Sweetlife Festival 2014: Dance Parties, Good Food, and Feeling Old

posted by Laura Baker-Finch on May 13, 2014

Photos by Laura Baker-Finch

Columbia, Maryland -- Disclaimer: we did our very best to avoid the expected pun and have refrained from calling our time at Sweetlife Festival “sweet.” You’re welcome. 

Sweetlife Festival brought music, food, rain, and fans of the former two to Columbia’s Merriweather Post Pavilion Saturday for a one-day experience that was meant to satiated ears and stomachs, but really just made everyone over the age of 20 feel old. 

The past 4 years of the music and food festival, produced by farm-to-table restaurant sweetgreen, featured acts like Kendrick Lamar and Haim before their respective explosions onto the festival circuit plus tried and true headliners The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. In comparison, 2014’s bill felt a bit bland - especially when it came to diversity. Each act held its own but, besides a rapper (2 Chainz) and a singer-songwriter that should’ve brought tears to festivalgoers’ eyes (Hozier), they all aligned under a generic genre umbrella. An umbrella that can best be described as feel-good music to dance to at a prom, which fittingly many sweetlife-ers attended the night before. 

Besides the underwhelming lineup and throngs of body-painted teens in butt cheek-revealing denim shorts, Sweetlife fostered an experience with a perfect balance of mainstream (a flower crown station) and eco-friendly (Honest product giveaways). From sweetgreen salads (eco-friendly) to food trucks (mainstream), the food surpassed standard amipitheater fare like french fries (which, if desired, were available courtesy of the pavilion). The food wasn’t just in meal form either, you couldn’t walk halfway between stages without being tossed a bag of Gluten-Free chips or a KIND bar. 

Now that I’ve lamented over body-painted, scantily-clad, flower-crowned youth at festivals and given a run down of the overall Sweetlife vibe, let’s get more into the music - it is a music festival, after all. 

Bombay Bicycle Club 

Bombay Bicycle Club should have had a nighttime set and a more appreciative audience. Sure the crowd was dancing and singing to the hits from 2011’s A Different Kind of Fix during their 1:45pm slot, but the appreciation fell short of what February’s So Long, See You Tomorrow (which sat at number 1 on the UK charts for a few weeks) deserves. Bombay’s set was the best start-to-finsih of the day, I just wish more people saw it. 


The biggest surprise and delight of Sweetlife was hands down Irish singer-songwriter Hozier, whose heart-wrenching lyrics brought a tear or two to a few in the crowd. Despite a poor choice for an opening song (yawn), Andrew Hozier-Byrne brought the crowd back with a cover of Amerie’s "1 Thing," his obscurity-breaking single “Take Me to Church,” and a handful of tracks that ranged from gospel, to childhood lullaby, to blues. He may have been out of place on the electro-pop-driven lineup, but to those intently listening, it was a welcomed break.

Treehouse Dance Parties

While the festival’s headliners drew large crowds to the main stage, the dance parties took place at the built-for-the-festival Treehouse Stage. Amidst towering trees, acts such as the floral-shirt-clad St. Lucia and matching-jacket-donning Capital Cities kept festivalgoers moving despite intermittent bursts of rain. 

Later in the evening the Treehouse party continued as 2 Chainz broke up the electro-pop day with a compilation of his hits, including Juicy J’s “Bandz Make Her Dance” and Kanye West’s “Mercy.” No matter the song, Mr. Chainz was able to put his mic down and look out onto the crowd dancing and singing each lyric. Chromeo brought the Treehouse lineup to a rowdy, and fitting end, leading the crowd through their hits, a special Mother’s Day shoutout, and new tracks from White Woman, released this week.  

Lana Del Rey 

I must admit, though largely unfamiliar with her music, I was curious to see Lana Del Rey perform at Sweetlife. A curiosity that only multiplied as the screams of fans reaching out to touch the statuesque singer made her sensual ballads nearly inaudible. There wasn’t much to see on stage, though the crowd seemed more than content with Del Rey approaching the audience to take selfies amidst tracks.

Foster The People 

I first (and only) saw Foster The People at Splendour in the Grass back in 2011, and it was awful. I only stayed for two songs, including hit of the time “Pumped Up Kicks,” but it was all I could stomach. Anyone who has heard the band recorded knows lead singer Mark Foster can sound a bit nasally, but it seemed multiplied when live - I was not a fan. Though, with three years and a continent between experiences, I was ready to give the indie three-piece another shot. I can’t say their closing set at Sweetlife has converted me into a fan, but it wasn’t awful - far from it. FTP managed to keep its audience engaged despite the torrential downpour that had been holding off all day deciding to finally fall. 

Overall, I am a fan of Sweetlife - from its mission to its onsite experience and especially to its food. I just hope in coming years the lineup will revert back to a mix that will attract more fans 21+. 

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See Also:

Fan Photo Gallery: Sweetlife Festival 2014
On the Scene: Mogwai at Terminal 5, NYC
Music Monday Playlist: Sweetlife 2014