LIVE: Sweetlife Festival Makes Its Mark On The East Coast Music Scene

PHOTO CREDIT: SPREADHouse/Sweetlife Festival 2011

Music festivals now are big business. Coachella and Bonaroo are sold out, SXSW had record (non-paying) attendance and big celebrities, and even smaller festivals are popping up all over the country. In an era when no one is buying CDs it seems music fans are willing to spend hundreds of dollars and travel hundreds of miles to see their favorite band play in an outdoor setting.

With that information, I cannot be surprised at what I saw when I came upon Merriweather Post Pavillion last Sunday. The Sweetlife Festival, presented by indie DC fast casual chain Sweetgreen went from a small parking lot to a massive festival stage with 30,000 attendees. The only commonalities between both years of the festival? It was raining both times.

This year’s festival was massive in scale, with a very intriguing lineup. The only artist that had any impact on the mainstream level was Lupe Fiasco, and coincidentally he was placed behind hipster so-called DJ Girl Talk and rock veterans The Strokes.

Lupe’s set however, was hands down the best of the evening. Surprisingly, most of the 20,000 or so odd people in the crowd knew the words to “Hip-Hop Saved My Life,” and “Kick Push” more than his pop-friendly new material. The Cool Young Lu must have been smug as hell looking over the sea of people and making the case for his creative direvtion of his last album.

Lu was sandwiched between too hipster-pop acts: Crystal Castles and Girl Talk. The former, a Canadian Duo which most readers might know from getting sampled (or gipped) by Timbaland, and the later is every music lawyer’s worst nightmare. Even though I think that Crystal Castles music is the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard, I have to give lead singer Alice Glass credit for performing (and moshing) with a broken leg and a cane. Gangsta.

The aforementioned Girl Talk has been a topic of music discussion for a while now. Is he an ultra creative artist, or copyright pirate? Honestly, he’s just the smartest guy in the room. He’s much less a DJ and more of the dude at the party with the coolest iPod. He is one of the few dudes that was able to take the concept of a mashup and adapt it to the concert setting.

Even though we wanted to hate, we couldn’t. What makes Girl Talk who he is is that “Oh Snap!” factor when he drops one of your favorite hip-hop tracks and then drops Rolling Stones vocals over it.

My only caveat about the day (other than the rain and our photo drama): as someone who used to live in the DC area, I would love to see the day when one of our local acts like US Royalty (who played earlier in the day) or Phil Ade get a headlining slot. Maybe this will happen by next year’s show. We can only hope.

Again, props the the guys at Sweetlife for curating a rather diverse lineup. Everyone from Theophilous to Cold War Kids took to the stage. This could be the birth of a new East Coast Coachella, and I’m curious to see where this festival will go next year.

This is an interesting time in music for sure, where brands are the new tastemakers and music is more lifestyle than a physical album. In this realm, the team at Sweetgreen did a great job of branding themselves and their ascetic on a massive scale. In the end, it’s a great look for my former stomping grounds of DC, which is fast becoming the largest consumer music market in the country.