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Bands mix music and politics at San Francisco’s Outside Lands festival

Headliner Janet Jacksons situate began with a message on social issues while Florence and the Machine called for unity

Amid the tens of thousands of people who attended the 11 th annual Outside Lands music celebration in San Francisco’s Golden Gate park this weekend, one face stood out, two-dimensionally speaking: Barack Obama’s.

The oversized cutout of the former president’s smiling face, taped to a long stick, bobbed above the crowd as fans cheered on the Scottish band Chvrches during their performance on Saturday.

One of the four women from San Francisco who put together the prop described it as a” beacon of hope” during a weekend of funamid deep divisions and conflicts marking much of America’s public life.

A cutout of Barack Obama floats above the crowd at San Francisco’s Outside Lands music festival. Photograph: M Amedeo Tumolillo for the Guardian

” It’s hard to attend something like this and not be mindful of what’s happening in our country, but I think that it[ the festival] is a distraction without me feeling like I’m losing sight of the work that still needs to be done ,” said Kaisha-Dyan McMillan, 43, a writer who lives in Oakland.” I find myself getting exceedingly overwhelmed by the negativity and the awfulness that’s happening on the news .”

McMillan came mainly to see Janelle Monae, NERD, the comedian Phoebe Robinson, and Janet Jackson, whose 1986 sung Nasty made a comeback after Donald Trump called Hillary Clinton” such a nasty female” during a president debate.

Jackson’s headline set on Sunday began with a video collage of news images and headlines displaying many of today’s ills: racism, inequality, shootings and more. The intro finished by asking if everyone got the social issue messages before letting them know it was time to dance. Then Burnitup! blared through the speakers and white lightings swept across the stage. Jackson went on to perform many of her hittings, including Nasty, What Have You Done for Me Lately, and Control.

” It’s a nice to get away from everything that’s going on ,” said Patrice Wright, an Oakland resident in her 40 s.” When I heard Janet Jackson was going to be here this year, I bought a ticket right away. It’s a great distraction .”

” San Francisco and the Bay Area in general is always seen as this really open-minded liberal place, but a lot of the incidents that have gone mainstream recently have been out of the Bay Area ,” Wright said, referring to BBQ Becky, Permit Patty, Jogger Joe and the murder of Nia Wilson.” What’s kind of disappointing is just the reaction to it, where everyone is just like,’ Well, it wouldn’t happen here ‘, or that it is just a one-time situation. It’s not .”

Neo Modise, a 28 -year-old Hayward resident came to the festival to enjoy a number of artists, including NERD.” Being here, you see a lot of’ Fuck Trump’ shirts or things like that ,” he said. But the band’s performance underlined common ground, telling people in the crowd they were “brothers” and “sisters”, regardless of their racial background, Modise said

Similar calls for unity came during Florence and the Machine’s set. Lead singer Florence Welch said she was saddened by “these days” and that” we all belong here “. And in a long, calm, middle passageway of the hit ballad Dog Days Are Over, she asked audience members to embrace, express love for one another and” tell a stranger that you love them, because I promise you, on some cosmic level, you do “. “Shes gone” even further, asking people to put away their telephones. Upraised glowing rectangles of sunlight winked out in response.

Gavin Newsom, left, California’s lieutenant governor, and John Battelle held a discussion on Saturday at Outside Lands. Photo: FilmMagic

Lauren Mayberry, the lead singer of Chvrches who has discussed issuesranging from #MeToo to gun control, veered away from heavy commentary. She told the crowd that “shes been” criticized for speaking about Trump because he was the leader of a country that wasn’t her own. She pointed out that she had the right to do so if he posed a broader threat to global stability, but left it at that.

Gavin Newsom, California’s lieutenant governor who is running for governor in 2018, added another political element to the lineup with a discussion on Saturday that touched upon healthcare, college education expenses, real estate costs, reproductive rights, Trump, and the cannabis industry.

” It’s kind of sad what’s going on on the federal level ,” said Angel Ortega, a 20 -year-old student at the celebration.” But with Gavin Newsom and other more liberal and progressive politicians making their style into politics, I personally have a most optimistic view of the future. I think we’re going to do well after Trump .”

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