Janet Jackson, by FilmMagic for Outside Lands

Outside Lands organizers put forth the idea of festival as protest this year. At a time when the White House seems to lead with rhetoric that seeks to divide, cause dissent, confusion and incite hate, San Francisco, the city which gave birth to the Summer of Love and embraced peace protests and hippie/humanistic ideals, protested by quietly filling its bill with female headliners like Florence + the Machine and Janet Jackson, LGBTQ-fronted acts and a generous dose of performers that have been pulled in from the margins.

The old indie-rock guard of male, predominately white acts took a backseat, for organizers Another Planet Entertainment and Superfly Productions, in this, their 11th installment held on Aug. 10-12. Sets by prominent gay/queer black women in music such as Janelle Monae and Syd Tha Kyd from The Internet came to the fore.

The Internet’s set was unfortunately interrupted by technical difficulties. The fact that Syd, who has recently stepped up as a leader in her community and the music industry, recently announced a desire to curate her own LGBTQ-focused festival, was a wonderful sign in these horrendous times for women, minorities and gay rights.

Japanese psych rock band Kikagaku Moyo was one of the more adventurous Sutro stage openers, but managed to win the early crowd over. Los Angeles’ Latin alternative quartet Chicano Bateman commanded a formidable audience with their hybrid strain of Mexican low-rider oldies, Brazilian Tropicana and old school soul. There was no shortage of young women like Olivia O’Brien, Sasha Sloan and Kailee Morgue, albeit with a more pop bent, also receiving a leg up.

RELATED: Outside Lands 2018 in photos

In an industry with a predilection for youth, it was encouraging to see Salt-N-Pepa playing the Heineken stage. “Thank you for keeping us relevant for almost 31 years,” said Pepa, in between their monster hits “Push It,” “None of Your Business” and “Shoop.” Given the excited faces and all that bumping and grinding in the audience, it begged the question why the iconic trio weren’t given a spot on the main stage? They can rock it with the best of the male performers – as good as Billy Idol (on 2015’s Outside Lands bill) and better than Duran Duran (2016).

Between the musical merry-go-round, festival goers could indulge in dozens of Bay Area foodie favorites, from Tartine’s ham and cheese melts, to Bini’s Kitchen Nepalese dumplings, and Woodhouse Fish Co.’s warm lobster rolls. If you wanted a more adventurous wine experience than Wine Lands, there was augmented reality in The Prison Ship by Australian wine company 19 Crimes.

The Barbary Tent’s comedy and podcast stage that has in previous years played host to some of the biggest names in comedy was not completely sold out. Making for a pleasant change and allowing more people to experience it.

Unlike in recent years where the festival's single day tickets sell out as quickly as they are announced, this year the shift in priorities may have accounted for the slower pace of ticket sales. At a time when some festival organizers are so quick to say female headliners or bands don’t sell tickets, it is commendable that APE and Superfly are taking chances and setting a different standard. Festival organizers are nothing if not gatekeepers curating lineups that can educate festival-goers to more left-of-field acts, cultivating and broadening the tastes of music lovers everywhere.

So here’s to 10 acts we saw at Outside Lands 2018 and why they’re important to the cause.

Nick Mulvey, by Dan DeSlover/Variance

1. Nick Mulvey

“Wake Up Now!”

Why: There are a lot of male artists out there who embrace notions of equality and diversity but not many that also take in refugee rights and conscious environmentalism quite the way Nick Mulvey does on his sophomore, Wake up Now.

The meadows and eucalyptus groves of Golden Gate Park have a storied history of counter culture and revolution since the 1960s. Activist singer/songwriter and Mercury Prize nominee Nick Mulvey is just the kind of artist we welcome with open arms. He eased us gently into our first set for Outside Lands with soothing, rhythmic guitar playing on “Remembering.” He was comforting singing “Home again/my friend again/I’m glad that you’re on the mend again… this is how it is/this is how it’s always been/Whether we forget or whether we keep remembering.” Warm, funny and engaging, he asked: “Is this your first show? Does your Outside Lands start here?” As soon as a fan yelled, “Yes, it’s all downhill from here, Nick,” he replied, “You’re peaking early, guys, let’s be fair!” He encouraged the quiet crowd to join him on “Cucurucu” off his debut. After a lackluster response, he joked: “It’s perfect! Are you in a band? Which stage you playing?” Then encouraged with “It’s less embarrassing the louder you sing. I don’t know why.” Finally, a resounding, almost pitch-perfect response came back at him. We were all awake. And if music is supposed to be a balm, in a time where we need respite from the ills, just outside the gates and shade of the eucalyptus grove, Mulvey provided it. With tracks like “Fever To The Form,” “Unconditional” and closer “Mountain To Move” it didn’t take too much to move us to tears. And later, hopefully action.

Margo Price, by Dan DeSlover/Variance

2. Margo Price

“Florence and Janet, we have to work twice as hard to prove we can headline festivals”

Why: She’s making country music great again. Talking about equal pay, the working poor and a broken heart from a woke woman’s perspective.

Too often we do the Midwest a dis-service by painting huge swathes of it as “red states” where Republicans and a certain small-mindedness rule. Margo Price brings to the forefront vivid stories of lives within those cracks – the women who see their father’s lose farms (“Hands Of Time”), the working poor the government have left behind (“All American Made”), one percent out-of-town cowboy-wannabes who buy up these rural properties as their country playgrounds (“Cocaine Cowboys”), and the women who work hard for less pay than their male counterparts (“Pay Gap”). “Honey I work so hard for my money and leaving my babies back home,” she sang during her unseasonably warm, afternoon set. “Pay gap. Pay gap, why don’t you do the maths?” Topics that seem so dry, Price on that Sutro stage, recalled female country greats such as Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton, and sang with a determined confidence. She also did two fantastic covers, of “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Water Revival and Tom Petty’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” which featured her husband and co-songwriter Jeremy Ivey on harmonica. They delivered a flawless set.

Jessie Reyez, by Dan DeSlover/Variance

3. Jessie Reyez

“To all the forward, understanding, empathetic men out here, let me hear you say, ‘Yeah!’”

Why: A deft exercise on overcoming misogyny, learning self-empowerment and seeking retribution in the pre-#MeToo moment.

Before the #MeToo movement took patriarchy by the balls, Jessie Reyez had bravely released “Gatekeeper,” recounting a soul-destroying and violent sexual encounter with a well-known hip-hop producer. “30 million people want a shot, how much would it cost for you to spread those legs apart!” Her direct, sexually graphic lyrics laid bare the misogyny rampant in the music industry. It struck a deeper chord when the #MeToo movement hit and began to find momentum. The incident had occurred more than five years prior to her writing the song and had poured out of her during a writing session with her Kiddo EP producer. Reyez is no man-hater. Many of her best songs, including her breakout hit “Figures” and excellent latest “Apple Juice,” are torch songs to men. At Outside Lands, apart from encouraging women to make the most of opportunities that come their way, she did not leave men out in the cold.

Lizzo, by Dan DeSlover/Variance

4. Lizzo

“I don’t need a crown to tell me I’m Queen.”

Why: It’s about time we got a poster girl like Lizzo to advocate for body positivity. Her effervescence was infectious and her crew gave one helluva twerk-torial.

It was booties in full sight, twerking to Minneapolis-born Lizzo, who walked on stage in a flouncy yellow confection that sent the crowd wild. “Back, forth like you’re banging up against a table,” she instructed for her twerk tutorial, as the trap beats pounded on. Her two dancers illustrated the finer points with a twerk-off. All Lizzo’s music advocated for looking in the mirror and loving yourself, curves quivering and all. The fact she’s admitted that she has days where she feels less than ‘bootylicious,’ having to fake it ‘til she feels it,' makes her all the more endearing. But she was the full package—the freestyling aspect of her flow was exhilarating, the themes she spat in her rhymes were liberating and her live show with DJ and two backup dancers was pure, unadulterated fun. Songs like “Truth Hurts,” “Good As Hell” “Fitness,” “Phone” and “Scuse Me” would have converted any newcomer to the Church of Lizzo. On “Boys,” she astutely employs all the bro boy posturing — crotch grabs, don’t-give-a-damn shoulder shrugs and indulgent guitar shredding — to her advantage singing, “Baby I don’t need you, I just want to freak you.” Particularly heartening were the young bro boys trying to keep up with her double-time rap, about the female body-beautiful and her ‘love yourself’ mantras. “We waited a long time to play Outside Lands,” she said. Let’s hope it’s not too long before she and her crew are back.

Florence + the Machine, by Dan DeSlover/Variance

5. Florence + the Machine

“You trust me, right?”

Why: The lame excuse that female acts can’t headline festivals should end here, at the pale bare feet of Florence Welch. It was the highest turn-out for an Outside Lands Saturday headliner—ever.

“Grab me by my ankles, I’ve been flying for too long,” Florence Welch sings in a moment of stillness on High As Hope’s “Sky Full of Song,” but you would have been hard pressed to stop the whirling dervish that is Florence + The Machine on Saturday night. A force of nature, she appeared to walk on air as she did pirouettes, leaped and galloped from one corner of the Lands End stage to the other, her vocals showed no sign of the kind of breathlessness that might inflict mere mortals.

Her singing voice was forceful, deep and affecting while her speaking voice, in contrast, was high-pitched and soft. Still, it did the job in getting everyone to put their phones away and hold their hands up for “Dog Days Are Over.” When she gave the cue, the audience leaped and hurled all the bad stuff (“whatever’s been holding us back”) into space. She called on Pattie Smith on “Patricia” and without melodrama sung, “Remind me that it’s such a wonderful thing to love.” For someone who’s traded on broken hearts and tumult for much of her earlier albums, it was a marked turn.

Like many other artists, saddened by the barrage of bad news, Welch too has focused on love, positivity and healing. And we returned her kindness with trust. When she told us to get on a stranger’s shoulders so that she could see us, many did. Or when she said hug and hold hands with fellow humans around us—we all did. Through the bulk of “South London Forever,” an amiable new track from High As Hope. “There can be nothing better than this,” she said. Standing in a field with thousands upon thousands behind us (we were two rows in from the barricade, trying to avoid palpitations and perish the thought of being crushed), we had to agree.

Hobo Johnson, by FilmMagic for Outside Lands

6. Hobo Johnson & The Lovemakers

“People say we’re a new band; don’t believe them. We’ve been a band for 15 years.”

Why: A late addition, Outside Lands held true its embrace of outsiders by putting this unlikely frontman on Sunday’s bill. His Hobo Johnson alter ego was born when he was thrown out of his home and lived in his car, where he wrote and recorded songs for his debut album.

Having watched “Peach Scone,” his homespun NPR Tiny Desk Contest entry to Bob Boilen, and the other videos in their backyard series, Hobo Johnson and his merry band of Lovemakers were exactly what you would expect in the flesh. Irreverent, unfiltered, raw and incredibly awkward. Johnson actually burped on stage, though, making his mother proud, he did quickly apologize. It didn’t stop females in the audience yelling out that they wanted to marry him. To be fair, the Sacramento-native Frank Lopes (aka Hobo Johnson) was so earnest and his lyricism on point whether he was discussing Shakespeare on “Romeo & Juliet” or how to stay positive about making it in the music industry on “3 Percent.” With a vocal style that has the internet fighting over whether he’s a rapper, slam poet or any good at all, everyone should experience his brand of shouty spoken word music for themselves, then decide. He introduced the next song as ‘something they may or may not have written a long time ago’ before launching into “Since You’ve Been Gone,” the Kelly Clarkson hit. He finished with the crowd pleasing “Peach Scone,” someone actually threw a bag of peach scones on stage, which Johnson caught and looked pleased as pie that he was going to enjoy later. 

Hysteria podcast with Phoebe Robinson, by FilmMagic for Outside Lands

7. Crooked Media's Hysteria Podcast with guest Phoebe Robinson

“Let the vagina have a monologue.”

Why: We need women comedians to continue pushing boundaries. At the very least we need to laugh in these dark times.

Crooked Media’s latest podcast “Hysteria,” which presents an all female-led team, made an appearance with hosts Megan Gailey, Grace Para and Alyssa Mastromonaco. The trio discussed ex-Apprentice star and one time presidential aide Omarosa Manigault’s tell-all book. “Don’t read Omarosa’s book,” they pleaded mockingly. “Don’t pay attention to somebody who is only just finding out that Trump is bad!” They also did a special musical edition of “Week In Sorry,” a segment where they decide whether we accept an apology or not. For example, R. Kelly— “a sexual misconduct star with a musical problem.” Do we accept his apology that came in the form of 19-minute song “I Admit”? The panel also dissected the two very different apologies that came from Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson after the infamous 2004 Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction. At the time, Jackson’s career suffered in the aftermath, while Timberlake’s went from strength to strength. But the hosts offer, “Perhaps Man of The Woods—an album that was panned—was karmic retribution.” And that evening Jackson would be celebrated as the first female heritage headliner for Outside Lands, after winning the Billboard Icon Award earlier this year. Phoebe Robinson who also had a headlining show later that night, was a guest on “Hysteria’s” panel, discussing “negging”—how men degrade women by giving them backhanded compliments in order to hurt their confidence land a date. You can listen to the podcast to find out why that even works.  

Janelle Monáe, by Dan DeSlover/Variance

8. Janelle Monáe

“No matter how you choose to love, what god you serve or what class you come from, you are all welcome here.”

Why: Multi-talented and underrated, the singer-actor pushed boundaries again, dedicating her most recent album Dirty Computer to celebrating pansexuality, a phrase she single-handedly propelled to the top of Webster’s trending words.

Monáe describes Dirty Computer as her metaphor for “the traits that make people unique but may make others feel uncomfortable.” She includes women who are liberated, minorities, blacks, people of color, poor folks and the LGBTQ community in this group. It’s an album where instead of being upset, she celebrates these groups. But her set almost never happened. It swung perilously close to being cancelled after she was hit with a bad bout of food poisoning. Almost 10 minutes after her set was scheduled to start, she finally emerged, having just vomited. Dancers in tow, she was ready to ascend her thrown. In a black and white Nubian-inspired catsuit that echoed Afro-futurism and Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation, she was flanked by a full band comprised of only female musicians playing keys, guitars and horns. Monáe kicked things off with the groove-laden “Q.U.E.E.N.,” where the line “Categorize Me? I defy every label” resounded the entire set from older hits such as ‘Electric Lady,’” to the title track “Dirty Computer,” the Prince-indebted “Make Me Feel” and the deliciously soft, ‘80s electro of “PYNK.” We were all happy to see the much-maligned vagina-pants. Ha!

Tash Sultana, by FilmMagic for Outside Lands

9. Tash Sultana

“If you’ve come to my show and you’re homophobic, then you can just fuck off!”

Why: Possessing the kind of no-more-fucks-to-give attitude that we all wish we had, 23-year-old Sultana survived a horrifying drug-induced psychosis as a teenager, to get to where she is today.

Barely two years ago, Sultana was still a busker on the streets of Melbourne. Mostly because no one would give her any other job. On the Sutro stage this evening, we had to crank our heads to make sure there were no other musicians. Sultana had created a sound so big and she had such mad shredding skills, playing the guitar like a modern-day Hendrix, that it was quite inconceivable that it was only her pint-size frame orchestrating and looping a band’s worth of instruments. A self-taught guitarist since she was three after her grandfather gifted her a guitar, she also taught herself to play more than 20 other instruments, including the trumpet, saxophone, bass and piano. She beatboxed on the track “Murder To The Mind” and gave a crowd-pleasing performance with the reggae-psychedelia of her breakout hit “Jungle,” as she hopped around on a carpet, barefeet, from one loop pedal to another with ease.

Janet Jackson, by FilmMagic for Outside Lands

10. Janet Jackson

“Tonight, I want to celebrate love.”

Why: She is the first-ever Outside Lands female legacy headliner! We’re already dreaming up who else we would love to see up on that stage bringing the festival to a close - Missy Elliott? Madonna? Chrissie Hynde? Sade? Kate Bush? Erykah Badu? Joan Jett? Diana Ross? Blondie? Tina Turner? Stevie Nicks?

Janet Jackson may have had big man-boots to fill — think The Who, Elton John, Paul McCartney — but she zipped up those tight thigh-highs and brought the goods with hits from four decades.

Her latest tour, aptly titled State Of The World, is named after the song from 1989’s Rhythm Nation, which mentioned social ills, still rampant today. Her set began with current newsreels and headlines on global warming, the refugee crisis and Black Lives Matter before Ms. Janet appeared and launched into “The Knowledge.” The 90-minute set featured career-spanning favorites “All For You,” “Been Around The World” “That’s The Way Love Goes and “What Have You Done For Me Lately.” There was also a tribute to her father, brother and an emotional moment when two dancers acted out a domestic abuse scene which ended with Jackson wiping tears off her face.

The night closed with a medley in which the hits came hard and fast. First, “Scream,” which featured her brother Michael Jackson on the big screen; then “Rhythm Nation,” complete with dramatic strobe lighting and flawless choreography; and finally the New Jack swing of “State of the World.” Its closing line: “Can’t give up now/ Let’s weather the storm together.”