12 must-see lower-billed acts at Outside Lands 2016

outside lands
Brian Leak

San Francisco’s annual music and arts festival Outside Lands returns to beautiful Golden Gate Park this weekend (August 5-7) for its ninth consecutive year. Offering an impressive lineup headlined by Radiohead, Lionel Richie, LCD Soundsystem, Lana Del Rey, and J. Cole across its three-day stay in The Bay, the much-loved festival also hosts some of the best local and national restaurants, food trucks, breweries, wineries, artists, and comedians. Having experienced the festival in the past, we can assure you that there’s truly a little bit of something for everyone.

As far as the main attraction, though, many attendees’ must-see lists will have obvious (aforementioned) headliners and notable acts such as Sufjan Stevens, Chance the Rapper, Major Lazer, Zedd, and Halsey, but we want to make sure that some of the artists performing earlier sets each day are on your radar. We’ve compiled a list of some of the most exciting talent at Outside Lands that you might not be as familiar with as you should be. So without further ado, we’d like to introduce you to:


When: Friday, August 5 at 12:00 – 12:45
Where: Sutro Stage

Featuring Max Kakacek and Julien Ehrlich—both formerly of now-defunct rock band Smith Westerns—Chicago’s Whitney is churning out some of the purest songs in the indie rock genre. The band’s debut album, Light Upon the Lake—released earlier this summer through Secretly Canadian—is smooth and airy front to back. Led by Ehrlich’s blissful falsetto, the band puts a modern twist on multi-instrumental classic and country-leaning rock in a formula that could be described as Avi Buffalo meets the Band. As a huge fan of drumming vocalists (à la Levon Helm (RIP)) and bands that use an array of instrumentation like horns, keys, and tambourines, I’m excited to witness my first Whitney performance to open up the festival weekend..

Stream ‘Light Upon the Lake’ on Spotify.

Marian Hill

When: Friday, August 5 at 12:45 – 1:30
Where: Twin Peaks Stage

Philadelphia duo Marian Hill first caught my attention in October of 2014 when I came across their huge single “Got It.” It was equal parts alluring and original, and the way it developed bit by bit into one of the most unique pop songs I had heard maybe ever was all I needed to be hooked. Well, that and the incredible sax line. Samantha Gongol’s arresting vocals and Jeremy Lloyd’s untouchable production combine to create some of the most exciting and memorable pop music currently available to invade your ear holes. Following a pair of EPs dating back to 2013, Marian Hill released their debut full-length, titled ACT ONE, earlier this year, and if you’re craving creative pop with R&B influences that’s both fresh and stirring, this is the album for you. Watch the band this Friday to join the dance party.

Stream ‘ACT ONE’ on Spotify.


When: Friday August 5 at 1:15 – 2:00
Where: Sutro Stage

New York rockers Caveman just released a brand new full-length, titled Otero War, earlier this summer through Cinematic Music Group. Sure to appeal to fans of the Shins, Lord Huron, and the National, Caveman creates melancholy pop and indie rock that rivals any modern favorite and also calls to mind ’80s staples like Tears For Fears and Simple Minds. It’s familiar but equally refreshing—as to be expected with a tried-and-true formula—so there’s an inherent comfortability felt when listening through the band’s works. Caveman’s set this Friday will likely produce some sing-alongs, some dancing, and at least a tear or two.

Stream ‘Otero War’ on Spotify.


When: Friday, August 5 at 2:30 – 3:20
Where: Sutro Stage

Initially elusive as all get out, New York pop trio Wet made my ears perk up late in 2013 when their self-titled debut EP surfaced online. It was just four tracks deep but it was enough—after countless playthroughs—to land itself a spot on my imaginary list of all-time favorite extended plays. Kelly Zutrau’s vocals alone will likely convert newcomers into Wet fans, but the mostly simple production pairs perfectly, even though it usually sits back and lets Kelly take the lead, wisely. I wouldn’t hold my breath for a super-energetic set at Outside Lands, but that’s not the point here. Go for good tunes, stay for best vibes.

Stream ‘Don’t You’ on Spotify.


When: Friday, August 5 at 2:55 – 3:35
Where: Panhandle Stage

Michigan’s Vulfpeck is a brand new discovery for me and one I wish I had come across last year upon the release of their full-length debut—if only to have been able to experience their sounds that much sooner. Much like Whitney, Vulfpeck reminds me of the Band—which is always a good thing—but they bring an R&B-like soul to the mix reminiscent of Bobby Womack or Bill Withers, and sometimes even a funk-pop sound that might bring the Jackson 5 to mind. Most of last year’s Thrill of the Arts sounds like it legitimately came from a different era, and it’s all the better for it. There’s also a real muzak vibe in much of their instrumentals that helps set it apart from almost anything else in pop right now. Looking forward to feeling the soul during Vulfpeck’s set this weekend.

Stream ‘Thrill of the Arts’ on Spotify.


When: Friday, August 5 at 3:40 – 4:30
Where: Twin Peaks Stage

At this point, Minneapolis’ Poliça might be the most well-known group on this list, but I still can’t help but consider them underrated. I found Poliça upon the release of 2013’s Shulamith, which went on to become one of my favorite albums that year. This spring, they released another full-length, titled United Crushers, and much like its predecessor it seems to have flown under the radar a bit—at least in my circles. If this list tells you anything, it’s that I’m a sucker for killer vocalists and Channy Leaneagh is exactly that; she delivers in spades. One might describe Poliça as “a more upbeat Daughter,” and since that one is me, I’m inclined to agree. Leaneagh’s beautiful vocals team with truly interesting percussion and electronic arrangements for a memorable experience that deserves a lot more attention. Give it up for Poliça.

Stream ‘United Crushers’ on Spotify.


When: Friday, August 5 at 6:05 – 6:45
Where: Panhandle Stage

There’s a very real possibility that I listened to Låpsley‘s “Falling Short” more than any other song in 2015 after its late 2014 release. Luckily, the track was included on the Liverpool singer-songwriter’s full-length debut that released earlier this year, so I find myself listening to it regularly still. Teeming with emotional—sometimes devastating—pop cuts, Long Way Home finds Låpsley’s gorgeous voice and unique inflections floating over foundations of delicate piano and uncomplicated beats for 12 tracks of affecting, soulful pop music. If you’re a fan of artists like Banks and MØ but have yet to give Låpsley a chance, here’s your opportunity.

Stream ‘Long Way Home’ on Spotify.

Julien Baker

When: Saturday, August 6 at 12:00 – 12:45
Where: Sutro Stage

We’ve covered Memphis, Tennessee’s Julien Baker rather extensively since the release of 2015’s Sprained Ankle, an album that’s gradually gained steam in the alternative world thanks to a successful DIY campaign and endlessly gabbing word of mouth. Fans have become enamored with Baker’s seemingly introverted charm and incredible songwriting, especially for such a young artist who virtually appeared out of nowhere. I’ve yet to experience a live Julien Baker performance, much to my chagrin, but to say I’m looking forward to kicking off Saturday with her set is an understatement. I know several who have had the opportunity to see Baker play, and they all seem to have emerged from the crowd changed people. I could use a positively life-altering experience. Take me to church, Julien.

Stream ‘Sprained Ankle’ on Spotify.


When: Saturday, August 6 at 2:35 – 3:25
Where: Sutro Stage

Even though I first saw the below video towards the end of 2014, I’m admittedly pretty unfamiliar with French-Cuban twin duo Ibeyi. I’ll be damned if I’m not interested in seeing them live, though. With Lisa-Kainde contributing piano and a majority of the vocal leads and Naomi Diaz providing back-up and intricate percussion between the cajón and Batá drum, these two sisters offer a visceral experience with entrancing melodies and theatrical atmosphere. With their Afro-Cuban heritage clearly center stage in terms of influences, it’s alive and well in much of the percussion and vocal inflections, but so is a heavy dose of jazz and hip-hop, all combining to create a moody yet upbeat journey for the listener. If something akin to FKA Twigs meets Sampha sounds of interest to you, you’ll likely enjoy the whole of the twins’ self-titled debut that was released last year.

Stream ‘Ibeyi’ on Spotify.

Oh Wonder

When: Sunday, August 7 at 1:15 – 2:00
Where: Land’s End Stage

I’m very susceptible to the formula Oh Wonder has mastered. Similar to that of Phantogram, Purity Ring, or Made In Heights, the moody pop duo with strong beats and even stronger vocals just really works for me (when done right, of course). The London-based act’s 2015 self-titled debut is super-solid front to back with incredible melodies, occasional danceability, and plenty of creative choices that sets their brand apart from those of their peers crafting similar sounds. Nearly every track on the band’s sole full-length could serve well at radio and it’s only a matter of time before you see the name Oh Wonder within the top lines on all your favorite festival fliers. See the band now while you still have a chance to make out what’s happening on stage without the help of a massive screen.

Stream ‘Oh Wonder’ on Spotify.


When: Sunday, August 7 at 1:20 – 2:00
Where: Panhandle Stage

Australian songstress Kaity Dunstan, aka Cloves, doesn’t have so much as a full-length under her belt, but a small collection of powerful tracks from 2015 (and a stint on Australia’s The Voice at just 16 years old) has propelled the young songwriter to great heights within the world of pop. Inspired by the beloved vocal brilliance of artists like Amy Winehouse, Etta James, and Eva Cassidy, Cloves has one of the most intoxicating and sturdy voices to emerge in recent years. The fact that moments on last year’s XIII EP even bring Adele to my mind should tell you the importance of what Cloves brings to the table—the amount of natural talent and potential that should result in nothing but exponential success moving forward. Hop on the hype train now before it takes off and leaves you at the platform.

Stream ‘XIII’ on Spotify.


When: Sunday, August 7 at 2:45 – 3:25
Where: Panhandle Stage

British trio HÆLOS released a stunning debut through Matador Records earlier this year. Full Circle uses dense percussion, lush instrumentals, and beautiful vocal melodies (dominantly led by Lotti Benardout) to create a dark-pop mixture that feels both hypnotizing and truly organic. It’s gloomy and ethereal, relaxing and invigorating in equal measure. Most importantly of all, though, it’s one of the best albums of 2016 and you should really make some time to experience its 11-track entirety. If you want to vibe out after lunch during the last day of Outside Lands, HÆLOS has the set you need. If you’re not already, you’ll go home a fan, guaranteed.

Stream ‘Full Circle’ on Spotify.

outside lands poster