8 Things We Learned at Sweetlife 2013

[Originally published on Virgin.com, May 2013]

1) Everyone loves a badass.

Two words: Karen O. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs front woman had everyone wishing they could throw off their own inhibitions and attempt half the moves she made at Sweetlife. The newly blonde, yellow-suited and Chuck-Taylored singer gesticulated and gyrated through a set full of hits like ‘Zero’, ‘Maps’ and ‘Gold Lion’, at one point soliciting snippets of lyrics from, literally, each member of the front row, one by one, with her microphone. Once she walked off the stage, we experienced a moment of confusion, realizing the headlining band was at least two acts away; no disrespect to PhoenixPassion Pit or Kendrick Lamar intended.

2) Down with the flower crowns, already!

When we saw that full display of floral headdresses in Urban Outfitters the other day, we were like, yeah right, no one on the East Coast will buy that crap. Oh, were we wrong! At Sweetlife, the pseudo-hippie retail chain successfully infiltrated the 16-24 female festival-goer market with fabric flower products, which frankly stood out on a day with little sunshine and few real hippies in sight. But, if nothing else, we were comforted to see the festival spirit alive and well at a burgeoning annual event. Sweetlife was, after all, as close as most would get to Coachella this year.

3) Embrace the mud.

Sweetlife also got a taste of Glastonbury this weekend (or Shaky Knees, to keep things domestic). We all saw the gloomy weather forecast, but only some guests planned ahead, donning rain boots and packing ponchos. The rest of the hapless bunch had no choice but to embrace the afternoon downpour during the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ and Foxygen‘s sets, as Merriweather became a big mud slick. Even the press area was pocked with sloshy pits. If you didn’t come home after Sweetlife with mud-caked shoes, you probably weren’t there.

4) More of that local stuff, please!

The motto of Sweetlife this year was “Passion x Purpose.” A passion for sustainable, delicious local food, and, we assume, the purpose of rocking our socks off. Booths of the best Beltway cuisine imaginable lined the grounds, and we ate and drank to sounds of new DC bands, like spunky rockers Shark Week. “DC has a small creative community. Everyone is very collaborative with each other,” says Jonathan Neman, founder of the festival and health-food company Sweetgreen, and who, incidentally, used to have his hair cut by Shark Week frontman Ryan Mitchell. “For our first few festivals, it was just U.S. RoyaltyWill Eastman, all these local guys that were playing for free. They would play for salads, essentially. It’s cool to see a lot of those people grow with us.”

5) Nothing like a music festival to make you feel old.

Well, it’s settled. Some of us might be too old for music festivals. Not because Sweetlife wasn’t awesome – it was – but good grief, the kids just keep getting younger and younger. We swear that last time we attended Sweetlife, we were in a pretty average demographic, but somehow the years passed and so did our age. Crazy how that works. So, when one whippersnapper politely approached to ask if we might buy him and his friends some beer, we laughed. Beer? Ain’t nobody got time for that line. We’re going to see Solange.

6) Goosebumps are the best.

Feeling tingly? Are your arm hairs standing on end? You’ve got yourself some goosebumps, my friend, otherwise known as the main symptom of feeling unmistakably alive. Patrons at Sweetlife had several acts to thank for that sensation this weekend, including Gary Clark Jr., who received a standing ovation after an epic set of raw, electric rock, and Lindsey Stirling, whose unique blend of violin and dubstep was mind-bending.

7) Bands up close > bands far away.

Merriweather Post Pavilion provides a great outdoor experience, even for those sprawled out at the very back edge of the amphitheater’s lawn. But we found many pro’s to being in the pit at Sweetlife this year: 1) not getting soaked by the rain, 2) making eye contact with Kendrick Lamar and 3) helping Phoenix frontman Thomas Mars crowd surf. We recommend splurging for those pit tickets next time.

8) Make room in your calendars for next year.

Sweetlife is still green as far as festivals go, but expect to see it blossom soon. Founder Jonathan Neman hinted that an expanded event might be in the works, saying, “That’s the vision, to really make [Sweetlife] a full experience, more than just a 1-day event.” We can’t wait to set up camp.