The Sweetlife Festival, celebrating its fifth year in the D.C. metropolitan area, brought an estimated 20,000 attendees to the Merriweather Post Pavilion for three stages of bands and several lots of food and beer. Presented by D.C. salad shop Sweetgreen, the festival stretched for about 11 hours, 20 musical acts and perhaps a combined 80 food vendors and retail stores on Saturday, May 10.
While the festival had a few repeat acts this year, I personally found the lineup a lot more to my musical tastes than last year’s festival.
I arrived in time to catch some of St. Lucia, the Brooklyn dreampop outfit headed by producer Jean-Philip Grobler. Dressed in Hawaiian shirts, Grobler and company gave a performance as bright as their clothing, showcasing songs from the band’s debut album, When the Night. I managed to catch St. Lucia’s best song, the new wave jam “Elevate,” a feel-good confidence booster of a song that certainly complemented the pleasant weather and beachware found at the Sweetlife Festival’s Treehouse Stage early in the day.
A short trip to the mainstage revealed one of the significant perks of being a Sweetlife VIP—free salads from Sweetgreen were available near the VIP bar to stage right. Friends and I took the opportunity to relax and check out some vendors before I hopped over the main stage to catch a bit of Bastille, the London synthpop quartet best known for their hit “Pompeii” from their debut album last year, Bad Blood. I caught an fun performance of the very wave “Of the Night,” a mash up of 1990s European dance hits “The Rhythm of the Night” by Italian group Corona and “Rhythm Is a Dancer” by German group Snap!. Bastille and singer Dan Smith brought a charm and energy all their own to the performance, however, and I made a mental note to look into their upcoming performance at the Patriot Center on Saturday, Oct. 11.
Before long, I returned to the Treehouse Stage for a welcome performance by Capital Cities. Ryan Merchant and Sebu Simonia, the Los Angeles pop duo, brought along a strong band, including most notably Spencer Ludwig on trumpet. I only recently discovered this jazzy synthpop band, and they put on a great show, performing signature tracks such as “Kangaroo Court” and “Farrah Fawcett Hair.” They truly boogied down to a unique cover of “Stayin’ Alive,” which got an audience that already was dancing hard to dance even harder. They unexpectedly segued from that Bee Gees hit into a cover of “Undone-The Sweater Song” by Weezer. Capital Cities closed their 40-minute set with an extended jam of “Safe and Sound,” a triumphant call to happy unions in the form of a damn catchy song.
From Capital Cities, it was time to go back to the Main Stage, where I caught a bit of Fitz and the Tantrums. I was surprised the L.A. neo-soul group performed a cover of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by the Eurythmics. Still, I wasn’t there for Michael Fitzpatrick and company, who really only filled time before the most anticipated act of the night—Lana Del Rey.
When I say “most anticipated,” I mean that it seemed everyone at the Sweetlife Festival had turned out for the leggy chanteuse from New York. And despite numerous references still to an uninspired performance on Saturday Night Live several years ago, Lana Del Rey wow’ed the crowd. She truly brought a sexy huskiness to a methodic, even languid performance. She brought it practically by not bringing it. And everyone absolutely loved it.
Remarkably, Del Rey sang three songs, opening with “Cruel World,” before coming down from the stage into the audience, where she spent perhaps five minutes in silence being embraced and absolutely adored by the attendees in the front few rows of the pit. Religious experiences were had; selfies were taken; at least one man got a kiss. (The band could have played some background music or something during this scene, in my opinion, but instead it played out in rapturous silence as the entire festival collectively held its breath in suspended animation.)
Upon her return to stage, Del Rey launched into the ever-popular opus “Blue Jeans” and new single “West Coast” before moving deliberately onto her first single “Born to Die.” The audience ate it all up. One of the more memorable songs in the performance was “Summertime Sadness,” which essentially distills the entire Lana Del Rey mystique in one song—evocatively warm but sorrowful and reflective. While not the most emotive of performers, Del Rey still managed to deliver a song that crushed hearts young and old throughout the pavilion.
Torrential rain would soon drive me out of the festival, thereby cutting short any chance of enjoying a full set from headliners Foster the People. Before that happened, however, there was time for quite a bit more dancing with Montreal’s funkiest duo Chromeo, who delighted a growing number of people at the Treehouse Stage with their blend of new wave and electronica. They took the stage alone, accompanied by their instruments and an overactive fog machine, and managed to start a full-blown dance party.
Part of the fun of watching a performance by David Macklovitch (a.k.a. Dave 1) and Patrick Gemayel (a.k.a. P-Thugg) is how well they work together. The two friends are well synchronized and obviously enjoy what they do. Armed with a new album, White Women, Chromeo played new songs like “Sexy Socialite,” but also performed audience favorites like “Hot Mess,” “Bonafied Lovin’,” “Don’t Turn the Lights On” and “Momma’s Boy,” which they dedicated of course to Mother’s Day.
For pure goofy fun, Chromeo are a tough act to beat, and definitely worth catching on tour in support of their fourth and latest album. Dave 1 and P-Thugg left the Sweetlife Festival to perform a DJ set at U Street Music Hall for the official Sweetlife after party that night, and I and many other festival goers also danced smoothly off into the night.