The only thing as unique as the wide assortment of food options at the Sweetlife music festival this year was its set list. For the first time, Sweetgreen booked the Merriweather Post Pavillion in Columbia, MD for two days as opposed to the one of past beats. As a volunteer with the production team, I was lucky enough to cop a general admission ticket and attend the festival for free as long as I put in my hours volunteering as Artist Concierge, toting some dank munchies backstage for the performers. With this write-up I hope I can capture the view of the cogs in the machine I witnessed, and show you all how I felt about one of the youngest and criticized festivals of our day.
Many critics were left with a bitter taste in their mouth that the rise in ticket price from the event last year didn’t correlate to a better, more relevant lineup. While I got my ticket for the price of a few sweltering hours running between D.C.’s gourmet food trucks, I was more than happy with who I was going to see. As an altogether hip hop fan, XXL Freshmen of the 2015 class Raury and Goldlink, along with Vic Mensa, Bishop Nehru, Kendrick, and D.C. native Lightshow are standout, fitting acts that found a comfortable niche among the non hip hop talent of the lineup, of which there was plenty. That being said, this experience brought me to the forefront of indie and pop music culture, giving me the opportunity to see wonderful and energetic performances from artists I hadn’t heard of such as Allen Stone, Sinkane, and San Fermin.
Food and Activities
Between bites of lobster rolls and pork belly Vietnamese tacos, festivites meandered through the grounds during set downtime, experimenting with all the different flavors of Sweetlife. While no less expensive than the classic hot dog from concessions to hold you over, the variety of options gives concert-goers a different form of art to appreciate and indulge in. This is an example of the dedication Sweetlife has for the holistic nature of the experience, in providing the customer with a memory that is much greater than just a destination for live music. Along those lines were tents from Alex and Ani, Flashtat, an arcade, and even a charging station where you can plug your phone into a bicycle which chargers your tech as you pedal. I don’t hold these peripherals against Sweetlife, and I don’t believe that it takes away from the musical experience at all, but rather innovates it in a way that other music festivals have yet to really do on the same scale.
When I tried to grade Sweetlife as a music festival, my review felt flawed, incomplete. I was looking at each arm of the festival separately, leaving me only with seemingly unrelated fragments. When I saw the full scope, understanding what I believe are Sweetgreen’s goals with the event, it reshaped the significance and impact on me. In every possible way, Sweetlife commands its patrons to challenge themselves and what they’re comfortable with. The fried chicken BLT sandwich with a donut for a bun feels like an unholy compromise between rule makers and breakers, but I’ve never before seen anything like it. More than half the acts were unrecognizable to my mental music collection. The spectacular and almost enchanting part of the weekend was that at all times I was comfortable and uncomfortable, satisfied and hungry, lost and found. But so was everyone else there. We were all on this journey of discovery together, and it connected me to everyone else there in a way I haven’t felt since I was a curious kid with my classmates on a field trip. There were no scene kids or hipsters, because there was no definitive “scene”, but rather a Pollock inspired hodge-podge of genre and culture that wriggles out from underneath the thumb of anyone who tries to pin it down to one category.
It wasn’t flawless. Because the concert didn’t sell out as predicted, the tickets were too pricey for the target demographic. Along with food and transportation, it’s incredible to me that college and high school kids were able to scrounge up enough scratch to get to the pavilion and stay well fed. In my opinion, however, that was the only design flaw that actually hurt the company, and took away from our experience as guests. Intermittent but obligatory (place was low-key designed for profile picture backgrounds) social media interruptions slightly tainted this new, organic form of art consumption we were all experiencing, but that doesn’t reflect on Sweetgreen but rather our own generational vice. Having no prior background in music festival culture, I’ll never forget my time at Sweetlife, and I’m pleasantly surprised and thankful at the in depth thought and procedure that went into planning the event. Hopefully I’ll be there for lucky number 7 next year. Check out the gallery with different pictures from the festival, and also the corresponding VibeRotation (#20) made up of a bunch of songs from the artists who performed.