Outside Lands Promoter Allen Scott on the Festival's Evolution and What to Expect This Year
Allen Scott is Executive Vice President of Another Planet Entertainment, the Berkeley-based production outfit that puts on S.F.'s Outside Lands music festival (with help from others). Many people work to put on the festival, but it's partially Scott's baby: He helps decide who plays, what changes from year to year, how big it is, and other major factors. And in fact, he's already busy planning next year's festival. Given that the Outside Lands is about to kick off its fifth iteration this weekend, we thought it'd be good to call up Scott and find out how the 2012 lineup came together, what will be different this year, and what he and the other Another Planet folks have learned from putting on this giant event for four years. Here goes:
Another Planet's Allen Scott
Did you want to get a special lineup for the five-year anniversary?
We weren't thinking [about] the five-year anniversary, but we always want to put together as strong a lineup as we can, and sometimes things come together; some years they don't. This year a lot of things fell into place. [As] the festival becomes much more renowned through the country and the world and the industry, we're having a lot of artists reach out to us, particularly in the headliner area. We already have a headliner for next year locked in. So we have people seeking the festival out. Last year, our first sell-out, was a very momentous year for the festival. We wanted to continue that this year with another step forward, so we came swinging with a strong lineup.
After last year's festival, many said that Outside Lands had sort of arrived, that it had finally reached its potential as a music festival. Did you feel that way?
Certainly, we felt that it was a watershed year for Outside Lands. When we first hatched the idea seven years go, we always knew that it would take a few years to get the festival up to where we wanted it to be. Just looking at the other U.S. festivals, from Coachella to Lollapalooza to [Austin City Limits], there was a growth process. It takes time for people to understand even what it is. The first year when you put up a festival, people aren't even sure what they're getting, and now we have people coming back every year and they know what to expect. If they haven't been before, they have an idea, because their friends have told them, or they've read about it online or whatnot.
When you're putting these lineups together, is there a rough formula you work with, or a particular balance you try to strike?
You start kind of top-down and you work off the headliners. We generally go after the stage-closers first and then build a stage around them. There are some acts that you just have to have on the festival, that are super hot and everyone wants to see, and then you kind of fill in around [those] with a lot of flavor and tasty acts. "This act would be great before Stevie Wonder," or "This act would be great going into Justice." Those are the type of things that you think when you're programming. We work off the schedule and we're really thinking how the stages are going to flow. This year, for instance, we have Amadou and Mariam before Santigold, and she's recorded a track with Amadou and Mariam, so maybe there's some collaboration there.
Electronic Dance Music has obviously become huge in the last couple of years. How has that affected the Outside Lands bookings? Have you tried to book more of those artists?
The first year, I don't think we had any dance music on the festival, and the second year I believe we started getting into it with Thievery Corpration, which is right on that peripheral edge of what is currently described as EDM. We've evolved as the popularity of that genre has exploded. We try to just book a well-rounded festival so there's balance between your rock acts and your world acts and your EDM acts. And then we want to try to put on artists that we really like, as well, and not necessarily what's just popular.
Who is that on this year's lineup -- the acts you like that aren't necessarily super popular?
It can be an act like Amadou and Mariam, an act like The Be Good Tanyas, or you know, the Walkmen. All have moderate success, but [are] not the trendiest of artists.
Has there been more of an emphasis on getting local artists in the last couple of years?
We've actually always had lots of local artists on the festival. It's always fallen in around 20-25 percent of the artists. And we make a conscious decision to book a lot of local artists, as we do with the wineries and the restaurants. It's been really easy for us because there's so many great artists in the Bay Area.
What have you learned, logistically speaking, in the five years of putting on Outside Lands? What are you better at now?
I think one of the great things about doing this after five years is you get to a blueprint of the festival after years one or two that you kind of settle into. And then you're just tweaking it, making it better. Golden Gate Park is a very unique festival site when you compare it to other big festivals such as Lollapalooza and Coachella and ACL. They're all in flat, essentially rectangular or square fields. And we are not in that. We have different meadows, and different topography, and different paths that the audience has to navigate through. So we have to be very aware of how the festival operates. But I think we've settled into a good footprint in Golden Gate Park right now. This festival is extremely unique in that there's really zero bleed between any stages. A lot of festivals you go to, you can hear the other stage while you're at another stage. While the terrain can be a little difficult to navigate and build around, it makes for a very unique setting. I can't think of a better festival site, in my opinion, in the U.S.
How many stages will there be this year?
Four outdoor stages and then the Barbary tent and then the Dome DJ tent. Six total.
And the festival area will be larger this year?
We've expanded the capacity slightly, from 60,000 a day to 65,000. We're expanding a bit into Lindley Meadow. That's where we're putting the Barbary this year, and then Beer Lands.
How hard is scheduling this thing, and minimizing conflicts? Is it a nightmare?
It's definitely a puzzle putting it together, but gosh, it's a lot of fun to do. You go to Norah Jones, who's closing the Sutro stage on Saturday night, and you say, 'God, we'd love to have Grandaddy go on right before you,' and her band's big fans of Grandaddy, and it's a nice flow from that artist into Norah Jones. But one of the nice things about Outside Lands is there is only four outdoor stages, as opposed to seven or eight at some of the other big festivals. And because of that, there's less conflicts between artists. And also artists will have huge crowds playing in front of them. But we are very diligent in making sure to really minimize any conflicts between artists. You're never going to be able to alleviate -- I mean somebody's going to say, 'Why are Neil Young and Justice on at the same time,' but that seems like a good bet that there's not a lot of fans that cross over.
Next page: Scott on the development of the new Beer Lands