SAN FRANCISCO — The Outside Lands music festival kicked off this weekend, giving people a chance to see some of the biggest bands in the country. The annual Golden Gate Park event is music to the ears of the lucky small businesses that get an opportunity to connect with new customers.
The most famous bands don’t hit the stage until early evening but a chance to play in the afternoon is godsend for musicians trying to make a name for themselves.
“It’s like, there’s so many that we don’t even know,” said festival-goer Sana Noori. “The lineup is huge so you’re just exploring each stage and hearing new music and new bands and they get new fans, I guess.”
Outside Lands is huge, drawing about 70,000 visitors per day over the three-day event. That presents a golden opportunity for more than just the bands. The event prioritizes local food vendors but getting a spot there isn’t easy.
“We spent about three years applying to get in,” said Angelo Lonardo. “We kept trying to get our name in there, trying to say ‘Cookie dough! You need cookie dough at Outside Lands!'”
Lonardo and his mother Jill started their cookie dough business Out The Dough in Concord and, though they have a brick-and-mortar store, Outside Lands accounts for 10-15 percent of the entire year’s sales. Angelo said that, for small businesses, the way to reach new customers has changed dramatically in recent years.
“Not so much getting into the printed ads of the world and the social media marketing of the world but making sure that we’re out in the community, connecting with people directly. I think that is a necessary thing for a business,” he said.
There are a lot of people to connect with at Outside Lands. While that may be helpful to food vendors, it may actually be needed to save some in the struggling cannabis industry. Immediately after the state legalized recreational use of marijuana, Outside Lands opened its “Grass Lands” area, the first — and still only — major music festival to allow onsite consumption, according to Dustin Moore, founder of Embarc Events, which organizes the cannabis pavilion.
“The majority of folks who are in here at Grass Lands aren’t traditional dispensary consumers,” he said. “So these are folks who are ‘canna-curious.’ These are the folks who, in 2018, that we thought were going to come out in droves when legalization occurred and just didn’t. So, we think this helps introduce a brand-new market for a lot of these vendors.”
Martin Olive founded the Vapor Room, San Francisco’s oldest cannabis dispensary. He said he’s not surprised that things didn’t take off as smoothly as many predicted.
“There’s going to be a lot of stumbling in these first few years,” Olive said. “But I think events like this actually showcase how it can be done well — ethically, responsibly and with a lot of fun and this is a great event for balancing all that.”
At Grass Lands, a small vendor’s booth can cost $30,000 for the weekend. Ramon Garcia, with the Equity Trade Network, teamed up about two dozen small, equity-challenged providers to split the cost of one space, they called Legacy Market.
“In three days, they see, 30, 40, 50, a hundred thousand people,” Garcia said. “They might do half a year, a year’s worth of business and have exposure in a way that they wouldn’t have in any other way in their static, little place. And if they couldn’t afford to get a booth then they wouldn’t even have this opportunity.”
Opportunity. It’s a word you hear a lot from people participating in Outside Lands as they work to capitalize on the economic energy created by bringing so many people together at one time in one place.