No mask? No problem.
The 2022 Outside Lands, the annual music festival in Golden Gate Park, kicked off Friday like it was 2019. The three-day event, which expects to see 75,000 fans each day, was back at its usual spot on the Bay Area summer concert calendar and with no stringent health protocols, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the newly announced state of emergency regarding San Francisco’s monkeypox outbreak.
“This year you don’t have to mask up, you don’t have to provide proof of vaccine, you don’t have to do some of the things you did in the past,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed declared at a news conference with festival producers Another Planet Entertainment on the eve of the event. “I know that in a major city like San Francisco we have our challenges, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take an opportunity to have a good time … Just be mindful. If you don’t feel good, do not come.”
That directive, in accordance with the city and county of San Francisco, is in stark contrast to the restrictions at last year’s festival, which required guests to present proof of vaccination or a recent negative test for COVID upon entry.
But after nearly three pandemic years on high alert, it seems attitudes have changed. As seen across the festival grounds, concerns about COVID appeared minimal as thousands of attendees gathered before the event’s four concert stages on Friday, Aug. 5, screaming and dancing to early performances by Oakland experimental pop singer Spellling, rapper Duckwrth and singer-songwriter Faye Webster.
“I’m not too worried,” said Ben Depew of Fremont, who attended the festival last year and in 2019. “I had COVID, and I’m vaccinated. That helps.”
Depew and his friend Max Li, who also attended Outside Lands 2021, both noted that there appeared to be many fewer people masked at this year’s festival, the event’s 14th incarnation. Both were unmasked themselves as they spoke to The Chronicle, but said they had masks and planned to wear them in crowds and enclosed spaces.
Nikki Edmiston, also of Fremont, works in health care and also shrugged off COVID concerns.
“At this point, I think everyone’s going to get it,” she said.
As for monkeypox, festivalgoers like Grady Davis of San Francisco admitted that “we don’t know as much about” the viral disease. “(I’m) wearing long sleeves because, from what we know, it’s mostly spread through close contact.”
Something that did spark some debate: the Outside Lands signature windmills — or actually, their absence.
The arched wooden double windmills that have sat in the middle of Golden Gate Park’s Polo Field across from the festival’s main stage every year have been replaced with a solitary glass-and-steel tower windmill.
This modern, streamlined version of the previous structure — which had served as a meeting point and backdrop for countless photos throughout the years — also no longer bears the Outside Lands logo. While larger than the old ones, it did not appear to have the same gravitational pull for festival attendees on the first day of the festival, which runs through Sunday, Aug. 7.
“I was pretty bummed, because I thought they were pretty iconic,” said Sean Morrow of San Diego, who said he’s attended Outside Lands nearly a dozen times.
Still, with the sun peeking in and out of the clouds over Golden Gate Park on Friday, most festival attendees — including the artists on the lineup — seemed happy just to be back together, up close and personal.
“I love you, Bay Area!” Spellling told the crowd during her festival-opening set on the Sutro Stage. “It’s good to play a home show.”
For more updates from the festival, check back at datebook.sfchronicle.com.
Chronicle senior arts and entertainment editor Mariecar Mendoza and pop music writer Aidin Vaziri contributed to this story.