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Outside Lands 2018: From female headliners to cannabis culture, how the festival’s promoters plan to keep things fresh

The Outside Lands Music and Arts festival has a reputation for pushing boundaries.

Since its inaugural edition in 2008 featured Radiohead performing the first-ever after-dark concert in Golden Gate Park, the festival has become as well known for its long roster of gourmet food and wine offerings and offbeat entertainment (comedians, magic shows, tech demonstrations) as it has for its wildly eclectic lineups that have featured headliners such as Metallica, Paul McCartney and Kanye West.

With this year’s concert, which takes place Friday through Sunday, Aug. 10-12, promoters Another Planet Entertainment and Superfly said it was imperative to keep things fresh.

“I think every year we do the festival, we’re looking for new things to do to keep it evolving,” said Allen Scott, vice president of Another Planet Entertainment, as the company’s Berkeley offices were putting the final touches on the festival planning in the last week of July. “A lot of our audience comes every year, and we want to present new things to them.”

This year, Outside Lands will be the first major U.S. music festival to feature a curated cannabis education experience, called Grass Lands. A new partnership with West Coast Craft will serve as a showcase for more than two dozen local makers. There will also be a speaker series called D.A.V.E. (Discussions About Virtually Everything) that will bring music fans face to face with prominent public figures like Bill Nye, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart.

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Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival: Friday-Sunday, Aug. 10-12. $149.50-$795. Polo Field, Lindley Meadow, Hellman Hollow and Marx Meadow in Golden Gate Park, S.F.

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But what has brought the most attention to the festival is that for the first time in its 11-year run, Outside Lands has not one but two female headliners.

Janet Jackson and Florence + the Machine, alongside the Weeknd, will top the bill of some 100 other acts, including Future, Beck, Odesza, Carly Rae Jepsen, Bon Iver, DJ Snake, N.E.R.D., Chvrches, James Blake and Margo Price, performing across stages on the Polo Field, in Hellman Hollow, and at Speedway and Marx meadows.

“There have been female-fronted acts that we’ve tried for in the past but weren’t able to get,” Scott said. “But this year especially the timing felt right and important for us to be inclusive.”

The mandate spread to other areas of the festival, which typically draws an audience that is 60 percent female, according to the promoters.

The Barbary Coast Comedy & Improv pop-up club will feature three female headliners: Michelle Wolf from “The Daily Show,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” star Chelsea Peretti and “2 Dope Queens” podcast co-host Phoebe Robinson.

“There are so many strong ladies you could do a full roster and be completely blown away by the lineup,” said Rae Einerson, who books the Barbary in collaboration with SF Sketchfest. “Not only are they all deeply funny but they all have something to say about the current state of affairs.”

Both Scott and Einerson said that the festival has long strived for gender parity in its lineup — and Outside Lands has done better than most festivals, which according to a 2016 study conducted by Huffington Post were typically made up of 66 to 93 percent all-male acts.

Since 2008, Outside Lands has boasted prime-time sets by female artists or female-fronted acts such as Lorde, Lana Del Rey, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Norah Jones and M.I.A., but this year will mark the first time a female-fronted act has closed out the main stage as a festival headliner.

(Jackson and Florence + the Machine were also scheduled to headline the FYF Fest in Los Angeles in July, but promoter Goldenvoice pulled the plug on that festival due to low ticket sales.)

“There’s a lot of factors you’re balancing when you’re booking a festival,” Einerson said. “You think about who you want to see; who’s actually on tour; who has material; who you can afford; who can make your lineup special. It’s deeply complicated — otherwise everybody would be doing it.”

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