By EMILY HERMAN Arts & Entertainment Editor RACHEL BIDERMAN Managing Editor
The inaugural Landmark Music Festival drew thousands to Washington, D.C.’s West Potomac Park this weekend to watch Drake, The Strokes and 40 other artists performed on five stages nestled between historic monuments.
The two-day festival was held as a benefit for the restoration of the National Mall and felt surprisingly un-Washingtonian. If not for the Washington Monument looming behind one of the stages and planes from the nearby Reagan National Airport frequently flying overhead, it would’ve been easy to forget that the event was in the nation’s capital. Although more dedicated fans crowded the front of the stages for even the most easygoing acts, casual observers tended to sprawl across the field behind them, drinking tallboys on picnic blankets.
The event drew a diverse yet relatively low-key crowd for a music festival. Although the typical cadres of flower-crowned and crop-topped teenage girls were still there — especially for Wale, Miguel and Drake on Saturday — they were intermingled with bearded bros, hip baby-toting parents, unbuttoned D.C. professionals and a number of grey-haired folks.
It definitely took the festival staff a day to get into the groove of things. Many festival-goers were annoyed on Saturday after spending hours waiting in drink and port-o-potty lines. Patience and toilet paper ran out quickly, but by Sunday the festival hit its logistical groove and apologetically amended its mistakes. Although irked by the inefficiency at times, attendees seemed generally ambivalent towards the rough patches, especially given that it was the festival’s first year.
The lineup was stacked throughout the afternoons, forcing fans either to leave early from one set to get a good spot at another stage or arrive late and linger behind large crowds. There wasn’t much time to explore the festival grounds, but with most of the park devoted to performance space, food sales and bathroom lines the focus was clearly on the artists. These writers weren’t too upset to have missed out on the official festival glitter flash tats.
Drake drew the largest and most vocal crowd of the weekend with his closing set on Saturday. Waiting in the rain for an hour before he took the stage, we could hear pockets of complainers who had apparently shelled out $105 for a one-day pass just to see the Toronto rapper.
The drizzly wait for Drizzy was worth it. Drake’s set, featuring a mix of his older hits and newer songs from recent album If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and his fresh mixtape Future, What a Time to Be Alive, offered a variety of emotions.
The crowd also reacted approvingly to any reference of his widely-publicized feud with Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill and yelled the lyrics of his diss track “Back to Back.”
“Don’t worry, he’s dead,” Drake quipped at the end of the controversial song.
The American indie-rock band The Strokes closed the weekend with a crowd-pleasing set. With a fan base slightly older than the majority of the other artists, the band drew a diverse crowd full of rocker dads, stoners and hippie teenagers.
The Strokes provided a sound both poppy and timeless. Lead singer Julian Casablancas’s raspy, slurring voice and sunglasses were reminiscent of old-school classic rock.
The band also capitalized on the astronomical phenomenon dubbed the Super Blood Moon — a lunar eclipse that occurred as the moon was closest to the Earth in its orbit. A live feed of the moon was projected onto the on-stage screens before and during their set.
Miguel, the Grammy-winning Los Angeles neo-soul singer who received widespread critical acclaim for his recent album Wildheart, delivered an impressive yet unnecessarily emotional performance right before Drake. Although sexual and personal exploration are consistent themes throughout his music, his speeches between songs often felt borderline preachy.
Given the stench of marijuana in the air — which was present throughout the festival but especially strong on Saturday afternoon — his affirmations were probably unappreciated by a good portion of the crowd.
Other Saturday standouts included The Lone Bellow, a folksy trio of Brooklyn-based Southern transplants. Infusing their Fleetwood Mac-esque harmonies with rich emotion, the group delighted their rowdy, enthusiastic crowd.
On a much calmer note, London band Daughter hypnotized the audience with their soft yet textured indie-folk. Although much lower in energy than your average festival act — even their own guitarist Igor Haefeli described their music as “depressing” — the audience perked up, giggling at footage of wide-eyed hipster bros fixated on lithe, ghost-like lead singer Elena Tonra.
Although D.C. native Wale drew an excited crowd, the rapper struggled through his set, failing to connect with the audience. Many in the crowd joked that they hadn’t listened to Wale since 2010, and 10 minutes into his set it appeared as if he hadn’t rehearsed since then. Wale spent half his time onstage unsuccessfully trying to make the crowd separate for him to walk through while insisting that no one could come close to him.
What he lacked in presence he made up for in volume; Wale’s booming bass could be felt at Band of Horses, shaking up the folk group’s underwhelming, bland set.
Sunday’s acts were by and large more impressive than Saturday’s, starting with engaging sets from Gaithersburg, Md. rapper Ace Cosgrove.
Although one of the lesser-known artists at the festival, Cosgrove earned a mob of new fans with his energetic, interactive set. He engaged so much with the crowd that he invited a fan onstage with him. With a hybrid of serious lyrics and upbeat, funky backbeats, Cosgrove provided a fresh, jazzy twist on typical rap music. He stayed onstage beyond his allotted time and invited his posse to perform with him.
Houndmouth, a four-piece band from New Albany, Ind., won over their audience with groovy vibes and endearing camaraderie. Many in the crowd knew every word to every song; it felt almost as if they engineered their rollicking choruses to be perfect drinking ditties. Although they rocked every song, singer and keyboardist Katie Toupin’s gritty, slow vocals on “Gasoline” were especially captivating.
Baltimore music scene fixture Dan Deacon electrified the crowd with his signature joyful noise — the whole hour sounded like a Mario Kart victory. Kicking off his set by selecting audience members to dance battle and keep their moves “sassy as f**k at all times,” Deacon permitted the crowd to go buck wild and tap into a collective endorphin rush. Later in the set, he instructed their audience to close their eyes, think of their loved ones and then think of those killed by police violence, shocking the crowd with a sense of self-awareness and jolting them back to reality.
Electro-funk duo Chromeo also provided a dance break and reenergized the crowd with their upbeat, groovy tracks. The Canadian pair coaxed their audience to let loose, encouraging girls to get onto strong strangers’s shoulders and incessantly teased the crowd that they could get much louder.
CHVRCHES, the electro-pop Scottish band, provided a psychedelic performance full of flashing lights and head bopping. Lead singer Lauren Mayberry charmed the crowd, seeming lost in her music during the set while appearing surprisingly humble in light of the band’s success, profusely complimenting and thanking the audience in between tracks.
English singer-songwriter George Ezra mesmerized his audience with boyish grins and endearing personal anecdotes between his soulful folk-pop songs. Ezra was genuinely charming, beaming when the crowd sang along with him to the lesser-known tracks on his debut album Wanted on Voyage, from which the international hit “Budapest” emerged. Lord Huron, an indie band mostly comprised of Michigan childhood friends, brought grit to their set. Marking a noticeable departure from the breezier sound of their debut full-length album Lonesome Dreams, the band updated old favorites with a rock-and-roll twist alongside tracks from their new album Strange Trails. Although their newfound sound offered a fresh take on their music, some elements of the show felt disingenuous to their identity as artists.
Although one of the top-billed bands at the festival, English electro-folk group Alt-J performed a visually stimulating yet lackluster set. Although those unfamiliar with the group’s textured lyrics and snarling vocals may have been wooed, the show offered little extra for fans more familiar with their recorded tracks.
Despite some logistical hiccups and lackluster sets, Landmark provided an accessible escape for all ages. Given this year’s turnout, Landmark is poised to establish itself as an notable stop on the festival circuit.