Organizers want concert goers to enjoy the ‘Sweetlife’

What’s big, “green,” tastes delicious and comes with a sound track of some of the music industry’s most innovative and up-and-coming artists? It’s the second annual Sweetlife Festival coming to Merriweather Post Pavilion on Saturday, April 28. The all-day extravaganza has expanded its musical performances, enhanced its food choices and even added some elements to introduce attendees, not just to new artists and exciting flavors, but to an entire way of approaching life–the Sweetlife, that is.

“The ‘sweetlife’ is living your best life. It’s the idea that you can be healthy and still have fun,” says Jonathan Neman, who together with his partners, Nicolas Jammet and Nathaniel Ru, founded sweetgreen restaurants in Washington, DC in 2007.
All three met as freshmen at Georgetown University where they each majored in a different aspect of business. 
“We were sick of complaining about the food on campus and decided to stop complaining and do something about it,” Neman said. Sweetgreen restaurants offer healthy options derived from sustainable and locally available raw ingredients served at a fast food pace. Neman says, the Sweetlife Festival organizers say their event promises to promote the same philosophy they espouse in their 11 restaurants—that living a healthy lifestyle should be easy and fun. He says that every component of the event, from the menu to the décor of the grounds to the vendors and exhibits on display will somehow reflect this sentiment.
The Sweetlife Festival, however, developed from the need to attract attention to the opening of their second eatery. What started as simply playing music from a speaker out in front of the store, turned into a block party where they would invite local acts to play. In 2010, the first “unofficial” Sweetlife Festival was actually held in a parking lot adjacent to one of their locations and featured regional bands.
Just as the food served inside the restaurant had connected patrons physically by feeding their bodies, Neman explained, “the music we played outside connected people emotionally.” Establishing a full-fledged festival under their “sweetlife” umbrella brand just seemed like a natural progression for the trio.
Since then, the festival has grown tremendously and pick up sponsorships.

Musical acts for the 2012 event have expanded to two stages. On the main stage, festival goers will see headliners Avicii, Kid Cudi, The Shins, Explosions in the Sky, Fitz and the Tantrums, A$AP Rocky and Fun. Over at a second stage, called The Treehouse, acts like Twin Shadow, Zola Jesus, Delta Spirit, The Knocks, RAC, U.S. Royalty, Yuna and others will keep the party rolling. A total of 20 performers will appear throughout the day. Neman and his friends choose the bands based on personal preferences and styles range from indie rock to hip-hop to electronica.

Since its founders are also foodies, festival-goers this year will be treated to an array of tantalizing dining choices in the newly added Food Forest. Along with Sweetgreen’s menu, other gourmet offerings include José Andrés (gazpacho and flautas), Momofuku Milk Bar (pastries, coffee, ice cream), Shake Shack (all natural burgers and shakes), Taim (falafel and smoothies), Roberta’s Pizza (gourmet wood-fired pizzas) and many more. A total of 30 vendors will participate.
In addition to the music and the food, Neman says the festival strives to generate as much energy as it needs to operate.
“We partnered with the nonprofit organization Global Inheritance that will be provide all sorts of interactive games, see saws and bicycles, which will actually create power,” Neman said. “Some of the power we use for the festival will be offset by the power we create. We want this to be a ‘carbon neutral’ event.”
Global Inheritance will also feature their TRASHed store where festival goers can bring bottles, cans and other recyclables and trade them for small prizes. (This should make clean up a little easer for the grounds crew after the event as well!) Vendors and festival partners will be using compostable, biodegradable or recyclable materials to serve or package foods. Other items that may be for sale, t-shirts for example, will be made from sustainable resources and with organic fabrics and dyes. Coincidentally, the pavilion at Merriweather is itself supplemented by power from solar panels on the roof.
On top of all this, Neman and his team have turned the festival into a way to support community service organizations as well. Among the cuisine offered by famous restaurants in the Food Forest, D.C. Central Kitchen will also have a presence. D.C. Central Kitchen’s mission is to feed the homeless, offer job training, and support their communities through the recycling of leftover and surplus food from area, restaurants, hospital kitchens and food service entities. Neman says a portion of the proceeds from the festival will go to DCCK. Furthermore, Sweetgreen has started partnering with D.C. Central Kitchen to offer workshops on how to choose healthy foods to elementary school children in the Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia regions.
While many festivals feature a variety of music and sometimes themed vendors or exhibits, few seem to have attempted to promote the healthy and sustainable lifestyle philosophy, as well as the community consciousness, in the way the Sweetlife Festival attempts to do.
“Definitely there are some festivals that we look up,” Neman says. Some of the festivals he sites include Coachella, going on now in Indio, California, the food offerings at Outside Lands Festival in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Bonaroo, something of a cultural event in Manchester, Tenn., and Wanderlust, which combines yoga, music and speakers for events, in Vermont, Colorado, California and British Columbia. “They all have something special about them,” Neman says.
Only the Electric Forest Festival, formerly called Rothbury after the town in Michigan where it is held, addresses issues of sustainability, environmental awareness, and is also a musical event, Neman says. “We just view Sweetlife as a party with a purpose,” he says.

Neman expects the Sweetlife Festival to sell out and VIP tickets, which went for $125, already have. As for now, general admission tickets to the Sweetlife Festival are $75 from Ticketfly. Gates open at noon on April 28.

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