Sweetlife Festival: Good Music, Bad Moniker

Sunday was supposed to be all about living the sweet life at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, MD but as the day ended we were left feeling anything but sweet. We had been looking forward to “The Sweetlife Festival” for weeks and with a line-up that included Ra Ra Riot, Cold War Kids, Crystal Castles, Lupe Fiasco, Girl Talk, & The Strokes, it’s easy to see why. We arrived in Columbia, MD just as a light drizzle began to fall. Merriweather Post Pavilion is like most amphitheaters, with a covered seating area up front, and a large lawn area where fans can sit on the grass and blankets in the back.

For the Sweetlife Festival, the covered seating was billed as first come, first serve (“If you arrive early enough you can get close enough to get sweat on by The Stokes”). We entered, and found some seats under cover as we had been instructed that we could take photos from anywhere in that area. After a stellar set by Ra Ra Riot, one of our writers left the seating area to use the restroom. It began to rain harder around the same time. When he left the restroom/concession area (which was located outside of the seating area, in fact, there were NO restrooms or concessions in the seating area) he found that venue staff would not let him, or anyone else, return to their seats.

Because no one had told people when they left the seating area that they wouldn’t be able to return, many people left belongings in their seats, and could not get back to their friends. It took our one writer over an hour to be allowed back in from a quick trip to the bathroom and he completely missed the Cold War Kids (who also put on a great set)!

At this point our other writer had to use the restroom as well and she was told that if she went to use the restroom she would have to wait in a sea of fans, being forced through a tiny bottle-neck in some barricades to return. She missed the entire set by Crystal Castles (who weren’t nearly as good as when they played in Philadelphia a few weeks ago).

Our photographer, not wanting to miss any of the bands for photos, waited for hours and hours before venturing out to use a restroom. Finally after Lupe Fiasco, he could no longer wait, and all three of our staff members left the seating area together. Because they weren’t quickly let back in, we failed to get photos of Girl Talk or the Strokes.

Worse yet were the thousands of people who were separated from their friends and belongings because the venue didn’t have an intelligent plan in place for general admission seating that would allow those who had already gotten seats, to use bathrooms or get food (like stamping hands).

Aside from the seating fiasco, the music was quite good. Lupe Fiasco made sure the fans in the seats got wet too (most everyone on the lawn got soaked by the rain) and showered them with bottles of spring water at multiple points. Girl Talk got the crowd really bumping as his high-energy mash-ups had everyone nodding their head and dancing around. Finally, The Strokes, playing the only set of the day after the sun went down, just plain rocked.

Although there were some nice perks during the day (like all of the free treats from MOM’s market, and Applegate), for a festival called Sweetlife, it certainly fell short. In addition to the seating debacle, there were some of the longest lines for concessions that we’ve ever seen before. The music, as expected, was certainly the highlight of the day, but the rain and the issues with the venue certainly put a damper on what could have been a VERY sweet event.

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