Live Review: Sweetlife Festival at Dupont Circle, Washington DC – 24 April 2010

By on Thursday, 29th April 2010 at 2:00 pm
 

Thanks to a stroke of uncharacteristic luck, I managed to win a pair of tickets for last Saturday’s sold out Sweetlife Festival in Washington, DC. Sponsored by local restaurant Sweetgreen, the 1st annual festival attracted a crowd of over 750 people, and it was a great way to spend an early spring day. Sweetgreen’s focus is not only on their food (mainly salads and frozen yoghurt) but also on using locally sourced ingredients and minimizing their environmental footprint. So it is for that reason that they purchased carbon offsets for the entire festival, had environmentally-minded sponsors and donated all of the proceeds to DC Farm to School Network, a local charity whose mission is to “to improve the health and well being of schoolchildren in the District of Columbia, and of our local environment and food economy, by increasing access to healthy, local, and sustainable foods in all Washington, DC schools.”

For a small, first-time festival, they actually managed to arrange a pretty great lineup. The main draw seemed to be electropop group Hot Chip, who swung by the festival for a DJ set before their headlining gig at nearby venue the 9:30 Club (read the TGTF review here), but they weren’t the best part by far.

Opening the festival was local musician Matthew Hemerlein. He took to the stage by himself, and switched back and forth between the guitar and the violin, with only a drum machine and a loop pedal to flesh out his sound. He had a nice voice, which reminded me somewhat of Chris Martin’s, but there was nothing particularly engaging about his set, other than the cringe-worthy moment when he sang “I’m horny / let’s do it / ride it, my pony / my saddle is waiting / jump on it.” That is a mental image that I do NOT need at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.

Next up was DJ Will Eastman, who is a staple of the Washington, D.C. club scene, hosting the successful BLISS dance parties, and is co-owner of the hot new venue U Street Music Hall, where the afterparty for the festival was held. He played some great music, including remixes of Passion Pit, Miike Snow and Calvin Harris’s ‘Alone,’ and even a mash-up of the Beatles and Vampire Weekend that, quite frankly, blew my mind a little bit.

In a bit of a departure from the other acts, local rapper Phil Ade was the next to take the stage. With most of the crowd there to see either Hot Chip or U.S. Royalty, the crowd was sometimes hesitant to get involved when he asked them to sing along or wave their arms, but he was in a great mood regardless, and was persistent enough that by the end of his set he definitely won the crowd over. At one point, he even jumped into the crowd and got random audience members to sing the chorus along with him. He started out playing songs off his mixtape, ‘Starting on JV’ like ‘Replay’ and finished with a string of songs from his forthcoming album ‘the Letterman’, including ‘Unusual’ and the incredibly catchy ‘Gimme That’.

Between sets, local DJ Grant Shapiro kept the crowd’s energy up with some great remixes, including Mika’s ‘We Are Golden’ and a fantastic mash-up of Michael Jackson and Empire of the Sun. So when the next band took to the stage, the audience was pumped up and ready to go.

North Carolina rockers the Love Language have a distinctly retro, 1960s/1970s vibe to their music, and their use of harmony was really fun. For an idea of what they sound like, I recommend checking out their single ‘Lalita’ off of their self-titled debut album. It’s on more upbeat songs like this that they shined – on slower songs they tended to end with an unoriginal jumble of guitar riffs and reverb before fading out. The highlight of their set, however, was the Fats Domino cover they played at the end of their set – brilliant.

At this point, the small car park where the festival was being held was packed, as it was time for the biggest draw of the night: Hot Chip’s DJ set. Unfortunately, it was incredibly underwhelming. Though I didn’t expect a full-blown Hot Chip gig (like the one they were heading to after their set) by any means, I did expect them to interact with the crowd. Instead, they talked amongst themselves behind the decks while they played a disappointing mix of nondescript dance tracks. They played 3 of their own songs from their new album, including ‘One Life Stand’ and ‘I Feel Better,’ but even though there were mics set up for the next band, they only deigned to sing along with ‘I Feel Better’ for about 2 lines. While it could have been a nice consolation for the people who couldn’t get tickets for their sold out headlining gig, they didn’t put enough effort in for it to be much more than a “celebrity appearance.”

The part of the crowd that left after Hot Chip’s set seriously missed out, because the crowning achievement of the festival by far was local rockers U.S. Royalty‘s high-energy set. It started out a bit rocky when a problem with some of the equipment caused them to jam for about 10 minutes before their actual set began. But once they resolved that, lead singer (and epic beardsmith) John Thornley launched into his characteristic impassioned performance, belting out the lyrics to crowd favorites like ‘Every Summer’ while jumping and prancing around the stage. It was very entertaining and a very welcome change after the snoozefest that was Hot Chip’s set. Even though most of the songs were from their as-yet unreleased debut album and the audience didn’t know the words, that didn’t stop them from dancing along. In a prefect end to a great day, they even got Matthew Hemerlein and some of the members of the Love Language to join them on the fantastic track ‘My Dearest Friend’, which you can get for free when you join their mailing list.

All-in-all, the Sweetlife Festival was great. It felt more like a block party than a full-blown festival, and that was perfect for an early spring day. Here’s hoping next year’s festival is just as fantastic!

After the cut: more photos!


Hot Chip:

U.S. Royalty:

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