all photos: Lauren Bulbin and Clarissa Villondo all words: Michael Young, Maddie Clybourn, Lauren Bulbin
This past weekend was Sweetlife festival at Merriweather Post Pavilion.
And once we recovered from the vastness of the braless crop-top infatuation among the 17-20 year olds, we had to give credit where credit is due: the sponsors and teams behind the Sweetlife/Sweetgreen brand did a superior job of organizing this event. There was water (boxed and otherwise) everywhere, tons of seating dispersed in shaded areas throughout the grounds to enjoy all those salads, veggie fare and falafels galore. Plus: lots of security, good sound quality from each stage, a solid line up of acts and most importantly, we saw not one person acting like an asshole. NOT ONE! People were cool and polite and generally having a good time.
Also, the fanny pack is back! We guess there’s not enough pocket space in those Forever 21 shorty shorts.
So, here is how that went:
Selfie Sticks: Other than its occasional appearance on a nightly talk show or the few Instagrams I’ve seen of people using them, I had no idea how ubiquitous the “selfie stick” is now. I even saw a girl walking around with a GoPro on one.
TribeTats: I was initially intrigued to see so many people walking around with metallic, golden, temporary tattoos. This intrigue turned to mild disgust when I noticed the TribeTats stand, where they were selling these tattoos for a whopping $10. That’s more than the price of a Sweetlife mixed-drink for something that will inevitably sweat off in a few hours. I guess that’s just the high price one pays for high fashion.
Charging Stations: After pushing just a few tweets through my terrible reception, my phone was already running out of battery and I realized that I ran the risk of being stranded in Columbia, Maryland for the night. I was happy to read on the festival website that mobile charging stations would be available, so I went hunting for one. A volunteer directed me to a tent with several cruiser-type bicycles that I had passed by multiple times already. I now realized that the people riding these stationary bikes were charging their phones with their peddling. Lines of about five people trail behind each bike in the tent, and I step into one. After waiting maybe 10-15 minutes, I only saw one bike change riders. The guy peddling the cruiser at the front of my line asks a friend “How long have I been on here?” His friend said “I don’t know, a while,” to which he responded, “Damn, it’s only charged one percent.” Let’s bear in mind that it’s over 90 degrees out while these festival-goers are laboring away on what is essentially an exercise machine to give their devices the slightest bit extra battery. Screw this. There’s got to be a better way, I decided, and fortunately the Media Lounge had me covered with some regular chargers and outlets. Other Sweetlife attendees did not have such luck. Ultimately, one can chalk-up the idea of a human-powered charging station at a sweltering music festival as an okay idea in theory, horrible idea in practice.
Lightshow: A local artist brimming with energy, Lightshow was an excellent choice to kick-off the festival. Instead of a DJ bumping Fetty Wap instrumentals for Lightshow to spit rhymes over, he was backed by a live band that exuded professionalism on all levels. This was particularly notable in the prog-metal undertones of the guitar solo while Lightshow repeatedly shouted “Family” to the beat.
The Walking Sticks: The Walking Sticks came through Sweetlife with a solid set of trip-hop influenced psychedelic pop. The bands performance was dynamic, at times sounding reminiscent of Portishead, and at others more like Tame Impala. The audience seemed thrilled when they decided to try out a brand new song played live for the first time called “What Do We Do.”
The Bots: Harvesting a rebooted classic-rock sound on their studio albums, The Bots had much more of a punk aesthetic in real in real life than I expected. For me this was a pleasant surprise, as it manifested in more distortion and energy.
Life of Dillon: Life of Dillon’s performance was something of an adorable mess. The various members of the band fell out of tempo at a couple of points and singer Joseph Griffith had difficulty with hitting the upper-end of his range a few times. However, the band members recognized these imperfections, with guitarist David Keiffer admitting to getting caught up in the moment and falling out of rhythm, and Joseph Griffith apologizing for the under-the-weather condition of his voice. On the other hand, Griffith’s falsetto sounded great in the song “Little Bit of Soul,” and I couldn’t help grinning and bouncing along as the whole band looked like they were having a blast during “Overload,” which they saved for the end.
St. Paul & The Broken Bones: Packing a full, rich, bluesy sound, St. Paul and the Broken Bones balanced an electric organ, bass, guitar, fiery vocals, percussion, and horns into a rounded melange of sizzling soul. Rocking a pair of shimmering silver kicks and a suit, singer (Saint) Paul Janeway belted out over his band with incredible range and a heat that rivaled that of the summer sun.
SZA: Approaching the middle of a scorching afternoon, a gym-shorts clad SZA exclaimed, “I’m hot as fuck!” to which some guy behind me responded, “Yeah, you are!” SZA opted for a live-band to back her, which put an interesting spin on her typically electronic-heavy music. Despite the heat, the loungey rendition of “Babylon,” with a meandering jazz organ supplementing SZA’s gorgeous voice, sent chills down my spine.
Sinkane: Somehow, Sinkane managed to capture all the characteristics of a jam band (splashy psych-rock grooves, improvised solos, etc.) without being lame. The guitar was loaded with a wah-wah effect, while there was almost a Latin feel to the rhythm at times. The keys rocked a juicy, Stevie Wonder-like sound, and the band tied it all together with a reggae aesthetic. I suppose it wouldn’t really feel like a music festival without at least one jam band… Fortunately, Sinkane was a perfect fit to play that role.
Kerry Wheeler: Sexy people dancing to sexy music wearing sexy clothes.
Lucius: I ran into Jess Wolf and Holly Laesig of Lucius earlier in the day. They were covered head to tow in opaque yellow tights, draped long-sleeve black dresses and blunt matching bobs. The sun was sweating. All I could think was ‘these bitches are committed’. I told them I loved them, I snapped a photo of them signing autographs to strangers and went on my way. Later, their set was intense and beautiful with sweeping harmonies and melodies that I woke up humming along to the next morning.
Tove Lo: I love Tove Lo. She’s the self-destructive asshole friend who says exactly what everyone wishes they could. I’m dancing, I’m having a good time, I’m singing along “I like em’ young, I like em’ young” nodding ‘me too girl, me too.’ At this point, I’m all in. I’m kindred sprits with my new face painted teenage friends. I will never be too old for this. I will never hate this music.
Mister Wives: I headed out of the shade and over to the main stage to catch Mister Wives. This is one of the bands that I actually HAD heard of, and was excited to see. Who doesn’t love a good ska indie band fronted by a firecracker hottie who challenges “society’s standards” in between push-up reps? Also, the first of many patterns to arise in the day: thousands of face painted teenagers bopping up and down screaming the lyrics to every song, the overwhelmingly un-ironic use of the Selfie Stick, and band-lead over the head handclaps. Highlights: lots of cute banter, impressive call and response vocal/trumpet battle between leads Mandy Lee and Jesse Blum. Everyone had a good time, which is kind of the point.
Allen Stone: Not typically my scene, I couldn’t help but to admit: this guy’s music is pretty sexy, as he sang “What Kind of Voodoo Do You Do.” The keys had an interesting, hard-to-pin-down sound, and Allen Stone’s vocals brimmed with soul. The crowd really go into the band’s cover of “Get Down On It” at the end of the set.
Bleachers: The pavilion fit Bleachers’ 80s-esque, epic, anthem-rock sound well. The arena-rock feel was epitomized by their cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way.” Other fun moments in Bleacher’s performance included a game of call-and-response between the guitar and sax, and craziest bass solo I’ve seen in my entire life.
Billy Idol: Billy Idol was fucking awesome. I wasn’t expecting the younger crowd (I felt like the majority of the festival’s attendees were barely old enough to buy a pack of cigarettes) to go all-in for Idol, but I was quickly proven wrong when the band dove into “Dancing With Myself” early in the set, and rows of millennials rose to their feet to swing their hips to the classic track. Billy Idol amazed me with his energy, still able to run screaming back-and-forth across the stage, shirtless under his heavy leather coat. The band came back onstage with an encore in which they played the rest of their major hits, leaving the audience quite pleased.
Pixies: When Tove Lo wrapped up, almost the entire Press tent, WeWork and SweetGreen Crew (you know, those folk with jobs and such) came out of their respective woodworks to descend upon the trash-covered lawn.
For the first time all day, I wielded the power of my press pass to basically sit on the stage and take it all in. They played a short, succinct set of all the songs people know and that was fine with me. Just happy to be there.
Kendrick Lamar: People unfamiliar with King Kendrick’s live performances might have been surprised that a live band backed his rapping, conjuring fresh renditions of his otherwise familiar songs. Some people find this disappointing, having fantasized about seeing Lamar perform “Swimming Pools” just the way it sounds on the album. However, I personally love that he does this; the band transforms these songs which have already gotten a near-tedious amount of radio playtime into something completely fresh.
Even though I saw him perform most of the same songs last year (surprisingly, the set list focused heavily on tracks off of good kid, m.A.A.d. city instead of the more recent To Pimp a Butterfly) the entire performance felt like a totally new experience. I was also psyched to see SZA came back onstage for “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” and “Poetic Justice.”
However, the most notable part of the show was during “m.A.A.d city,” when the T.D.E. star asked for a member of the audience to come up onstage and rap with him. First up was a guy named Jonathan, who turned out to be the CEO of Sweetgreen. After Jonathan embarrassed himself by failing miserably, not knowing a single word in the first few lines of the song, Kendrick kicked him offstage and brought up a young woman who had the song pretty much down and dominated the stage during the chorus, forcefully belting out the words to a delighted crowd. All-in-all, Lamar’s performance was simultaneously grandiose and down-to-earth, with passion packed into every word.
Holychild – Quite possibly the stand out for the day of Sunday, they were energetic, funny, and enthusiastic in the worst heat. It was in general a fun show to watch.
Raury – Admittedly, I did not know who or what Raury was until he took the stage. A flower child from Georgia spreading peace and equality where ever he goes definitely learned his dance moves from a Michael Jackson music video, which absolutely no one minded. I would not say I have been converted to the fandom of Raury, but I believe he is worth the time to listen to his music.
Charli XCX – Charli is as you expect her to be, a badass female British pop star who DEMANDS attention. I thought her performance was fun and charming. So did the thousands of teenagers dancing and singing along.
Phantogram – There are bands in the world that when performing live sound exactly like the recorded version on their albums, this is one of those bands. With Mouthful of Diamonds and jet-black hair dye in tow, Sarah and Josh put on another great performance.
Vance Joy – I only know one Vance Joy song, and we all know it is Riptide. I enjoyed his performance, he seems like a real sweetheart. I get why all the teenage girls at Sweetlife were screaming all over him. He is also a pretty talented guitarist.
Marina & the Diamonds –I think my favorite part of the performance was her headpiece, sporting the title of her new album Froot. Nice product placement and advertising Marina.
The Weeknd – He performed Or Nah by himself and did a really great job. However, the crowd at his show was insane. In a period of five minutes, at least six people past out around me due to dehydration or discomfort.
Calvin Harris – Calvin Harris has great music, he has a beautiful way of combining classic musical styles with electronica and dance. Always with a killer light and hydrogen show to match, finished off by fireworks.
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