Photos By Lauren Bulbin and Clarissa Villondo, Words By Jose Lopez-Sanchez
On Saturday, thousands of people descended up on Merriweather Post Pavilion for the seventh edition of the Sweetlife Festival. Despite warnings of heavy rain and storm-strength winds, the early morning weather was beautiful enough to tantalize the crowds, armed with rubber boots and rain jackets – but of course, with the usual “festival chic” trappings made popular by Instagram celebrities.
MPP was a solid setting for the shows on the deck, and there was enough distance between the Main Stage and the Treehouse Stage that sounds did not bleed over from one act to any concurrent ones. While the amphitheater set up will never cease being weird for a festival – nothing like having rows and rows of people sitting right in the middle to dampen the vibe – the canopy was a welcome respite from the elements for folks in the Pavilion and VIP sections.
Storm clouds started to roll in, aptly, during Thundercat’s set at the Treehouse Stage. Stephen Bruner is a virtuoso on the bass, and it felt as if he was conjuring up the storm himself during his prog-jazz number “Daylight”; Jaco Pastorius would have shed a tear with pride. As mist and fog enveloped the stage and it began to drizzle, it was hard to imagine a better setting for the prodigiously talented musician.
Mac DeMarco and his band played a roaring set at the Main Stage, which unfortunately overlapped with most of rapper Vince Staples’ set. DeMarco has been playing with the same core group for a few years – minus usual bassist Alex Calder, currently on tour with his own band – and it shows in the degree of showmanship and vibe of their live show. They played all the hits, performed the usual blend of meta and dad jokes, and ended with a nice shoutout to fellow festival performers DIIV, a band they seem to get along really well with. DeMarco drove the crowd wild with another stage dave, and crowd surfed in the pit for a good 3-4 minutes, as the predominantly teenage audience shrieked in delight. I’m not sure they all get his sense of humor, but they really love his music.
(A side note on Vince Staples: I saw the first two tracks he performed, and he is phenomenal. He is as compelling a storyteller in person as he is on record, and I’d love to see him again in a club setting. But sadly, there was only so much angry teenage energy I could handle moshing around me.)
The storm really hit hard immediately after DeMarco’s set, and people took refuge where they could – which, beyond the Pavilion covered area, was not very much. Temperatures dropped to the mid 40 degrees, and some of the crowd began to thin out as it persisted for more than two hours. Eagles of Death Metal played during the storm to a relatively small audience at the Main Stage, as people were more concerned with taking shelter. However, folks braved the tail end of the rain to see a very special performance by Shamir, whose eclectic, electric sound had folks dancing euphorically.
By the time Blondie hit the stage, the storm had broken, and it was another gorgeous spring day in Maryland. The festival grounds looked even better than before, and people were resigned to getting wet and muddy, and so made the most of it. Debbie Harry sang and performed like it was 1979.
Grimes played a very entertaining set that seemed to suffered from poor audio mixing – something wasn’t right with her sound, and it threw some serious fans off (myself included). The artist pushed ahead, and kept asking her audio people to adjust things for her, but it never fully clicked. That being said, she bounced around the stage, flanked by two incredible dancer and her rhythm guitarist/percussionist, and bombarded the audience with lights and impressive visuals.
Flume’s set went up in (literal) flames, as it was severely delayed by technical issues that caused a great deal of smoke, and a 25 minute set delay. At that point, past 8 p.m., our group decided to cut our losses and head back to D.C.
Despite the weather challenges, Sweetlife 2016 was a hell of a lot of fun, thanks primarily to a really stacked middle of the deck. It was always going to be a challenge to keep people there through the end due to the perceived “meh” headlining acts, and the weather certainly did not help. However, it was a rewarding and immensely fun festival, with excellent and broad food options, and excellent organization and security. I will definitely be going back next year.
Eagles of Death Metal