Photo: Maurice Johnson
America Has Birthed A Wealth Of Musical Forms. These Indigenous Artists Want To Know Where They Fit Into Them.
Despite being the first, truest Americans, Indigenous peoples have historically been alienated and othered while working in what we understand as American forms — from jazz to country to hip-hop and beyond
A festival promoter told Delbert Anderson he didn't present as Indigenous enough. The trumpeter and his group, DDAT, showed up to the State Fair of Texas in what he calls "the Native American section" — filled with dancers in traditional garb, among other signifiers. DDAT, for their part, donned suits.
"They immediately assumed that we had some type of traditional feather show," Anderson, who is of Diné and Navajo descent, tells GRAMMY.com. "They probably thought we were going to show up in regalia or something."
The promoter asked Anderson whether or not DDAT played traditional music. "No, we don't," he responded. "But there are a lot of melodies that are inspired from that." The promoter didn't comprehend this — so much so that she went up to Anderson mid-set and shoved a turquoise necklace around his neck.
Anderson was shocked. "I kind of stopped and said, 'Excuse me,'" he recalls. "And she just sort of said, 'You don't look Native enough.'"
Ever good-humored, Anderson brushed off the harassment and tossed the necklace around his white bass player's neck. Still, he can't get the incident out of his head. "That's one of the first times anything like that has happened to me," he says. "They expect that kind of back-to-the-roots, traditional type of music from anyone who uses the words 'Native,' 'Indigenous' or 'tribal.'"
He's not alone: Many musicians of Indigenous ancestry in his circle — and outside of it — have felt the micro- and macroaggressions come fast and hard. And othering those who identify and market themselves as Indigenous isn't exclusive to jazz.
Even though Indigenous peoples have been here longer than anyone, they face tension, discomfort and/or unadulterated racism in a slew of genres understood to be American — from country to blues to gospel to hip-hop.
This is despite the fact that all these genres have deep Indigenous roots. Jazz household names Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk had Native American ancestry. Same with blues musicians like Howlin' Wolf, Charley Patton and Martha Redbone. In classic rock, you've got Jimi Hendrix and Robbie Robertson. The list goes on.
Renata Yazzie. Photo: Darklisted Photography
Despite this, Diné classical pianist Renata Yazzie says moving through her world is a "scabrous" experience. "The greatest difficulty is not only teaching ignorant people, but willfully ignorant people who refuse to recognize how the elitism of classical music has affected historically underrepresented groups," she tells GRAMMY.com.
Why do musicians who identify as Indigenous, like Anderson, Yazzie, Mali Obomsawin, Adrian Wall, JJ Otero, James Pakootas, Julia Keefe, Warren Realrider and Raven Chacon — all of whom spoke to GRAMMY.com for this story — experience such tension, both from within their communities and in the wider world?
The answers are manifold, varying wildly between artists and their tribal affiliations. Here are some of the ways that artists of Indigenous descent have experienced unease in the American music landscape — and how they overcame it.
Howlin' Wolf. Photo: Gilles Petard/Redferns via Getty Images
Considering The Course Of History
Since time immemorial, Indigenous peoples have developed an impossibly broad array of musical traditions. And with the arrival — or invasion, depending on who you ask — of European settlers came trade, fighting over boundaries and the introduction of European instruments.
At mission schools, Europeans taught Native Americans to compose on European instruments. This led to students composing Indigenous usic with those tools and methods. Works like 1845's Indian Melodies featured traditional Native tunes composed with European notation.
In the back-half of the 19th century, the primordial stew of Black American music was percolating — the one that would give the world jazz, blues and other idioms. And the pervasive invisibility felt by Indigenous peoples meant they had a point of commiseration with Black musical communities.
"Black and Indigenous people have been in community with each other since the beginning, since Black Africans were forcibly brought here for slavery," jazz bassist Mali Obomsawin, who is affiliated with the Odanak Abenaki First Nation tribe, tells GRAMMY.com. "I think people tend to forget that many of the founding blues and jazz artists were both Black and Native."
This confluence of heritages and traditions has been obscured by what Obomsawin calls a larger obfuscation of Indigenous identity — coupled with anti-Blackness. "If someone like Thelonious Monk, who was Tuscarora, was to be like, 'I'm Native American,' everyone would be like, 'No, you're Black,'" Obomsawin says.
"It was not desirable for Natives to be higher in numbers, whereas it was desirable for Black folks to be higher in numbers because they were considered property," she continues. "That means that slave owners and human traffickers had more property value. Whereas the more people that were Native, the more people the government was accountable to."
Mildred Bailey. Photo: Bettmann/Contributor via Getty Images
Julia Keefe, a jazz vocalist and enrolled member of the Nez Perce tribe, is acutely aware of the crossroads of Blackness and Indigenousness in early American music.
"There is a historical precedent for Native Americans in jazz," she tells GRAMMY.com, citing Indigenous people who learned European music in boarding and residential schools. "Around the same time that jazz was taking off in the '20s and '30s, there is evidence of Native people forming their own big bands."
One lesser-known early Indigenous jazz musician was Mildred Bailey, a singer of Native descent from the Coeur d'Alene tribe.
"She was the first one to sing in front of a big band," Keefe notes. "You think about all the female vocalists — Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan — who got their start singing in front of big band, and it was because there was such an appetite for that sound by Mildred Bailey singing in front of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra."
Oscar Pettiford. Photo: Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images
But Bailey is just the tip of the iceberg in this regard. Besides Parker and Monk, there's a lengthy list of jazz artists of Indigenous descent — including saxophonist Jim Pepper, bassist Oscar Pettiford and trumpeter and multi-instrumentalist Don Cherry.
And jazz is but one piece of the puzzle: Indigenous artists can be found in all genres. But at times, proudly broadcasting their heritage in these spaces has proved difficult in the face of divisive politics.
Navigating Political Divides
While Anderson can only speak for his local scene near Farmington, New Mexico, he has a clear vantage on what it's like to market oneself as a Native American musician.
"I think as time progressed from the '80s until now, there were a lot of stronger Indigenous voices that came out," he says, citing activist causes like the American Indian Movement. "The moment you try to take any stand for Native American something, people tend to take those words as 'You're a hardcore activist.'"
"I mean, I could go outside right now and say, 'I stand with Standing Rock,'" he adds. "Immediately, people are going to think of me as a negative force here."
And while that scene comprised a healthy variety of perspectives and genres, it attracted judgement from the outside. "I think a lot of the people who were involved didn't really realize what they were creating," Anderson says. "It really looked like they were making some type of coalition — or Indigenous organization — that's going to fight everything that goes in their path."
Delbert Anderson. Photo: Maurice Johnson
This atmosphere weighed heavily on Anderson's career in 2013, when DDAT began to market themselves as "Native American jazz." (James Pakootas, their MC, is Indigenous; bassist Michael McCluhan is white; drummer Nicholas Lucero is Hispanic.)
"We immediately got thrown into this pool of musicians that were stirring up this big group or organization," Anderson says. "The moment we said 'We are Native American jazz,' they immediately assumed we're part of this Native American music scene, and it lost us gigs because they thought we were there to lecture the audience."
Anderson saw his more militant colleagues as refusing to compromise, acting as if rules didn't apply to them. "There's a lot of that showing up in musicians today," he says. "The moment a venue says something that they can't do, like, 'Oh, you can't burn cedar here before the show,' or anything like that, they'll throw a huge, huge fit."
"I hate to say it," Anderson says, "but it kind of ruined it for the rest of us who don't participate in that ceremony."
To avoid these associations, DDAT eventually decided to pivot away from "Native American jazz," describing themselves as a funk/jazz group inspired by Indigenous melodies. "People started to see us as not being activists, or the rowdy ones," Anderson says. As a result, the group immediately started getting offered more gigs.
Julia Keefe. Photo: Don Hamilton
Braving Inner Conflict
This dissonance isn't limited to sociopolitical factions, or a conflict between musicians and promoters — although Anderson could certainly share other horror stories. Even so-called enlightened spaces, like jazz workshops, have left Indigenous musicians second-guessing themselves.
"At gigs or at workshops or what have you, people will come up and be kind of aggressive about it — almost offended," Keefe says. "Like, [Flustered voice] 'What does that mean? What do you mean you are a Native American jazz vocalist?' 'Well, I'm Native American and I sing jazz. That's what I do.'"
"With that confrontation of my identity," she adds, "there's been tension within myself of, 'If I'm going to claim my Native heritage on my business card, should my music be more influenced by my Indigenous heritage?'"
But even if an artist defines what Indigenousness means for themselves, it's bound to create friction with others' preconceptions or stereotypes. "That's something that Natives come up against in any sort of art form," Obomsawin says.
Adrian Wall. Photo: Shondinii Walters
Adrian Wall, a flutist and guitarist with roots in the Jemez Pueblo tribe, experiences dislocation just by announcing who he is to the world.
"Once you play the Native card, you're kind of stuck being a Native musician when you're actually playing music that's accepted worldwide just as American music," he tells GRAMMY.com. "Once you call yourself a Native, all of a sudden you're playing Native music."
Raven Chacon, a Diné composer who works in the experimental and noise scenes, has had to push against assumptions that his work would be stereotypically Native — or adjacent to new age.
"There was an assumption it was going to involve flutes or drums or something," he tells GRAMMY.com with a laugh. "Even from people should know better, there have been assumptions."
Raven Chacon. Photo: Jamie Drummond
To fellow experimental musician and sound sculpturist Warren Realrider — who is Pawnee and enrolled with the Crow Nation of Montana and makes music akin to John Zorn, Pauline Oliveros and Merzbow — the solution lies in creating a music industry framework that accurately represents Indigenous creators.
"These systems of music, distribution, performance, whatever — they are built on a world that's not the Indigenous world," he tells GRAMMY.com. "You're always going to have to work against that in some way."
Plus, as a representative of his background in the insular noise space, Realrider's work has become bigger than him — he feels inordinate pressure to not let his tribe down.
"A lot of Indigenous artists don't lose that aspect," he says, considering the arc of his life and career so far. "That's something you carry along with you, and you present yourself that way."
Addressing Language Barriers
Sometimes, the criticism comes from within Indigenous communities themselves. JJ Otero, a Hopi and Diné singer/songwriter inspired by bands like Counting Crows and Pearl Jam, had to deal with the finer points of language — even one he knew backward and forward.
"I didn't use the Navajo language in my music for the longest time," he tells GRAMMY.com from his home on a Navajo reservation. "The white guys in [my first band, Saving Damsels] said, 'You should write a song in Navajo that we can play.'"
JJ Otero. Photo: Unek Francis
Despite being a fluent Navajo speaker, Otero wanted to be careful that he said things exactly right. "I don't want my songs to just be a lazy utterance of words in Navajo," he says. To thread the needle, Otero enlisted his father to vet his lyrics for inexact grammar and syntax.
"I do believe that sometimes our own people can be our toughest critics," Otero says. "We can take that criticism and be mad and upset about it, or we can dive deeper into why those criticisms exist and understand the foundation of why Navajo is sacred."
Facing One's Own Community
As a rapper and motivational speaker who spits bars in DDAT, James Pakootas operates by what he calls "a very deep awareness of protocol."
"A lot of times, Native artists in contemporary music want to meld the two worlds, but it seems like sometimes they're taking away from the culture. It's not done with care," Pakootas tells GRAMMY.com. "It's like sampling a powwow song, putting it on a hip-hop beat and calling it good."
James Pakootas. Photo: Maurice Johnson
To avoid this sort of mishandling, Pakootas works with collaborators to tell his stories as considerately as possible, preferring to bring in a drum group and analyze together how the story could be told.
"A lot of songs I know are ceremony songs," he adds. "There's not going to be any of those that I share because there's a protocol in place to keep that sacred. There's a time and a place for that song to be sung or that melody to be used."
Reaching Harmony From Dissonance
How can music fans right these wrongs and push against the othering of Indigenous artists? Maybe the first step is realizing that Indigenous music is all music.
"Native people are very much seen as mythological creatures, as the villains in Westerns, the mascots that you love to hate, or whatever," Keefe says. "So, I can see why [musical discrimination] would be a thing because so often we are perceived as a figment of someone's imagination."
Warren Realrider. Photo: Shane Brown
For Obomsawin, this necessary shift begins with education — and by listening to the stories of her elders. In her case, that teacher is Pura Fé, a Tuscarora and Taino vocalist and activist related to Thelonious Monk.
"She is so intimately aware of those dual legacies — the Black and Native lineages of jazz," Obomsawin says. "I just hope that more air time is given to the elders in the jazz and blues community who know those things. I think it could really help to unearth some of those stories as really important parts of American music history — as well as our history in general."
Mali Obomsawin. Photo: Nolan Altvater
As for Yazzie, she believes significant change won't occur until we give sovereignty to Indigenous artists — so they can decide who their audience is, why they perform their music, what their music sounds like, where they want their music played, and how they want it to be perceived by the rest of the world.
"I always maintain that Native music is Native music because a Native person is outputting it," Yazzie says. "But on the flipside, you don't want to limit people to where all they do is Native music. I think you have to be really careful to not use the Native music label as a way to put people in a specific box. Because Native music is still also blues. It's still jazz. It's still country. It's still hip-hop. It's still classical music. [Indigenous] people are in those genre-specific spaces and they're doing amazing things."
When considering this subject, Anderson always returns to Don Cherry, who remains one of his idols. "In one of his interviews, he said, 'Hey, it's about meeting other people. It's about having relationships with your friends,'" he says.
"I think everyone just needs to go back to their original state, going back to just being a human and recognizing that we're all humans here," Anderson adds. "Approach each other as human beings with our minds or our thoughts."
Anderson is bringing Cherry's openhearted philosophy to his next endeavor — collaborating with the American Pops Orchestra for a Bureau of Land Management project. This has been a laborious process, with no shortage of fine lines to navigate.
"Bringing this orchestra onto the Indigenous lands is going to be a real struggle because of all the racial division going on in the world," he says. But in the end, Anderson believes all the work is going to be worth it.
"Having these two different identities on that land, I'm hoping the land can really heal the group that's there," he says. "I mean, if the land really heals, we're going to put the land to the test."
Because it's happened before on this soil: Indigenous people and those of so many other backgrounds have come together to make great American music. Sure, it's been a rocky path to get there — sometimes a troubling and treacherous one. But Anderson and his colleagues aren't afraid to tread it.
Photo: Lorne Thomson / Contributor
Outside Lands 2022: Mitski Brings A Theatrical Loneliness To Thousands
Mitski's Outside Lands audience was rapt and excitable, yet it was hard to tell whether the singer had a good time or what she thought of the Sunday night crowd.
After touring heavily for five years, Mitski performed at SummerStage in New York City’s Central Park and crushed her fans by announcing that it would be her "last show indefinitely." Fast forward three years, and the 31-year-old singer-songwriter has been performing on major stages all summer, including England’s Glastonbury, Denmark’s Roskilde and San Francisco’s Outside Lands, where her Sunday night set ushered in the darkness and closed out the festival.
Lyric-knowing fans and curious onlookers taking Mitski in for the first time got an immediate glimpse of her conflicting feelings about herself with the opener, "Love Me More." From Outside Lands' Sutro stage she sang, "Every day I’m trying not to hate myself/But lately, it’s not hurting like it did before/Maybe I am learning how to love me more."
Mitski has spoken out against being unfairly pigeonholed as a fiercely private person and publicly struggled with anxiety and self-loathing as well as the pressures of fame, the music business and having an ardent fan following. Her work, filled with unrequited love, animates a lonely vibe that thrives in isolated listening situations, but it also clearly offers comfort to a festival crowd of thousands with minimal physical space between them, even as the pandemic is still taken seriously in San Francisco.
Her Outside Lands audience was rapt, eagerly and frequently erupting at each dramatic hand movement and pose. If she found that unnerving at all, she didn’t break character while singing popular songs like "I Bet on Losing Dogs," "Washing Machine Heart" and "Your Best American Girl."
"If you would just make one mistake/What a relief that would be," she sang on "The Only Heartbreaker." "But I think for as long as we’re together/I’ll be the only heartbreaker."
Mitski doesn’t use backup singers, and her music isn’t conducive to having dancers, but she employs choreographed dance movements throughout the performance. Whether she’s daringly patting her crotch in a sardonic Michael Jackson way, striking a powerful pose taken from Japanese Butoh dance theater or throwing herself hatefully on the ground, her body is a conduit for what her words can’t say. And it’s also an impenetrable wall that keeps us from getting too close.
Her 20-song set was free of concert conventions. There was no banter in between songs or fan interactions on or offstage, though either would have been an uncomfortable departure from where this performer seemingly prefers to be situated during a concert. It's hard to tell whether Mitski had a good time or what she thought of the Outside Lands crowd, which most other performers were happy to acknowledge. She left the pyro and the fireworks to Post Malone on the neighboring stage, though a portion of the glittering explosives were visible through the trees as her performance neared its end, adding a little bit of sparkle to the somberness.
Mitski concluded with 2018’s "A Pearl, building her wall even taller with an isolating refrain: "Sorry, I don’t want your touch/It’s not that I don’t want you/Sorry, I can’t take your touch."
Photo: Alive Coverage
10 Moments From Outside Lands 2022: Kim Petras Covers Kate Bush, Larry June Gets Healthy & An Illegal Afterparty
San Francisco's Outside Lands Festival returned to Golden Gate Park for three days of sun-soaked sounds. From local rap and DJs, to "slut pop" and Pussy Riot, GRAMMY.com recaps three days of distinctly Bay Area joy.
Outside Lands, which takes place in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, is typically accompanied by foggy days and nights, a wintery music festival that takes place in the summertime. But sunny skies and temperatures into the ‘70s brought a brighter outlook and bolder outfits to this year’s event on Aug. 5-7.
The festival, which began in 2008 and has taken place annually except for 2020, featured headliners SZA, Green Day and Post Malone at the top of an international lineup of DJs, artists and bands, plus extensive food and drink options and even a legal cannabis marketplace and consumption area. Here are some of the many notable moments that helped to make Outside Lands a delightful experience this year.
A sold-out crowd at Outside Lands’ main stage. | Photo: Alive Coverage
DJ Umami Wins The Game
As the official DJ for the San Francisco Giants and the Golden State Warriors, DJ Umami knows how to rock stadiums with a smile. Her packed Friday afternoon performance at The House by Heineken — one of four areas at the festival that were dedicated to DJ sets — combined the explosive energy she has at those big sporting events with the hype of her bar and club gigs. Fran Boogie, her friend and frequent collaborator on the mic, offered the cherry on top with his vocal party-pumping punctuations.
Hiatus Kaiyote Slays The 4:20 Set
Nai Palm of Hiatus Kaiyote | Photo: Alive Coverage
The festival’s Grass Lands area sold THC-infused beverages (including cans of weeded sparkling water by Pabst Blue Ribbon), edibles and cannabis flower. The smell in the air at 4:20 p.m. on Friday made it clear that Grass Lands was on track to sell millions of dollars of products, as it reportedly did in 2019.
Grass Lands was located close to the main stage, Lands End, where Australian jazz-funk act Hiatus Kaiyote must have received quite the 420 contact high. Singer Nai Palm led a set largely taken from the band’s 2021 album, Mood Valiant, which was written when she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer. The soul survivor also effortlessly handled a cover of David Bowie’s "Within You."
Lil Uzi Vert Looks Out For His Fans
Lil Uzi Vert gets up close and personal. | Photo: Alive Coverage
GRAMMY nominee Lil Uzi Vert was careful to notice when the crowd at his Lands End performance got too squished together in front. At a few points during his 26-song set, he asked everybody to take three steps back before he’d start again.
"Then we can really open up," he said. Those pauses in the show appeared to work, giving people more room to throw their hands up and jump up and down instead of being involuntarily carried by the crowd.
He did his most-requested original songs, like "XO TOUR Llif3," "444+222" and "I KNOW," but also covered "WDYW" by Carnage and Playboy Carti’s "Wokeuplikethis," the latter of which prompted an overzealous fan to jump on the stage, which Lil Uzi Vert handled with obvious love and grace.
Qbert And Shortkut Offer DJ Masterclasses
Nestled under trees, the intimate Cocktail Magic stage featured technically masterful freestyle sets from legendary local DJs Qbert and Shortkut on Friday and Saturday. With their schedules taking them to different places, the longtime friends rarely get to see each other these days, and Shortkut told their audience that they were having fun practicing together.
The DJs played hip-hop, drum & bass, and electro beats and wittily conversed through the cadences of their improvised cuts and scratches over the top. After their Saturday show, they posed with girls in pickle costumes, a nod to their '90s world champion DJ battle crew name, Invisibl Skratch Piklz.
(L-R) Hester Chambers and Rhian Teasdale of Wet Leg. | Photo: Steve Jennings/Contributor
Wet Leg Gets Tiny Blue Babies… Again
One of the festival’s true scheduling conflicts was having Russia’s provocative Pussy Riot perform at the same time as buzzy English duo Wet Leg on Sunday, forcing tough choices and a strong desire to be two places at once. Those who chose Wet Leg at the Sutro stage were rewarded with a sunny set of songs from their self-titled debut album, including "Being in Love," "Wet Dream" and the purposefully misspelled "Chaise Longue."
The audience also got the chance to bear witness to a rather strange mystery. In between songs, singer/guitarist Rhian Teasdale picked up tiny blue plastic babies that were thrown on stage. Wet Leg has no idea why they keep getting pelted with them.
"We get these every time we play in San Francisco!" marveled singer/guitarist Rhian Teasdale, holding up one of the tiny tots.
Baby Tate Wakes Up The Panhandle
Though Atlanta rapper Baby Tate (the daughter of GRAMMY-nominated singer Dionne Farris) appeared on Sunday’s Panhandle stage — one of the smaller and traditionally sleepier performance areas at Outside Lands — she quickly drew a feverishly-bouncing crowd that foreshadows how confidently she’d fare on a main stage at the festival.
DJ Sky Jetta introduced her with a quick flurry of surprising songs, including Miley Cyrus' "Party in the USA" and Panic! At The Disco's "I Write Sins Not Tragedies." Tate, 26, somehow matched the energy of those millennial classics with her own newer songs, like 2020’s "Rainbow Cadillac," which contains an interpolation of Danity Kane’s 2006 pop debut, "Show Stopper."
Larry June Gets A Healthy Crowd
Local rapper Larry June | Photo: Alive Coverage
The only local rap artist booked at Outside Lands, San Francisco’s Larry June didn’t appear to have high expectations beforehand, telling SFGate, "I don't care if there's 100 people in my set, I just keep pushing. I don't even care about set times or whatever, I just do my thing and go home."
But thousands of people pushed through to see June perform what he calls a "healthy and organic experience" on Saturday with effortlessly cool songs like "Watering My Plants" and "Smoothies in 1991." He said the Outside Lands audience was his biggest and best crowd of all time.
Kim Petras Covers Kate Bush
"It’s a scary f—ing time right now, especially for trans girls," said the German pop star Kim Petras on Sunday as a preface to her vocally strong, emotionally-charged cover of Kate Bush’s "Running Up That Hill," which she made sure to note that she released months before the song’s star turn on "Stranger Things."
It was a sobering and tear jerking moment in what was otherwise a tight set of naughty and fun anthems, including "Slut Pop" and "Throat Goat," on the second biggest stage, Twin Peaks.
Tater Tots Grow Up
Lobster tater tots fromWilliam Tell House | Photo: Tamara Palmer
With over 80 restaurants and food vendors, Outside Lands is as much a food festival as a music one, and the diverse selections really represented what the Bay Area culinary scene has to offer.
Two takes on tater tots easily stole the show for deliciousness and ease of eating: a spicy, lobster-crowned version by William Tell House in neighboring Marin County, and churro tots topped with chocolate and caramel sauces and whipped cream by San Francisco confectioner Charles Chocolates.
Hemorage Drops The Hottest (Illegal) Aftershow
Just after Green Day finished their Saturday set at Lands End that included reminiscing on playing an illegal show in another San Francisco park in the '90s, a hardcore thrash band from the city called Hemorage started their own show. They parked their van at a residential corner near one of the festival exits and proceeded to send even more noise throughout the already-weary Sunset District.
While police arrived, they actually waited for a song to finish before pulling the plug. There’s no doubt that Billie Joe Armstrong would have more than approved of such a genius pop-up show.
Photo: Alive Coverage
Watch Backstage Interviews At Outside Lands 2022: Phoebe Bridgers, Robert Glasper, TokiMonsta, Thuy & More
Outside Lands 2022 is a wrap, but we're still feeling its vibes. Immerse yourselves in the excitement with these exclusive interviews with the artists who performed.
Over 200,000 people got a pleasant break from "fogust" as brilliant sunshine warmed the site of Outside Lands in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Held Aug. 5-7, the three-day festival showcased hip-hop, dance music, rock and indie acts on six stages.
GRAMMY.com was there and spoke to many of the up-and-coming artists making their first appearance at the 15th annual event, as well as a couple of Outside Lands' headlining acts. Press play on the video interviews below to hear from Phoebe Bridgers, Robert Glasper and more.
Major League DJz
Sampa The Great
Purple Disco Machine
Visit the Recording Academy’s YouTube channel for more Outside Lands interviews and to go backstage at other festivals.
Photo: Daniel Mendoza
Outside Lands 2022: Green Day Makes The Bay Proud With Fiery Saturday Headlining Set
For their first performance at Outside Lands, legendary Bay Area punk act Green Day paid tribute to their hometown and local heroes, while giving the sold-out crowd what they wanted: to rock and roll all night.
Green Day finally got the chance to play Outside Lands on the San Francisco festival’s 15th annual spin around Golden Gate Park, headlining Saturday’s lineup with a bombastic set filled with rock star pyro, explosives and endearing stories about being a real band from the Bay Area — Contra Costa County in the East Bay, to be precise.
A few minutes before they came out, a text message from the festival app warned of intense lights and loud sound effects to come. Queen’s "Bohemian Rhapsody" then prompted a singalong of thousands, and a person in a fluffy bunny rabbit costume with a demented face hyped the crowd while the Ramones’ "Blitzkrieg Bop" roared. A custom-made intro mash-up of Joan Jett and the Blackhearts’ "I Love Rock & Roll," "We Will Rock You" and "Also Sprach Zarathustra," a classical tone poem from 1896, ushered the band — singer and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tré Cool (with additional guitar support from Jason White, who largely remained side stage and off screen) — on stage, beginning with the still-relevant "American Idiot."
The multi-GRAMMY winners understood the hugeness of the moment, taking the opportunity to structure a playful show that paid homage to artists who came before them — as when they teased a quick riff of "Iron Man" by Black Sabbath before playing their own song "Hitchin’ a Ride." One of the great surprises of the set was a high energy cover of KISS’ 1975 anthem "Rock and Roll All Nite," which was accompanied with '70s-style floodlights and the Green Day logo reimagined in KISS' jagged font.
These three have been together since high school, and you can see and feel their love for each other, their music and where they grew up. At times, Armstrong and Dirnt played their guitars back to back and nestled their heads on each other’s shoulders. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the last Green Day show in Golden Gate Park — an illegal set with some hardcore bands in 1991 — resulted in their arrest, so this was a clear upgrade. Armstrong also talked about a failed attempt to play at San Francisco’s much-smaller Dolores Park back in the day, which also ended with police.
"I’m so happy right now!" Armstrong exclaimed, as "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" fired up. He asked everyone to flash their phone lights ("Just about the only thing those phones are good for," he added) and turned the stage lights off creating a powerful sparkling effect from the thousands-strong crowd.
Green Day at the Lands End stage on Saturday night. | Photo: Daniel Mendoza
Different tunes got individual visual treatments that were quite engaging, with pulsating views of the band bathed in color or black and white. The light show extended all the way around Golden Gate Park’s tree-lined Polo Field, with strobes and other effects bouncing off of the greenery in time with the music.
After inviting a female fan up to sing and get a hug, Armstrong looked out into the crowd and said he needed someone to come up and play guitar with them.
"You’re 10-years-old and you can play?" he asked a boy who raised both his hands in the air. "Do you swear you can play?"
His name is Montgomery, which Armstrong shortened to Monty for the crowd to chant. And he can play, as everyone quickly learned when he contributed power chords to "Knowledge," a song from the Berkeley punk act Operation Ivy that was released in 1989.
The band would go on to perform even more unexpected covers, including "Shout," the Isley Brothers classic from 1959, and a snippet of Journey’s "Lights," a song that got extra love in the Bay Area through an old radio station commercial for KFRC. The latter felt like a quick nod to the 40 and 50-somethings in the crowd who grew up on the station.
At one point, Armstrong acted like a mad conductor and waved his arms up and down ferociously to get the crowd to cheer in different sections. When he was done, he said, "You’re all suckers, except the ones from Oakland!"
"This is f—ing beautiful," he said in seriousness. "We’re all here together."
Billie Joe in a moment of eleation. | Photo: Daniel Mendoza
The only slightly unplanned moment that was detected was when a guitar string broke on "Basket Case" that momentarily deconstructed the huge and strong wall of sound that was the set’s hallmark. But that was actually a treat, like getting to hear isolated parts of a song you’ve only heard one way your whole life.
That standard moment towards the end of a concert when a lead singer introduces their band was much more fun in the hands of Armstrong. He jokingly introduced his sax player, who played a mean riff of "Careless Whisper" by George Michael, as Henry Winkler a.k.a. "Fonzie from ‘Happy Days,’" then introduced himself as "Dewey."
Green Day packed so many of their hits into the 22-song performance that we briefly wondered what could be left for the last number, since the band had already done biggies like "Welcome to Paradise," "When I Come Around" and "Wake Me Up When September Ends." But, of course, Green Day has no more perfect song to conclude with than "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)," which Armstrong performed alone on acoustic guitar as fireworks shot over the stage and into the night sky.
Photo: Steve Jennings/WireImage
Outside Lands 2022: SZA Takes Control & Makes Waves In Nostalgic, Dance-Filled Performance
SZA closed the first night of the three-day festival with songs from her discography, leaning into the beloved songs of her debut 'Ctrl.'
As the fog rolled in, mist engulfed the seas of bundled festival goers pouring onto the western lawns of Golden Gate Park. A lighthouse structure beckoned at the Lands End stage and marine projections appeared on the stage's backdrop readying the crowd for Outside Lands 2022's Friday headliner, SZA.
The GRAMMY-winning artist born Solána Rowe closed the first night of the three-day festival with songs from throughout her discography, redesigning the way acclaimed works like Ctrl are perceived with every performance. SZA opened her solo set with the Black Panther epic track "All The Stars," sharing verses from her Kendrick Lamar collab under cityscape constellations.
Turning the clock back to 2017, SZA returned to her debut album Ctrl, which provided an escapist score for carefree summer days. Ctrl received five GRAMMY nominations and attendees were reliving the glory days of Ctrl all together in the frigid San Francisco air. SZA sang "Miles," "Love Galore (Alt Version)," and her unreleased single "Shirt" as fans sang their choruses back in unison.
A deluxe version of Ctrl was released on the five-year anniversary of the project this June, its nostalgic value contributing to why Ctrl has persisted as a beloved musical phenomenon since its debut.
SZA also revealed more sides of her performer persona, showcasing her experience in dance with group dance sequences to "The Weekend" and "Go Gina." At 32 years old, the genre-defiant poet known for her lyrical proficiency is becoming more comfortable in her skin and has become more confident in her moves.
With no guests appearing on stage, SZA’s attuned vocals and remarkable whistletones set the calming scene for the audience. With every verse, the crowd would recite words back, showcasing the weight of Ctrl.
As SZA monologued about the state of the world after wrapping up a gushing pop rendition of "Prom," she began "Normal Girl" by expressing how abnormal times feel and reminding the audience to take a break to settle with the tide.
The final moments of Outside Lands' first day concluded with SZA seated on a platform full of blooming sunflowers, swaying her legs back and forth as she sang "Good Days." She also nodded to Doja Cat, performing their 2021 track "Kiss Me More." Her starry-eyed fans banded together, swaying and reciting every optimistic lyric.
SZA ended her set by thanking the audience for carrying the legacy of Ctrl to where it is today. With firework projections glowing behind her, she then climbed up the lighthouse and plunged into the turquoise waters, resulting in a luminescent slosh of seawater. While audiences wait for SZA’s next album, SZA's Outside Lands performance should be an indicator that whatever she does next will undoubtedly make a splash.