The Best Acts to See Every Day at Outside Lands 2021
From indie rock legends to rising rappers, these are the sets you can't miss at the three-day San Francisco festival.
For those of us who enjoy Halloween, every year it can feel like there's pressure to find actually funHalloween plans. But this year, if you're also a music fan, there's really only one Halloweekend event worth caring about. San Francisco's resident major music and food fest Outside Lands is closing out this year's festival season with its three-day event in Golden Gate Park between Friday, October 29 and Sunday, October 31.
While it's rare that Halloween parties ever have entertainment as exciting as Lizzo, The Strokes, and Tame Impala, Outside Lands just so happens to have one of the very best lineups of this year's festival season, period. The event, which remains the largest independent fest in the US, doesn't necessarily just book the biggest names in pop across the bill. They've pulled dozens of independent artists and trendy rising names across all genres to play this year, in addition to those genuinely cool headliners. You'll be able to listen to indie favorites and discover new acts, all the while taking in everything San Fran has to offer at the fest—from bites made by local eateries at the GastroMagic Stage to the fest's first-of-its-kind cannabis experience, Grass Lands. (And don't skip Thrillist's own live version of Wine and Cheeseburger on Friday at 3:55 pm, with musical guest Bartees Strange, where Harley Morenstein and somm Lara Amersey will pair food and wine served at Outside Lands.) Since the fest has so much to offer, it can be difficult deciding what sets exactly you'll be able to catch. We're breaking down who you can't miss at Outside Lands 2021, so make sure you have your vax card or negative test, and get ready to rock.
Who to see at Outside Lands on Friday
The small font act to see
When: 1:25-2:10 pm at the Sutro Stage
Bartees Strange has been making his rounds in the festival circuit this year and touring pretty extensively on his own, and the verdict from just about everyone who sees him is that he's one of the best live rock performers in years. You wouldn't want to miss that! His brash voice and anthemic alternative rock that plays with hip-hop production is too big for this early afternoon set time, so expect him to get you pumped for the rest of the fest.
The folk singer who'll get you tearing up
Sharon Van Etton
When: 3:50-4:40 pm at the Lands End Stage
Singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten's folk music is colloquial and delivered in an almost matter-of-fact tone, but it's also robust and will strike you right in the heart. She released her best and biggest album to date in 2019 with Remind Me Tomorrow, so she'll likely perform songs off of that record—including the wonderful "Seventeen." Everyone can relate to the messy search for catharsis in her music, so if you're looking to be touched by a set at the fest, you'll want to make it this one.
The rising rapper to have on your radar
When: 5:20-6:05 pm at the Twin Peaks Stage
A lot of artists seemingly blow up overnight after their music goes viral, but not all of them end up being a star. The 21-year-old Alabama-bred rapper Flo Milli has star power like none other. She's a bubbly source of energy and her lyrics are both brazen and cheeky. Her songs could soundtrack both the pregame when everybody is still in the mirror getting their looks just right and the party itself. No doubt she'll turn her set into the main event.
The experimentalist you can't miss
When: 7:40-8:20 pm at the Panhandle Stage
Few rappers keep things as gloriously weird as JPEGMafia. To him, it's like a game—both a creative challenge and in order to keep his cult-like fans on their toes. The Brooklyn-based artist's sound features glitchy, wacky, experimental production and his bars that comment on contemporary culture are always on point. He's as avant-garde of a rapper as he could be.
The biggest conflict of the day
The Strokes and Tyler, the Creator
When: 8:25-9:55 pm at the Lands End Stage and 8:25-9:40 pm at the Twin Peaks Stage
These days, indie rock legends The Strokes play festivals almost exclusively—and yet, it's still somewhat rare that they do even that. The New York band made their way to Shaky Knees in Atlanta this year, and is making a West Coast stop at Outside Lands. So considering how much of anevent a live show from them is, that's reason alone to see Julian Casablancas and co.—and that's not to mention how exhilarating it still feels hearing those now-20-year-old classics off Is This It live.
It's a damn shame, though, that The Strokes are playing for almost the entirety of Tyler, the Creator's set. It's actually the first time the rapper is making an appearance at Outside Lands, and he never fails to get the crowd hype. If you're drawn to hip-hop, obviously see Tyler—his 2021 record CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST is hands down one of this year's best.
Who to see at Outside Lands on Saturday
The hometown hero on the bill
When: 12:00-12:40 pm at the Panhandle Stage
Sometimes the sweetest parts about festivals is seeing what emerging, local acts the fest pulls to fill out the bill early in the day. This year, Oakland musician Boy Scouts is making an appearance. Whether you've seen the project of Taylor Vick playing around the Bay Area in recent years or it's your first time getting acquainted with her gentle folk, it'll find a way into your heart. Her quiet voice is warm, and those words provide assurance and feel like those of a friend, even as she sings about longing for answers to existential questions.
The international act you can't miss
When: 1:10-1:55 pm at the Lands End Stage
There might be major names across the Outside Lands bill, but it's possible that no act will get the crowd as amped as Hinds. The Spanish band makes garage rock with a pop bent, and above all, they're bursting with charisma. Not only is their sound fun and danceable, the four piece is a blast to watch and, if they had it their way, everyone in the audience would be crowd-surfing. The Madrid-based group was actually slated to play Lollapalooza earlier this year and had trouble getting their visas processed in time, so you can guess they'll be extra stoked to be making it stateside once again.
The rapper for former pop punk kids
When: 3:45-4:35 pm at the Twin Peaks Stage
Are you familiar with what's called "sugar trap?" If not, it's time to familiarize yourself with it—and there's no better way to do so by checking out the creator of the sound, Rico Nasty. Basically, she's a pop punk rap princess whose sing-song voice is both coarse and playful and tracks fuse hardcore with maximal electro. So, think the fine line between sweetness and hardness, cranked up all the way. Meaning, you'll have a blast.
The indie favorite of the day
When: 6:30-7:40 pm at the Lands End Stage
Vampire Weekend is playing one show and one show only this year and that show is Outside Lands. So, yeah, consider the band's set a big deal for indie devotees everywhere. They're always lovely to see live: Those academic preps have a way of making their arty, buoyant music sound even more enjoyable. While they toured their excellent fourth album, Father of the Bride, a bit in 2019, their more expansive 2020 tour was scraped, so the fest should be a good opportunity to hear those recent songs. Plus, if TikTok's obsession with early 2010s indie music has you feeling nostalgic lately—or, if that period simply has never lost its hold on you—few sets will touch your heart quite like this one.
The most fun headliner of the weekend
When: 8:25-9:55 pm at the Lands End Stage
Lizzo radiates nothing but good vibes. Her funk-pop-influenced brand of hip-hop is all about being uplifting and bringing out self-love and self-confidence in others, so if there's any set you'll be dancing to and feeling yourself at, it's this one. Whether you know the words to her hits or not, her boisterous neo soul will get you grooving—and just imagine the wave of joy that'll hit the crowd when she brings out her signature flute! Plus, her first single in two years "Rumors" was released just two months ago, so it's possible she'll give the crowd a bigger taste of what's next.
Who to see at Outside Lands on Sunday
The small font act to see
When: 12:40-1:25 pm at the Sutro Stage
There's no sweeter way to start your Sunday than by swinging by Claud's show. The Chicago-bred singer-songwriter makes earnest indie pop that sounds like it's out of a dream, but manages to capture feelings that you're embarrassed to have. They have the backing of Phoebe Bridgers—being the first signee on her Saddest Factory label—and deserve your attention, too.
The witchiest set of the Halloweekend fest
When: 2:10-2:55 pm at the Twin Peaks Stage
If you're at Outside Lands on Halloween proper, you'd be remiss not to make an effort to see some acts who have a bit of a spooky vibe to them. Sure, there's likely going to be a few performers who dress in costume, but rising pop singer Caroline Polachek definitely has the witchiest aura out of anybody on the bill. She often performs in long gowns and behind fans that give the illusion that she's floating on air—and that mystical voice of hers is seriously out of this world. Trust us: She'll cast a spell on you.
The rock star of tomorrow you need to know
Yves Tumor and Its Band
When: 3:40-4:25 pm at the Twin Peaks Stage
Rarely does an artist draw genuine comparisons to some of rock's greats, and since the release of their 2020 record Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor has been compared to the likes of David Bowie and Prince. The American artist, who now lives and records in Europe, is in a lane of futurist rock that's all their own, though. Guitars are bigger, the production sounds even more glamorous, and their added element of funk flirts with utter style. They radiate old-school rock star charisma, so be sure to see them, as this is a name you'll likely be hearing more of over the next decade.
The voice that's sure to captivate you
When: 4:30-5:30 pm at the Lands End Stage
Never mind that Brittany Howard is slated as performing alone instead of with the band she fronts, Alabama Shakes—count on her to bring it. She's a rare gem of a talent, who has only shined more upon going solo. Her debut, Jaime, saw her move away from classic rock and towards bluesier neo soul, and with a powerhouse voice like hers, she'll captivate anyone in the crowd or whoever happens to pass by her set just the same.
The biggest conflict of the day
Tame Impala and Kehlani
When: 8:00-9:35 pm at the Lands End Stage and 8:20-9:20 pm at the Twin Peaks Stage
The thing about Outside Lands filling out its lineup with so many great artists is that conflicting set times persist all weekend—particularly with the loaded final slots of the day. Even on the last day of the fest, they don't make it easy to decide who to see. Oakland area legend Kehlani is bringing her sleek, moody R&B to the fest for the first time since 2016. She's become a major industry name since them, so to locals, this hometown hero may as well be the headliner. Her prowess as a vocalist and dancer will absolutely have a hold on that stage.
If you're able to split time between her set and Tame Impala's, though, it would absolutely be worth it. While festivals often give attendees a sense of euphoria, the Australian band fronted by Kevin Parker are especially potent in getting fans to feel entranced. Likely performing across their expansive discography, from their early psych-heavy records to their more recent pop breakthroughs, like 2015's Currents and 2020's The Slow Rush, those nostalgic, hypnotic guitars will sound like they have the power to transport you to another dimension, man.