The sixth installment of Sweetlife, a pseudo-hipster, outdoor music and food festival held at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md., packed the weekend with some of music’s most popular performers, but this year’s expanded lineup and largely teenage audience spoiled the festival’s entertainment potential.
However, unlike these competing festivals, camping isn’t provided for attendees at the Merriweather venue.
To still generate widespread attendance, the festival promoted deals with travel-related companies such as Uber and Rallybus and posted hotel packages on their website. But, ultimately, it was clear that the Sweetlife crowd was mostly made up of people who lived within driving distance — or more accurately, people whose parents could pick them up. The reminders for parent pick-up locations that flashed on the big screens before Saturday’s headliner Kendrick Lamar and Sunday’s headliner Calvin Harris really killed the shows’ ambience.
Speaking of Lamar and Harris, they were very well-received as this year’s headliners and performed outstanding sets that catered to diehard fans and casual concertgoers alike.
Lamar closed the first day with a solid performance. He pulled the largest crowd of the festival with Billy Idol, who performed on the Treehouse stage, as the only other competing act. Fans were so excited for his set that Lamar had significant difficulty spitting out words of appreciation over the crowd’s cheers.
Lamar notably excited the crowd when he brought on SZA, the alternative R&B artist who performed earlier that afternoon, to perform duets of songs “B****, Don’t Kill My Vibe” and “Poetic Justice.” As in her earlier solo performance, SZA danced around stage with a beaming smile and confident vocals.
For “m.A.A.d. city”, Lamar also invited a fan to come onstage to rap the song with him. Unfortunately, this fan failed to rise to the challenge and flubbed the lyrics; it was such an utter fail that it almost appeared planned for dramatic effect. After the slipup, Lamar picked another fan from the audience and, as Lamar said himself, she killed it.
To wrap up the festival on Sunday night, Harris put on a visually pleasing show complete with several confetti blasts and intense neon lights. Did the Scottish DJ pull off anything particularly innovative or musically groundbreaking? Absolutely not. Instead, he put together a neon endorphin rush that featured both his hits and samples from other popular songs like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’s “Heads Will Roll,” Rihanna’s “B**** Better Have My Money” and O.T. Genasis’s “CoCo.”
Other highlights from the weekend included the slew of powerful female performers. Tove Lo seduced the crowd with her sex-charged set. While performing her latest hit single, she showed more of her “Talking Body” than expected and flashed the crowd. Even still, the Swedish pop star’s overt sexuality felt very natural, not only because her lyrics are almost entirely about sex, but also because of her breathy voice and barefoot struts across the stage.
Charli XCX also channeled her sexual energy into her performance, leading several chants of “p*ssy power!” and straddling in front of the pit. The British performer, who has penned hits for and collaborated with a number of other pop artists, proved herself as a pop dynamo in her own right with an unexpected, pop-punk performance of “Fancy” sans Iggy Azalea.
Wearing a dazzling, futuristic green bodysuit, Marina of Marina and the Diamonds showed off her haunting voice and wide vocal range. Her performance was similarly marked with ecstatic and emotional reactions. This was exemplified as one young man in the front row started to sob when Marina took the stage.
In contrast to the assertive, feminist-statement-making performances, Alabama soul band St. Paul and the Broken Bones rebelled in their own unique style. The all-male group looked like a wedding band, but to say that they sounded like stale wedding singers wouldn’t really do them justice. Perhaps it would be more fitting to characterize the group as the wedding band that plays all the songs your parents hate and just doesn’t care about pleasing the masses. Lead singer Paul Janeway performed with exceptional gusto that contradicted his band geek appearance.
Although standout performances like these carried the weekend, a handful of performers did little to impress anyone who hadn’t memorized their most recent album. For instance, Los Angeles indie-pop star Banks slowly slunk across the stage. Wearing black from lipstick to bell-bottom, her mere presence appeared to satisfy only a number of hardcore fans in the audience.
Brooklyn duo Lucius’s performance also didn’t excite as much as expected. Their music, which sounds rich and soulful in recordings, came across as lackluster on stage. Techno group Phantogram was similarly disappointing — once they played their two most well-known songs, these writers felt comfortable leaving to get more food.
Vance Joy, the adorable Australian singer best known for his smash hit “Riptide,” would have been a favorite if not for the gaggles of screaming 15-year-olds cheering his every movement. Their reactions were more like those of One Direction superfans, and they didn’t vibe well with his gentle coffeehouse-style ditties.
Annoying teenagers really put a damper on the whole weekend. The crowd for The Weeknd’s performance was so unruly that people were having full-scale panic attacks from claustrophobia.This reviewer wishes she could unhear the teenagers waiting in the crowd before Banks talking about their sex lives and the flask they snuck into the festival. Although Lucius was a letdown, the teenage girl who said, “This sucks, where’s Tove Lo” during the performance didn’t help much.
Although the festival was fun overall, adding a second day felt unnecessary. Possibly due to other circumstances and scheduling, this year’s lineup proved weaker than last year’s, which had featured many well-known and well-loved artists while still having an array of lesser-known performers. Hopefully, Sweetlife will go back to being a one-day event with stronger performers instead of trying to emulate Coachella with artists who only cater to their devotees.
This may not be possible, but somehow limiting the number of teenagers (or at least making it significantly harder for them to get drunk) would also help.