Sweetgreen‘s 4th annual Sweetlife Festival happened this past Saturday at Merriweather Post Pavillion. 11 Hours, three stages, lots of great food, seven photo booths, a whole pig, some may argue way too many animal masks, two solid bursts of rain and plenty of ground glitter. We had 3 writers and 2 photographers on site and here is what we brought home for you to read and relive:
all words: Marie Formica and Jade Salazar; all photos: Elizabeth Parker and Farrah Skeiky
(BONUS: check out our coverages from years past here: SWEETLIFE 2012, 2011, 2010)
Top 8 Overheard Phrases at Sweetlife 2013
- 1. “Can I get coffee with steamed milk?”
“That’s really not gonna work. I’ll make it for you but the foam is going to disintegrate.”
- 2. A rolling cheer for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, ebbing and flowing as seconds rolled by, growing louder and louder as the clouds gathered overhead and the wind blew ominously.
- 3. “These are on really tight.” (Referring to death grip of the Sweetgreen salad lids)
- 4. “Your momma’s genome is so fat…”
- 5. A chant of “one more song” lead by a clear British voice.
- 6. “Is this – – are you uber? Sorry I forgot your name. I came in by a big parking lot on a lawn.”
- 7. [three women speaking french]
- 8. Roadie testing guitar with the “Enter Sandman” bass line.
Top 10 Visual Vignettes at Sweetlife 2013
- 1. A punk rock couple swing dancing to Solange
- 2. Folks that did way too many drugs crouching near trees
- 3. Ribbon dancers
- 4. People picking up litter and placing it in a carefully tied plastic bag.
- 5. A dude kicking hay off a wooden path.
- 6. The earth’s newly forged rivers and creeks.
- 7. Trashcan beer pong at the Chubbies booth.
- 8. Giant fruits at Honest Tea.
- 9. Ground glitter. There is nothing else to say about this.
- 10. A guy in a bright yellow bike shirt dancing his heart out to a trendy Brooklyn band.
AND NOW-FOR THE ACTS:
Shark Week -Treehouse Stage
The first brave band on all day at the Sweetlife Festival was Shark Week. They cranked up their surf rock-flavored punk for a head-nodding bunch. Halfway into their set, the group played songs they recorded in Puerto Rico. The crowd curious for these D.C. locals? A mix of volunteers, teenagers in ponchos, and very enthusiastic fans that eventually crowded at the foot of the stage.
“Welcome to Sweetlife,” their ginger frontman Ryan Hunter Mitchell said, “Does anyone know how to say that in Spanish?”
He paused. “Fuck it.”
Head encircled in a ring of baby’s breath (which I determined was borrowed from a Virgin Mary statue or an adoring female fan), Mitchell launched the band into a song about waiting for that someone, who is evidently on the run (and, goddamn it, why are they on the run?). This is the simple successful formula of Shark Week (aside from naming their band after one of the greatest traditions to splash across a TV screen), loud twangy guitar, tinkling frequent high hats and Mitchell’s voice carrying out over all the raucous mess with relatable dilemmas delivered in nonchalant monotone. Oh, yes, and all-inclusive, all-band vocal backup. I dig it when even the drummer sings along. Particularly on point was Danielle Vu, bassist as well as sweet backup singer.
After a few songs, Mitchell spoke again: “Thanks for coming out in the rain. Show’s over after this. Good luck getting out of the parking lot. Enjoy the salads.” This got cheers.
They carried on into their last song (“I’m about to drown inside your ocean”) with even more energy, more lip curling, more leg stomping and more guitar slinging than I saw all day- a solid start to the festival. – Marie
Solange– Main Stage
Gary Clark Jr – Main Stage
Let me forewarn you, there was much jamming in this session, but in this case, it was well deserved. It was so jammin, dear readers, that even a flower-crowned festival floozie with a corona in hand shook her head in wonder, attempting to capture digitally what could never be experienced again. Gary Clark Jr opened his set with a lick as fuzzy and dirty as you can imagine coming from a guitar, one that rip roared across the Merriweather fairgrounds.
Starting with a song singing, “Your love brings me down — but I’m ready now” and “Don’t Owe You a Thang,” Clark took the audience on a trip into rock and roll history. He’s been compared to Jimi Hendrix but I found many other rock and roll references in the set. Even visually, he alluded to those who came before him- a pearly drum kit with old style lettering on the bass; a high collared button up, bowler and vest on Clark himself; backup guitar with a skull-stamped black trench; a bass player who, perhaps unintentionally, captured Dan Ackroyds look with high hair, loose silk button down and wayfarers.
I was particularly surprised by the song “If You Love Me Like You Say.” Starting with a high-note-heavy solo (and by solo I mean he actually played alone), Clark layered on heavy distortion, and after a couple hammer-ons, we slid right into modern rock and roll, followed by short 70s style guitar and later, the favorite of Bon Jovi, wah wah petal. A veritable smorgasboard of rock.There was a little injection of Motown on “Please Come Home” with smooth falsetto vocals. He scratched the base of his guitar like a djs turntable during a bass solo, later pearl-jammin (see what I did there) during a long solo scaling up, licked fast and clean. Closing the repertoire with a decidedly Zeppelin-influenced song (“Blak and Blue”), the crowd pulsed at the stage for more. – Marie
Nicky Blitz – Treehouse Stage
Four attractive dudes, four navy blazers: Nicky Blitz walked on stage, pulling on with them a crowd-starting, high-energy act. They were big on 50’s and 60’s style live improvisation, particularly on the keys, but they did have a decidedly modern twist– their recorded singles, for example, are shellacked with digital filters, and decidedly weird.
But onstage, they had an charisma that could not compare. Their lead singer, Nick Scarpa (the aforementioned Nicky Blitz) has an absolute dead-on Cosmo Kramer dance: shaking, waving his hands, hair riffing and bouncing around the space. The rest of the crew are either dancing or bobbing as enthusiastically as possible, all singing and (let’s face it this is important) fashionably coordinated. They’ve got precisely timed, meticulously measured surf-rock, with other audible influences dripping down into it all, in dashes and spurts, throughout their catalogue.
Opening with the vaguely predatory-themed “Hawk,” they slid into one of their infectious jammers, “Summer Sinner,” not missing an opportunity to harmonize or waggle their guitar fingers at the audience before them (many tall teenager dudes pressed up against the wooden platform). “Alive” came next, employing clear lyrics and a particularly 1950’s/flamenco style piano hook to sluice out the ears of fans that were blocked up with fuzzed-out, grunged-out, muddied music. The LA-based foursome promised to dial it back on “Miss Paradise,” where Hawaiian-toned guitar, a heavenly harp synth and slow rock love melody slowed the crowd down until the sadly short 6 song set came to a close. – Marie
Robert DeLong – Treehouse Stage
So there were a lot of animal masks worn backwards by people in shorts at this interval. A rather sinister looking donkey mask haunted me throughout this act. I’m not sure what this means for humanity.
This guy was an unexpected ice cream cone of an act in the middle of the afternoon. Here’s a dude who came onstage with only a drum set, a laptop, assorted DJ equipment and his warm, midrange voice. Branded with neon orange accessories (notably taped “X”s on various equipment and a shirt screenprinted with the X), he simply introduced himself as Robert DeLong from LA. His sound, if you haven’t listened, is a major key, dubstepped up dance artist and occasionally more than that. The crowd went crazy for what could be one of DeLong’s bigger hits, Global Concepts, which has a Latin/world vibe but also professed a hollow platitude for all the afternoon party animals (listen in on that link for this gem).
One of the nicer surprises of this set was DeLong’s vocal looping, mostly because he’s got a great, clear voice (think Ben Gibbard) and that’s only one neato thing in his music making. He did a full-on sitting drum solo during one of his songs, and in another, squeezed his eyes shut while tapping a looping pedal like a sound-only video game controller. He records, loops, brings in outside beats and sometimes hits drum pads to control the timing of his fresh recordings. Decent background beats and frequent “drops” as the kids call ’em put the audience in a place of tension so they hung around past the often radiant hook. – Marie
God bless Nancy Whang. Right as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were closing up shop and Whang’s set was starting, the rain that threatened all day came down. It was still light out, and there were buckets and buckets and buckets of rain. Some folks (probably the more sober ones) donned their well-planned ponchos and rain gear while still others ran in sandals and midriff sweaters for shelter. A lucky few hundred rode it out grooving in under the 9:32 stage– mostly those that came early to hear the rocking Whang spinning out disco worthy night beats (in the middle of the afternoon).
People even crowded outside the sheltered area to dance in the rain, unfettered by the precipitation and the chill, drawn in by the warm funky boogie that compelled booties to dance. Soaking wet fans included one impossibly happy guy in an alligator costume who danced the entire nu-disco set. She made it rain smoky and mysterious songs while the clouds, well, you know, did their thing. And while some may have fled, there were more who stayed to listen. – Marie
Kendrick Lamar – Main Stage
Much like anyone else smart (and over 21) at the festival, I spent the portion of the first rainfall checking out YEAH YEAH YEAHS, then after hearing MAPS (direct quote from my text messages: “Any song from 2002 and 2004 from them-BONUS 600 Points”), I made my way into the Nancy Whang church that was 9:32. Those two were MY priorities for the afternoon. Apparently, Kendrick Lamar was EVERYONE ELSE’s. As I emerged into the main drag from 9:32, rain clearing up, the whole lawn/pavillion seemed to have merged into one wet/slightly-less-wet party wave.
Kendrick, 26 and a sprightly 5′-6″ all alone on that big, scary festival stage shouted out: “I know a lot of y’all are fucked up already, so you really should be singing along” and they ALL DID. He served up everything they wanted to hear too – from Swimming Pools to P&P, not letting anyone pay attention to ANYTHING but him. If you can rock a stage this big, all by yourself, in the middle of the afternoon, without a show per se, or insane lighting, even a wet, curmudgeony, underslept person just north age wise of your target demographic will freely admit- you’re here to stay. – Svetlana.
Holy Ghost! – Treehouse Stage
“We haven’t played in a long time,” the singer said. He said it once more three songs later, thanking us for being there and not making them feel like idiots. Many of the raving animal dance mask bros stayed behind for this dance-heavy set, maybe knowing or maybe not knowing what DFA-dipped act they were getting themselves into.
Cracking off the set with “Do it Again” and its great bass-note outro, Holy Ghost! launched straight into “It’s not over” where some great street-bucket style (you know what I’m talking about) was employed by both the singer and the bassist/assistant drummer #2. Holy Ghost has got this great French-style, discotheque vibe going on while still retaining a Daft Punk feel (though without electronic talking riffs). Their grooving chord transitions, repetitive lines and a beat not easily stopped kept the audience around and dancing in the mud all the way. A piano solo on “Say My Name” played us into the sunset. After one drag from his cigarette, the singer swung on the mic stand, the coolest possible preparation for “Hold On,” a tune for robots from space and the future. Holy Ghost does have that straight up 80s reverb and synths style but they merge their sound with some world elements and vocal harmonies, allowing them to pull off something precisely modern. – Marie
After the Treehouse Stage crowd spent most of the Foxygen set under a tarp or dancing in the rain, the warm sun was a welcome surprise and a perfect way to introduce Youth Lagoon. After the storm, the melodic sounds and relaxing feel was perfect for swaying, drying off and generally pulling yourself together. Between his set and the sun, I was pretty ready for a nap, in a good way.
Youth Lagoon, also known as Trevor Powers, performed songs from both his debut album “Year of Hibernation” and his newly released album “Wondrous Bughouse”. Known for incredibly ethereal music wrapped in ideas about metaphysics and philosophy, the music kept the crowd spiritually captivated while simultaneously setting a perfect mood for Passion Pit and Phoenix. Fans were also very pleased to hear hits like “Dropla”, “Cannon” and “17” as they sat back and enjoyed the sunny rebirth of the festival. – Jade
Phoenix – Main Stage
The audience buzzed at a dangerously high level. They talked to one another under bright screens and house lights. Then a hush. A darkness. A grand classical overture. The dawn of a dozen red-tinted lights. Phoenix. Feedback from the speakers.
The opening of “Entertainment.” So began the closing act of the Sweetgreen Festival. The whole band (minus one) had an unexpected solo for the first half of the song, as the singer’s mic wasn’t turned on, but to their credit, they sounded on point and played their little French hearts out. Following up with “Lasso,” they reminded folks what they were all about with “Lizstomania.” Near song’s end, frontman Thomas Mars introduced them simply: “We are Phoenix coming from Paris, France.”
Listening a few songs in, I realize something I haven’t before about this band: their unifying component I’d their singer. Broadly, they are alternative rock; they won a Grammy for best alternative album for god’s sake. But, as you may have noticed, Pheonix shook up their sound a bit this last album. On “The Real Thing,” for example, carried a killer melody, much more dramatic than the precise pop hits than they’re known for, but slower overall, indicative of their newer sound.
That’s not to say their new tracks aren’t enjoyable, “Trying to Be Cool” and a guitar-heavy “Bankrupt!” were fun highlights in the set. And they packed the house and a temporarily very rainy lawn. They got the crowd to cheer on “Armistice,” and the sing along was audible. The best lighting of the day was reserved for Phoenix (and assuredly Passion Pit’s set as well, though I didn’t watch it), spotlights traveling over the humidity (and other smoke) lit the room in a dramatic way and gave the band the larger than life edge they needed.
Phoenix’s music is great, but not festival-ending, crowd-busting stuff. After a rowdy play of “1901,” Mars ended up in orbit with adoring female fans in the front row. He sang a lullaby to himself, his past self, and marginally the crowd, “Countdown.” Overall the band sounded pristine, really rocking and precise, but it sounded as if they had played the songs a thousand times over, practiced but less energetic than a closing band at Sweetlife ought to project. – Marie
feel free to tell us in the comments HOW WAS IT FOR YOU, but also-peruse this awesome gallery Farrah and Elizabeth compiled of you all dancing, romancing, eating, playing cornhole and more (plus, HAERTS, FOXYGEN, LINDSEY STERLING and more)
now, go get yourself some rest and comment: