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Words By Chris Kelly, Photos By Franz Mahr

The Broccoli City Festival is marked by contradictions. It has a mission of “building healthy, sustainable, thriving communities,” but its sponsors include Heineken and Pepsi. Its all about healthy living, but was headlined by Future, a rapper who has made a drug-and-boozed-drenched lifestyle into an art form. At Broccoli City, you can work off a few calories on a stationary bike… while powering your phone at the Toyota Green Initiative charging station.

But contradictions mark our lives, and – cynicism aside – Broccoli City certainly makes the most of them. For the fourth year, Broccoli City is D.C.’s most interesting festival: an ambitious project that joins Earth Day activism, local businesses and some of the most exciting names in rap and R&B, both nationally and locally at an underused venue in southeast DC.

It’s a festival for all the senses: WKYS favorites blasted from stages, tents, tables and portable speakers and bounced off buildings; local artists flaunt their skills and hock their wares; the acrid smell of decriminalized weed fills the air; revelers push and prod and dance; and food truckers hand out everything from chicken & waffles to vegan delicacies (broccoli did not appear to be on any of the menus).

For the third year, Broccoli City has brought the St. Elizabeth’s campus to life, if only for half a day. This year was the best use of the sprawling grounds, pushing the main stage further into the recesses of the complex (as if to prevent freeloaders) and taking full advantage of the acreage. (Here’s hoping the festival can co-exist with the forthcoming Wizards-Mystics practice facility in the future.)

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But for everything else that Broccoli City does, it is still primarily a music festival. Broccoli City handed the reigns of the second stage to One Love Massive, who brought in some of D.C.’s best DJs, local rap iconoclast Ace Cosgrove and Trap Karaoke, which is exactly what it sounds like. But because of the focus on the main stagers (the second stage participants weren’t even on the BC website), the crowd never seemed to show up for the locals – a mistake, but an easily correctable one.

The highlight of the main stage, arguably, was California newcomer Anderson Paak, who popped up on radars after being featured on Dr. Dre’s Compton last year. Paak is the real deal: the 30-year-old sang, rapped and commanded the stage, sometimes from behind a drum kit. His music feels like old-school soul, like if Curtis Mayfield was a 21st century rapper – a contradiction, but a pleasant one.

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