Music is believed to be the universal language that brings people together. The first Sweetlife Festival was merely a small gathering of friends and family in the parking lot behind a sweetgreen location. Sweetgreen was founded in 2007, and is dedicated to bettering lives and making healthy, organic dishes using products from trusted local farms. They “exist to create experiences where passion and purpose come together”. Sweetgreen has created a series of wellness workshops educating more than 1,000 students across DC, MD, VA and NYC about healthy eating and fitness. This year, sweetgreen blessed us all by extending the festival to be a 2-day event, featuring over 22 hours of music, amazing local food, and more than 30 artists.
This was the first music festival I’ve been to and it set the bar high. With some of my favorite artists like Marina and the Diamonds, Kendrick Lamar, Bleachers, Charli XCX, and Misterwives, Sweetlife Festival quite literally rocked my world. The drunk, sweaty people, drugs, and overwhelming sexual tension between strangers really helped create my first music festival experience.
The weekend started off slow (thanks to the heat) but picked back up Saturday night as soon as Kendrick Lamar took the stage. Don’t get me wrong, Saturday wasn’t a total bust before Kendrick, it was actually pretty fantastic. That afternoon, I had the privilege of finally seeing Misterwives, Bleachers, and my guilty pleasure, Billy Idol.
Due to the unbearable amount of sun, I watched from afar as Misterwives took the stage. Lead singer, Mandy Lee’s, boisterous and electric energy radiated through the crowd of people, distracting the festival goers from the blistering heat.
Although the heat took a toll on lead singer Jack Antonoff, Bleachers put on an amazing show. I’ve been following Antonoff’s impressive career for quite some time now. From Steel Train to Fun., Antonoff has always piqued my interest. I had been dying to see his new band Bleachers, a solo project that was publicly announced May of 2013 which is now gradually attracting a larger fan base (it’s about time). Needless to say, they absolutely killed it. They sang songs off their debut album “Strange Desire” such as “Wild Heart”, “Rollercoaster”, hit single “I Wanna Get Better”, and even did a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way”.
With no idea that my media pass allowed me into the pavilion, I quickly rushed to an open seat to catch the last half of Billy Idol’s performance. He sang hits like “Rebel Yell” and “White Wedding”. Idol was filled with energy, doing his best to hype up the crowd before Kendrick Lamar took the stage. I have to admit I was immensely upset he didn’t sing my favorite childhood song, a 1982 classic, “Dancing With Myself”.
The wait for Kendrick Lamar was excruciating; the pavilion and lawn were jam packed with anxious fans waiting for him to take the stage. Everything went dark and the screams of thousands of fans deafened me. His stage presence truly blew me away. He mostly sang his older music from “good Kid, m.A.A.d city” but surprised us by singing “Alright”, a track from his new album “To Pimp a Butterfly” released March of this year. Lamar excitedly brought up a fan to sing “m.a.a.d city” alongside of him and let me tell you; she absolutely murdered it. You would think a fan of his would be beyond nervous to go on stage and rap in front of thousands of people, one of them being Kendrick freakin’ Lamar, but her confidence never faltered. To say the least, he was overwhelmed by the love and support shown by the crowd in Maryland, he was constantly expressing his gratitude towards us throughout the night. Kendrick stole Saturday’s spotlight by far.
The following day, I stayed at the main stage to see Raury, Charli XCX, Phantogram, Vance Joy and Marina and the Diamonds and later caught The Weeknd, who put everyone in a trance at the Treehouse Stage.
I was so excited to see pop grunge princess Charli XCX for the gazillionth time. I was also extremely anxious to hear her perform songs from her new album, considering I saw her on tour before it came out. She took the stage with a wild energy that had everyone dancing. She sang hits from her new album, “Sucker”, and honestly, I was super bummed that she didn’t sing anything from her first album, “True Romance” which is raw and dark, versus “Sucker’s” pop sound. Aside from that minor detail, she put on a fantastic, crazy show (as always).
Next up on the main stage was Phantogram, a duo with a unique sound. They describe their sound as “street beat, psych pop” but in simpler terms, “electro-pop.” Their set was extremely chill, sending out good vibes, perfect for the early evening. I couldn’t stop bumping to hits like “Black Out Days” and “Nothing but Trouble”, I’m definitely going to listen to this duo more often.
Being a huge fan for years without ever seeing her live, I was mostly anticipating Marina and the Diamonds. With two unmistakable giant glowing pieces of fruit on stage and a ‘Froot” headband to promote her new album, Marina truly made the stage her own. She sang songs from each album, from “Hollywood” to “Bubblegum Bitch” to “Froot”, never lacking confidence. There’s something enchanting about Diamandis’ voice, it ranges from a beautiful high note, to a deep, brooding tone. But it’s her deeper singing that carries more confidence and vocal control. From upbeat, confident songs like “Can’t Pin Me Down,” to raw, slower songs like “I’m a Ruin,” her performance felt intimate and personal. After a technical difficulty, she decided to sing “How to Be a Heartbreaker,” a usually very upbeat song, a capella. I was blown away by her stage presence and breathtaking vocals; she OWNED that stage. With not much left of The Weeknd’s set left, I made my way over to the Treehouse Stage to catch Abel mesmerizing his fans.
With the night coming to an end, a few friends and I sprinted to the lawn of the main stage and made our way to the center of the crowd until Calvin Harris came out. It was by far the sweatiest crowd of people I had ever been in. I wasn’t drinking, but the show that Calvin Harris put on sure made it feel like I was drunk. It was one of the happiest moments of my life, dancing the night away sandwiched between my friends and strangers, without a care in the world.
Despite the weather, Saturday was great, but I’d have to say Sunday was by far the better day. Looking back, while I wish I had seen more of the acts in the early afternoon, I can’t really complain after having the time of my life and managing to make it out in one piece. To this day, I am suffering from a terrible case of festival withdrawal. I will definitely be attending Sweetlife 2016. Until next year, Sweetlife.
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Photos and Review by Mickey Cerball | @micasuxx