I rolled my eyes with the stranger next to me as we both attempted to shove off the clawing, over-excited, prepubescent teenage girls behind us who desperately wanted to carry G-Eazy’s spawn. The stranger and I weren’t too concerned with each other’s well being at first — we didn’t know each other yet — but our love for Kendrick Lamar, who was scheduled to perform at the same stage later that night, created a bond that filled the emptiness of coming to Outside Lands alone.
The allies I formed who shamelessly belted “Alright” and “Backstreet Freestyle” with me were all the company I needed during those three receptionless days. In fact, I ran into the stranger on campus a few weeks later. Turns out, she was a newly admitted Golden Bear who would become one of my good friends.
Whenever I told people that my love for Kendrick Lamar and SZA were enough for me to volunteer at Outside Lands alone, I was either commended for my dedication or given the eyebrow tilt of silent judgement that branded me as a lone soul — which wasn’t true.
Possessed by the lineup that featured one of my favorite rappers as a headliner, I reflexively signed up to volunteer without checking my availability, transportation or company. There was no room for responsibility when it came to my obsession. I was at a point where I would have done anything short of selling a kidney to see this man.
Undeterred by flaky, busy friends who weren’t able to volunteer with me, I set my alarm for 6 a.m. that weekend — giving me just enough time to throw on my pre-planned festival-worthy outfits under my oversized purple volunteer shirt, run to catch the F bus, transfer onto the 5 that carried my tired, half-asleep body to my morning shift at Golden Gate Park by 9 a.m.
I had been to Outside Lands once before, with friends who kept me company during the two-hour commute. This time, I had two soulmates for escorts — my right earbud and my left. Headphones in with Kendrick on repeat, I made it through the gruesome mornings.
Accustomed to long bus rides where my mind wandered through clips of imaginary movies that used my iTunes library as film scores, I didn’t really feel the “loneliness” people warned me about — until I walked through security and realized the world was made for groups of two or more.
I was surrounded by clusters — friends, arm in arm, bracing themselves for the next performance; couples ogling and leaning on each other to relieve their tired feet; and groups of teenagers passing around water bottles filled with something much stronger than water. I felt like a girl hiding in a bathroom stall during prom — or porta potties as the case may be.
Worried, I half-heartedly planned to meet a few acquaintances that ended up going to the festival last-minute but was never able to reach them thanks to dying phones and the excess of bodies that sucked up any remnant of a signal.
Alone and receptionless after my shift, I wandered through Choco Lands, sloshed through mud and pushed my way to the Twin Peaks stage, where I realized what a blessing it was to be a single body surrounded by mayhem.
The entire park was my playground.
I let the banging of drums, strumming of guitars and heavy basses overpower any fears I had. I took advantage of my petite demeanor and managed to push my way to the front of every stage and rejoiced with other fans who were equally excited.
I was autonomous with a single itinerary comprised solely of my wants.
I didn’t have to worry about impatient friends who complained about the heat or the long lines. I didn’t have to go to shows I didn’t like just to avoid being separated. I was free, free to walk around for hours if I wanted, free to get my face painted instead of pretending it’s lame and, best of all, free to meet new friends and even bond with some old ones.
During my leisurely strolls from one end of the park to the other, I ran into countless faces I hadn’t seen in years and not having to abide by anyone else’s time gave me a chance to catch up with friends and make future plans. I even had the time to chat with SZA after her set (who promised to perform at Berkeley if ASUC SUPERB asked her to, by the way). For the first time, I soaked in every second of a music festival without being rushed from one corner to the other to satisfy everyone else’s demands.
I came for Kendrick and left with more memories and friends than I had before. Being at Outside Lands alone wasn’t so bad after all.
Ilaf Esuf is a junior at UC Berkeley and writes a weekly column on finding positivity on campus.