Outside Lands trashes the grass at Golden Gate Park

If you wore white sneakers to San Francisco’s Outside Lands last month, they may have turned brown from the muddy festival grounds.

The three-day musical extravaganza at Golden Gate Park was moved from August to October this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant it fell on Halloween weekend less than a week after an atmospheric river drenched Northern California with record-breaking rainfall.

By the end of the first day, many of the most-traveled areas of the festival grounds had turned to mud. Sand and mulch was laid over some areas to help with the muddy mess. After the festival, the park’s Polo Fields, Marx Meadow, Lindley Meadow and Hellman Hollow were all closed for repairs. These areas of the park close every year for reseeding, regardless of the festival. 

Festivalgoers attend the Outside Lands Music Festival at Golden Gate Park on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, in San Francisco. 

Amy Harris/Invision/AP

“There was a greater impact on the grass this year than previous years because of the historic storm that swept in prior to the concert, but it was not as bad as we feared thanks to a lot of preparation,” Tamara Aparton, a spokesperson for the city’s Recreation and Park Department, wrote in an email. “Outside Lands usually takes place in the summer, and we intentionally dry out the meadows by turning off irrigation for two weeks before the event in order to protect the grass from all that heavy use. This year we obviously didn’t have the dry summer weather.”

Aparton said Rec and Park and festival organizers tuned in to the forecast and worked together to prepare ahead of the storm with mitigation measures. 

“Much of the load-in and builds happened early. Before the storms, we limited vehicle access on the wet ground, and we used a whole lot of pumps and generators in the meadows — with staff staying out there all night to ensure the continuous drain of water,” Aparton wrote. “As a result, the grass is in much better shape than we thought.

During the event, a mix of mulch and sand was laid over wet grass.

People walk over sand that was spread out to cover muddy areas of the grass at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park on Oct. 31, 2021.

People walk over sand that was spread out to cover muddy areas of the grass at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park on Oct. 31, 2021.

Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

“When you think of grass being damaged versus not being damaged it has to do with the roots,” Aparton said. “If the ground is very wet, it’s easier for feet and machinery to damage the grass.”


Ahead of the festival, Outside Lands estimated the three-day event’s economic benefit for the city would be $71.3 million. Since 2008, Rec and Park has received $27.2 million from the event, including funding for a gardener who works full-time, year-round, Aparton said. 

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