Thousands brave a fickle forecast and long bathroom lines for sweet tunes.
By Anna Storm
For 11 hours the sky teased the multitude of music, beer and food-truck lovers who recently gathered at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md. Now turning a grey head cloudy with indifference, now teasing with a flash of sunlight, now unleashing a torrent of cold rain — sending even the most diehard of dreadlocked sunbathers surging for the tarped main stage — the fickle weather almost succeeded in putting a damper on Sweetgreen’s second annual Sweetlife Food & Music Festival.
From the tailgate in the parking lot, to headliner Avicii’s final set, it was clear nothing could stop Saturday’s crowd of thousands from reveling in the Sweetlife. They came in droves to enjoy a lineup stacked with today’s top club, radio and pregame staples: Fun., A$AP Rocky, Fitz and the Tantrums, Explosions in the Sky, The Shins and Kid Cudi joining Avicii. They came to line up behind the carts and trucks of The District’s top foodie hotspots: Shake Shack, Baked and Wired, Serious Eats, and The Big Cheese, to name a few. They came in aspirational short-shorts (the sun will come out!), to drink overpriced but nonetheless liberally spooned Sangria, to dance Woodstock style on an expanse of lawn, and to embody the modern maxim: “The party’s where I’m at.”
The bands helped get things going, too. First up was the definition of a crowd-pleasing set from the emphatically titled Fun., followed by several brief numbers from the late-to-the-game rapper (and avid Ke$ha admirer?) A$AP Rocky. Fitz and the Tantrums brought a pop of color to their outfits and the day’s dull backdrop, initiating a sing-along with a cover of the Eurythmic’s “Sweet Dreams.” Frontman Fitz told the crowd — which, by three o’clock, had seemingly doubled from the few scattered cars blaring “Levels” and “Mr. Rager” from their stereos in the parking lot that morning — not only did they like to get metaphorically “down,” they wanted to see the crowd twist their bodies to the ground as well. “And if you don’t,” Fitz warned, “I’ll call your s— out!” (as one baseball-capped and incongruously upright audience-member soon found out).
Elsewhere, DJ set Bluebrain, Mia Moretti and Caitlin Moe, Zola Jesus, Twin Shadow and other artists ensured someone was always performing in the Pavilion. Up by the Treehouse Stage where these sets took place and throughout the three food and drink areas outfitted in signs advertising “This way for Yummy Food” and “Beer,” audience members milled and formed lines zigzagging away from food trucks, only to meet new, longer lines curving into the women’s bathroom.
It was a packed house, soon giving rise to concern once the sky finally made good on its overcast promise and began to rain in the early evening. Crowds flooded into the main stage area where The Shins were performing, eager to get under the large tarp and away from the rain and the cold. While staffers did their best to stem the tides, several rebels succeeded in hopping the waist-high metal bars serving as protective barriers between the lawn and main stage, which, after several minutes of steady rain, we were told had filled to capacity. Many who waited in cattle, sardine or other similarly cramped (albeit warm) creature-conditions by two gate entrances, were granted access to the covered stage after The Shins’ hour-long set. It was a lesson in crowd awareness (watch out for the handles of fallen canvas bags; they may reach out to snag your foot as you’re being politely nudged by wet, cold hundreds toward the gate entrance), and the more simple merits of patience and shelter.
The vast number of bodies made for some uncomfortable conditions, but for Kid Cudi, he was in his element. The far-from-shy superstar played to the crowd, splitting sections of the audience into “verse one” and “verse two” of his more well-known songs, directly addressing the back of the venue and those spilling out of the main stage, back, back and back onto the lawn. With oldies from ’08 and everyone-knows-’em “Pursuit of Happiness” and “Erase Me,” Cudi warmed things up by getting everyone moving. By the time Avicii took the stage at the end of the night, the atmosphere had completely changed from the day’s earlier cold conditions.
When the reveling finally came to a close, Sunday had already begun as a beautiful day with temperatures in the mid-70s, the kind of weather that concert-planners, performers and attendees dream of. However, while clear skies and a warm breeze would have made Sweetlife that much… sweeter, it’s doubtful it would have made for a more memorable evening. Here’s to the next Sweetlife, come rain or come shine.