We Love Music: Sweetlife Festival 2011


all photos by author.

Sweetgreen is a locally established restaurant chain that was founded in 2007 by three former Georgetown students, Nicolas Jammet, Jonathan Neman, and Nathaniel Ru. In four short years, they have spread their environmentally conscious and healthy living message through the DMV area as well as into Pennsylvania. With a focus on sourcing locally grown and organic foods, Sweetgreen also provides a casual and relaxed dining experience. The three founders believe in leaving a the smallest carbon footprint possible and providing their customers with healthy food choices.

They also believe in throwing a kick ass music festival every year.

This past Sunday was the second annual Sweetlife Festival held at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland. The lineup brought up-and-coming talent to the stage as well as well as some of the best known artists on the scene today.

In addition to the music, concertgoers were able to taste food provided by sweetgreen as well as partners such as Applegate Farms, Honest Tea, Stonyfield Farm Pop Chips and Keany Produce. Amongst the digital and interactive media partners that were on hand were Hipstamatic, Color, and Fast Society. And due to the presence of OPOWER, a company with a focus on energy efficiency, the Sweetlife Festival was able to calculate the carbon footprint of the event in an effort to create a carbon neutral event. Plenty of free swag was available and you couldn’t look anywhere without seeing tons Applegate Farms stickers professing love for meat (organic and chemical free meat, of course).

How has all of this come together in four short years? I’m not exactly sure, but it’s extremely clear that the Sweetgreen message is being carried quickly and loudly. With an impressive musical lineup, great sponsors and an important message of thoughtful living from sweetgreen, the stage was set for an enjoyable day.

Modern Man: The first band for the afternoon was Modern Man, from Washington DC. A pretty sizeable crowd had rushed into the Pavilion as soon as doors opened so it was nice to see the opening band get some love. I was curious to see Modern Man as they have generated some local buzz lately and have played at such venues such as The Velvet Lounge and The Black Cat.

Frontman Lee Cain and guitarist Zach Goodwin wore large smiles as they came out to a large welcoming. Modern Man’s sound could be described as similar to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s harder songs with a hint of outlaw country-rock sound. Cain showed off a nice range of vocal capabilities; soft and sweet in one moment and then soulful and deep the next. There are a lot of local bands in the DC area but Modern Man is a band I’d be happy to pay a cover to see.

If you want to check out Modern Man’s music, you can visit their page and download some free tunes.
Lee Cain of Modern Man

U.S. Royalty Man, I felt bad for these guys at first. Another band from DC, U.S. Royalty came out on stage and seemed to have problems with their soundcheck. Who were these guys? With shaggy beards and hair and clothes adorned with bird feathers and fringe they certainly didn’t look like they were from DC; they looked like they stumbled out of a juke joint in Nashville or somewhere in Mississippi. Also worth a mention was the guitarist tight bellbottom Uncle Sam pants that were straight out of the 70′s. The band couldn’t get their levels right and the soundcheck seemingly took forever leaving U.S. Royalty looking a bit frustrated and perhaps a bit embarrassed.

Finally their set started and U.S. Royalty kicked ASS! Sending booming waves of southern rock and out of the Pavilion and into the lawn seats, U.S. Royalty was probably my favorite act of the day. I’m still not quite sure how these guys are from DC as I’ve never seen a band from this area with so much swagger and (deserved) cockiness on stage. Singer John Thornley conjured up comparisons in my mind to a young Mick Jagger, Jim Morrison and when he picked up the mic stand I was especially reminded of Axl Rose in his prime. There was no shortage of energy on stage throughout their set and I wish it had only lasted longer.

And that guitarist with the pants? John Thornley’s brother, Paul, absolutely shreds. Drummer Luke Adams and bassist Paul Michael provided an awesome pocket on “Hollywood Hollows” which reminded me of The Doors classic “Five to One.” My skepticism was quickly put to rest as I was made aware that U.S. Royalty is the real deal.

The band is headed out on tour to open up for Third Eye Blind. You can check out their tour schedule on their site as well as a video for “Equestrian” off their debut album “Mirrors” that was just released in January.
John Thornley of U.S. Royalty

Walk the Moon:

Following the biggest surprise of the day was Walk the Moon, a four piece band hailing from Cincinnati. Band leader Nicholas Petricca showed off his versatility by providing extra percussion to the bands sound, giving them two drummers for a dynamic, pulsing beat. Petricca also played synthesizers on certain parts of songs as well and at times effortlessly switched between the two in the same song.

Having appeared on Last Call with Carson Daly on April 1st for a SXSW special, Walk the Moon has been gaining a lot of attention recently. With dance friendly tunes such as “Anna Sun” Walk the Moon brought an 80′s pop vibe to the stage. If you like a high energy performance complete with face paint (it’s a staple of the band’s culture) this is the band for you. The Sweetlife crowd had grown considerably since the doors had open by the time they took the stage and by the end of their set the pit was jumping up and down to the beat of their songs.

Walk the Moon’s summer plans consist of appearances at Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza but if you want to catch them on their return trip to the DC area, they’ll be at the Black Cat on June 13th.

Nicholas Petricca of Walk the Moon

Theophilus London:

The coolest cat on the stage at Sweetlife in 2011? Theophilus London.

Strutting out onto the stage wearing an oversized floppy sequined hat and a Michael Jackson “Moonwalker” t-shirt, the lanky London is an indie-style rapper with an 80′s flair. However, to pigeonhole him as just a rapper is hard to do as he’s more than that and could be compared to B.o.B and Kid Cudi from a versatility perspective.Throughout his set there were elements of techno, electronica and new wave sounds readily available to please the crowd, all while keeping his hip-hop roots. The Brooklyn native has been called the hip-hop version of Morrissey and has collaborated with Sara Quin (of Tegan and Sara fame) on his latest EP.

Check out his work on “Flying Overseas” which was part of his set on Sunday and you’ll see why Theophilus London made me want to hop in the DeLorean and go back to 80′s Miami to hang with Crockett and Tubbs. Also worth a listen is another song that was part of his set on Sunday “Why Even Try,” which brings more catchy hooks and grooves to the table.

If you like hip-hop that isn’t predictable and out of the box, Theophilus London is someone you’ll want to check out.

Theophilus London

Ra Ra Riot:

Indie scene veterans Ra Ra Riot took the stage next. A six piece band hailing from Syracuse, NY, Ra Ra Riot has put together an impressive resume after forming just five short years ago. With extensive tours that have taken them throughout the States as well as overseas, the band received a warm greeting.

Ra Ra Riot might have been almost as eclectic as Theophilus London, but on a different level. While the band definitely had some synthesizer infused songs but also has an excellent violinist in Rebecca Zeller and a cellist in Alexandra Lawn. Singer Wes Miles provided soulful and emotional vocals. Lawn actually took over singing duties on a song towards the end of the set and did a great job in her own right.The band’s makeup is a blend that just doesn’t make sense on paper with the orchestral instruments and the new wave sounds generated by the synthesizer. However, Ra Ra Riot makes it work and makes it work well. The performance was intense and had a lot of energy, something I wasn’t expecting with a violin and cello on stage as Lawn and Zeller played songs at a feverish tempo in their set. When was the last time you saw anyone rock out on a cello? It’s a tight band that works together seamlessly and provides beautiful textures and tones in their music.

Ra Ra Riot is embarking on a tour of Europe for the first part of summer but they’ll be back in Baltimore on Sunday, August 7th at Pier Six.

Wes Miles of Ra Ra Riot

Cold War Kids:

Cold War Kids, probably most known for their 2007 hit “Hang Me Up To Dry,” was on the stage next and while I liked finding out about new artists that I hadn’t heard of before, I was ready to finally have something to sing along to.

CWK just released their latest album “Mine Is Yours” this past January and it’s received mixed reviews. However that doesn’t mean that they can’t put on a good performance and that’s exactly what they did on Sunday. Lead singer Nathan Willet has a fierce delivery and a commanding stage presence. Their set brought an element of straight ahead hard rock to the show that was much needed at this point. Willet switched between guitar and piano throughout the set and guitarist Jonnie Russell bashed his maracas on top of a speaker cabinet at one point, then threw them down and stepped on them.

And when it came time to “Hang Me Up To Dry” near the end of their performance, the crowd forcefully shouted back the chorus to the band. It marked the first time of the evening in which the crowd knew who was on stage and what song was being played and there was some true interaction between the performers and the people. And while the skies opened up and the rain started coming down at this time, no one really seemed to mind. People out on the lawn danced and were having a good time while CWK rocked on.

Cold War Kids

Crystal Castles:

Uhh…what?

I’d heard of Crystal Castles before as they had played at 9:30 Club this past March but didn’t know much about them. They came on late, seemingly having similar sound problems that U.S. Royalty had earlier in the show.

Crystal Castles consists of DJ Ethan Kath and vocalist Alice Glass and when they head out on tour they bring drummer Christopher Chartrand along for the ride. When they finally got the their sound issues ironed out, the thumping electronic music started and the diminutive Alice Glass hobbled out on stage in a walking cast and a fore-arm crutch. She hopped about on stage, singing/shrieking unintelligible lyrics into the microphone.

Slightly annoyed that Crystal Castles didn’t let any photographers into the barricade to take photos during their show, I stayed in a seat I found about 4 rows behind the pit and took some photos from back there. I was informed by a girl standing next to me that the Kath had met Glass when she was 15 years old and squatting somewhere with drug addicts in Canada and asked her to collaborate with him on a music project. As I watched Glass hobble and hop across the stage with her forearm cast hoisted above her head I thought that the story – outlandish as it was- was completely believable.

Glass hauled herself down across the barricade and into the pit and crowd-surfed not once, but twice during the show. She also spent time writhing on the ground while mumbling and singing into the microphone, almost as if she was possessed, or maybe getting ready to crawl out of someone’s television set ala “The Ring.”

And then they ended their set about 5 minutes early. Glass hobbled off stage and Kath And Chartrand walked off with Kath’s music loop still playing to the crowd and allowed it to slowly wind down.

I loved it! Crystal Castles was awesome and intense. I’m not a huge fan of electronic music and I doubt I’d ever pay top dollar to see them headline a show but they absolutely brought a lot of energy and tenacity to the stage. Cold War Kids brought a little snarl to their part of the show but Crystal Castles was a flying roundhouse kick to the temple.

Alice Glass of Crystal Castles

Lupe Fiasco:

I saw Lupe Fiasco last spring at 9:30 so I knew what to prepare for. And when his band came on the stage and played a few minutes of intro music I started looking around, wondering where he’d come soaring in from. He came tearing in from the back of the stage, jumped off the drum riser high into the air and swooped down to the microphone to a thunderous applause almost as if he was a hip-hop Superman of sorts destined to save the rap community with socially conscious lyrics and stories to tell.

The diminutive Fiasco is a fireball on stage. He never stops moving and he headbangs like the fastest speed metal guitarist you could ever find. He runs from one side of the stage to the other and back. He jumps off the drum riser and sprays water into the crowd. He then takes a mouthful and bends over backwards and spits a fine mist into the air high over the stage. For an hour Fiasco brought the house down playing such favorites as “Kick, PushGo Go Gadget Flow and songs of his new album such as “State Run Radio.

Lupe Fiasco

Fiasco took time between songs to address the crowd and tell them that he believed in youth and that everyone has to come together in order to make a difference in the tough times that we’re currently in. And before introducing his song “Hip-Hop Saved My Life he admitted to the crowd that the song as written during a dark time in his life in which he contemplated suicide. He urged people who are dealing with depression to seek help and reminded college students that no exam is too important to commit suicide over.

The crowd response was incredible as Fiasco led his band through “Superstar” and his latest hit ““The Show Goes On”. The whole crowd sang the choruses back to him and after he left the stage there was no doubt as to who brought the most energy to the stage at Sweetlife. There’s also no doubt as to who the most exciting star in hip-hop is today. No one could have matched that performance.

But the next performer certainly did try.

Girl Talk:

I’m not an expert on DJ’s and their craft. I’m not an expert on the art of mash-ups. I wouldn’t know what to do with two turntables in front of me.

But I do know if I had to pick one DJ to play the last party on earth, it’d be Gregg Gillis, aka Girl Talk. The Dr. Frankenstein of mash-ups and sampling, Girl Talk put on an incredible performance and had the whole crowd juiced for an hour. With people dancing on stage and armed with two laptops and giant speakers, Girl Talk led the Pavilion crowd through the best dance party you’d ever want to be a part of.

Mad scientist of mash-ups, Girl Talk

Balloons falling from the ceiling? Check.

Leaf blowers on either side of the stage shooting rolls of toilet paper into the crowd at a machine gun rate? You got it.

Confetti exploding into the crowd? Yup.

But the magic of it all is the ability to mix up two artists that you’d never expect that could be played together and have it all make sense. Black Sabbath and Ludacris together? Exactly. I was too busy dancing and enjoying the music to keep track of all the different combinations I could recognize. However, the best suggestion I can make is to head over to www.illegalart.net and pick up some of Girl Talk’s albums, free of charge. Yes, that’s right: Girl Talk doesn’t charge anything for his cd’s.

The Strokes:

And last, but certainly not least…the much anticipated headliner, The Strokes.

After cleaning up from the certified mess of toilet paper and balloons that Girl Talk left in his wake, The Strokes took the stage shortly after 8:45 PM to a giant applause. As I entered the barricade to take photos I heard Ed Sullivan Beatlemania screams from the crowd members behind me. There was no shortage of teenage girls with anxious eyes and baited breath who launched into hysterics when Julian Casablancas lead his band onto the stage and opened their set with “Is This It” from their debut album of the same name.

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Casablancas, the King of Cool, was dressed in black leather pants, a black leather jacket and sunglasses despite a dark stage and the sun having been set for over an hour. Everything was black except the neon green/yellow Nike high tops that seemed to glow under the stage lights. An interesting choice of footwear, indeed.

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I’ve never understood The Strokes. That’s not to say I don’t like them, as I do have their first album and think it’s solid work but nothing spectacular. They’re certainly talented musicians and songwriters but their music doesn’t grab me like it seemingly does for everyone else so I was hoping that seeing them in concert would help me understand what I’ve been missing out on for awhile now.

And I still don’t understand them, and that’s fine with me. Casablancas meandered around on the stage either uninterested or trying to be cool and play up whatever persona he tries to convey. It’s not necessarily a bad thing and I’m not slamming or writing a bad review of their show, I just wasn’t as moved or entertained as I was by Lupe Fiasco or Girl Talk. They certainly have reached a lot of people with their music and the crowd response for them on Sunday night was nothing short of incredible. Other notable songs in their set were “New York City Cops” and the seminal “Last Night.

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Andrew Markowitz

A photographer for the past 4 years, used to sell inflatable dartboards and solar powered flashlights. Hobbies include muffin throwing contests and competitive ditch-digging.

3 thoughts on “We Love Music: Sweetlife Festival 2011

  1. I didn’t attend the show but I think I’d agree with you completely about these bands. US Royalty does indeed kick ass; I’m sad they’re touring with Third Eye Blind because frankly 3EB isn’t worthy of such openers anymore. Also I pretty much didn’t go to the festival because I don’t care about The Strokes.

    Crystal Castles always seems to be strict about photographers. Nice shot of her crowdsurfing!

  2. I went ahead and subscribed to your website so I can get quicker access in the future. You have some wonderful topics about rap and my favorite entertainers!!