY gigs across Moscow. Their bravely pro-LGBTQIA+ and anti-Putin lyrics in the face of such oppressive Russian authoritarianism inspired legions. Their message of defiance in the face of unconscionable evil has never been more relevant as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine approaches the half year mark. Despite frequent arrests and imprisonment, the collective continues to fight on over a decade later.

On Thursday, August 4th, they dropped the MATRIARCHY NOW mixtape, with a release party at famed San Francisco venue The Independent. The raucous affair was part of the Outside Lands Nights Show series which showcases festival artists at smaller than normal venues for 14 acts. The 7 track mixtape is an impressive array of punkish, synth-based dance music with elements as far ranging as trance and trap, often within the same song. It also has some incredible features. Atlanta’s ILOVEMAKONNEN, who opened the show, knocked his verse on “PLASTIC” out of the park. An even bigger feature comes from Big Freedia on mixtape closer, “POOF BITCH.” The New Orleans sissy bounce pioneer has been hotter than ever with multiple inclusions on Beyonce’s new Renaissance album. Founder and primary face, Nadya Tolokonnikova, brought intense energy from the start and never let up. Backed by a live drummer and two backing dancers, all in ski masks, she commanded the crowd from start to finish. In the blink of an eye, they would switch from headbanging to twerking, and the crowd followed suit. Oh what a night!

Empress Of - 8/6 - 4pm - Sutro Stage

Empress Of has been building her devoted fan base steadily since her first official release in 2012. Her first EP, entitled Systems, caught the eye of fellow chillwave era standouts El Guincho and Delorean, with both Spanish acts offering up remixes. The Honduran-American, real name Lorely Rodriguez, dropped her first full length, Me, in 2015 on legendary U.K. indie label XL Recordings. She’s now an indiepop stalwart. Dev Hynes called her his favorite producer and she has bagged opening slots for marque acts like Jungle, Carly Rae Jepsen and Lizzo. Her striking aesthetic choices change constantly. From the leather clad “Give Me Another Chance” video to the red athletic shorts under a white dress on the album cover of her sophomore LP, Us, you’ll always be on your toes release to release. What’s the secret sauce to such incredible fashion? Her mother Reina, aka @latinaknowles, who helps design and create her stunning wardrobe. Mom was even featured on the title track of LP #3, I’m Your Empress Of. She provided a powerful outro touching on her perseverance to learn English as an immigrant to America and the beauty of seeing her daughter become a role model to thousands of children who see themselves in her.

Empress Of hit the Sutro stage right at 4:00pm as scheduled. As was expected, her outfit did not disappoint. Black, leather thigh high boots complimented her black, leather skirt. The reckless abandon with which she throws herself around the stage brings palpable joy and energy out of the crowd. Her set featured all but one of the new songs on her 5 track EP, Save Me, which was released this summer. “Dance For You” in particular saw a sizable uptick in crowd motion. A barrage of other classics kept that momentum going, with a mid-set murderers row of “Wild Girl,” “When I’m With Him,” and “Gimme Another Chance.” Old fans and new fans alike were screaming along to her instantly memorable choruses. It seems very clear this won’t be her last Outside Lands, and that she’ll be on at a later set time when she returns.

Amber Mark - 8/7 - 2:30pm - Lands End Stage

Amber Mark has that rare ability to stop you dead in your tracks on first listen. Her voice can strike tones that are chilling, deeply warm or totally euphoric, even within a single track. She offers a unique blend of genres, tempos and production that attracts music obsessives from all across the spectrum. Some were first drawn in by the upbeat yet emotional “Monsoon,” from her 2016 debut LP 3:33am. It has Indian inflected instrumentation, a nod to her childhood years spent in Darjeeling with her late mother Mia. Others, myself included, were blown away and forever hooked via one fateful encounter with the club ready banger “Heatwave.” If airy odes to summer and vacation are your thing, “Mixer” and “Foregin Things” will suit you just fine. And if it’s groove oriented, heartstring pulling ballads that are your speed, you’ll find “Love Me Right” in permanent rotation on your future playlists.

Amber Mark eased the eager attendees into her set with the smooth sounds of “Softly,” a standout track off 2022’s Three Dimensions Deep. Despite the slower tempo, its light reggaeton beat had heads nodding all across the Lands End stage area. She wore a brown, plaid skirt to match her brown top, complimented by a pair of white and blue Jordans. More songs from her newest LP kept coming, including “What It Is,” “Foreign Things,” “Darkside” and “Worth It.” These paired perfectly with her established jams like “Mixer,” “Love Me Right” and “Lose My Cool.” She took full advantage of the long, narrow stage extension that juts 100 or so feet out of the stage. She slid, pranced and bounded her way back and forth, energizing the crowd each time. It’s that effortless confidence and crowd control that lets you know she’s going to be a bigger and bigger star with each passing release and festival appearance.

Photo Credit: Moses Namkung