It’s not surprising that most people associate Coachella with California, and with good reason – Coachella is by far the most influential music festival on the West Coast. But the Golden State is home to a bevy of other great music festivals, with two solid choices falling in the peak festival month of August: Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival and FYF Fest. One is the pride of the Bay Area, a huge three-day event in beautiful Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Another is a rising LA star, with years of indie cred and consistently otherworldly lineups.
After attending OSL for the second time and FYF for the third time this year, I thought it’d be fun to switch up my usual festival recaps with a point-by-point comparison between the two festivals, covering aspects such as venue, food, crowds, music, and more. As a person born and raised in SoCal who has called NorCal his home for the past 6 years, I’m pretty attuned to the cultural differences and fun rivalries between the two locations. But until this point I’d never given much thought to the festival scene. The ultimate battle of the bands between SF and LA begins now!
Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival
Outside Lands is a three-day music festival held in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. The festival grounds is nestled among the meadows and trees of the park and gives off a really cool forest vibe, with a nice mix of music and other attractions such as local eateries, craft beer, wine, and art exhibits. Because of its location and emphasis on both music and other activities, it’s the perfect festival for all kinds of people and a great way to get a feel for the city.
FYF Fest is a two-day music festival held in Exposition Park in Los Angeles. Sean Carlson started this festival in 2004 when he was just 18, and it’s come a long way from its punk roots. In recent years the festival has moved to a larger venue, attracted indie and big-name artists alike, and still managed to keep its laid-back, small-festival feel. The music selection is much less punk these days (but still very punk-inspired) and the festival attracts a primarily indie crowd.
The Battle of the Bands: 2015 Edition
Outside Lands feels like a giant city-wide party in a forest. While the local crowd is well-represented, the festival is large enough (with plenty of big-name artists) that folks from all places and walks of life make the trek out to San Francisco. The majority of people are respectful, but expect to run into a fair share of rowdy groups and folks only there for the party and spectacle.
FYF Fest has a much more low-key vibe and is essentially a cross-section of LA indie culture. It’s a local-heavy festival and the crowd reminds me of a typical sample of students from my SoCal high school. Festival goers still party it up but are generally more festival and music-savvy, following unspoken music festival etiquette and respecting other people’s presence.
Winner: FYF Fest
In case I didn’t make it clear earlier, Outside Lands is a giant party in a forest! And while it’s not quite as foresty as some of the hippy festivals out there, the fact that there’s plenty of greenery all around in a beautiful park is enough to inspire that image. OSL is definitely a big-budget festival, with tons of impressive artwork, booths, lighting, and activities that give Coachella a run for its money. The only thing missing is a giant Spaceman and Ferris wheel.
On the flip side, FYF Fest has a very do-it-yourself (DIY) vibe that stems from its punk and indie roots. Granted, recent years have seen more festival-type attractions as FYF has grown in size, but part of the appeal of this festival is that it’s very low-key and music-oriented. You’ll see random blow-up emoji statues and a handful of activity booths from festival sponsors sprinkled here and there, but the venue overall is pretty vanilla.
Winner: Outside Lands
Food & Drinks
This one’s a no-brainer – the food & drink selection at Outside Lands is amazing. What other music festival attracts the best of local restaurants and eateries to this extent? Wise Sons, 4505 Meats, Little Skillet, Humphry Slocombe, the list goes on and on. I counted 59 restaurant partners on their website, not including all the food trucks and a separate dessert area. Local breweries made beers just for the occasion. How cool is that?
FYF had a much larger food & drink offering this year, with a huge number of local food trucks and even a row of local restaurants, similar to Outside Lands’ setup. I even got to try the famous Milky Bun ice cream bun-wich. The craft beer selection is pretty solid with a good number of local brews, and the food has come a long way from the pizza slices of old. Still the overall offering just can’t compare.
Winner: Outside Lands
I mentioned earlier that the Outside Lands crowd can get a lot more rowdy, with a good number of people there more for the party and spectacle. The crowd at OSL also felt more cliquey – people stuck with their own groups throughout. FYF is almost the opposite. There’s no other festival I’ve gone to that puts the music into music festival as well as FYF. It’s the type of event where someone will strike up a 10-minute conversation about an obscure folk black metal band because he’s wearing the same band shirt as your friend (true story).
Never before have I seen the level of crowd interaction than at FYF. You’ll see festival-goers singing the lyrics to their favorite bands, dancing, moshing, and crowd surfing, to name a few things I observed. Bonus points for the smaller crowds at FYF so it’s a lot easier to see performances up close and with room to move around. Overall I got much better vibes at FYF in terms of the attendees.
Winner: FYF Fest
Outside Lands has a consistently solid lineup year after year, and it’s always able to attract big names from all genres of music. However, FYF has a much more diverse selection of great music, in my humble opinion. My barometer for a good lineup is the amount of new artists I check out after a festival, and I left FYF Fest with many more new bands to explore.
While both festivals had solid headliners, FYF takes the cake on this one – and it has Kanye West to thank. It was seriously a clutch last-minute replacement, and Yeezy’s performance blew me away. Unlike his set from last year’s OSL, his set at FYF was near perfect, from the minimal chatter to the Rihanna guest spot to the 10 years’ worth of hits in 10 minutes. Kendrick gave an awesome performance at OSL, but his set hasn’t changed much from the last time I saw him in 2013. As for our favorite British music legends, I’ll take Morrissey over Elton John any day.
Winner: FYF Fest
After tallying up the score FYF Fest wins by a hair! But don’t let that keep you from checking out Outside Lands – both festivals are tons of fun and filled with great music, food, and activities. Keep in mind that the write-up above is my opinion only, so your mileage may vary based on what you look for in a music festival. At the end of the day, music festivals are the perfect way to see favorite bands and discover good new music, and I’ve yet gone to one that I didn’t enjoy.