Sweetwater 420 Fest Sets the Bar High for This Year's Festival Season
The 13th annual Sweetwater 420 Fest was held in Atlanta this past weekend, and the message could not be more clear, "We're here for a good time, she's here for a long time." With "she" being our planet Earth, of course, as the festival focuses on environmental awareness, and is celebrated every year on the same weekend as Earth Day.
The festival has attracted more and more people throughout it's existence, and celebrated music, art, beer, and the environment for the 4th time at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta. I could describe it for you, but Trey Anastasio summed it up perfectly during his headlining set of night one stating, "To whoever decided to hold a music festival in this beautiful park in the middle of Atlanta, thank you!" The park held grounds to many of the 1996 Summer Olympic games, and the city has worked hard ever since to preserve it's beauty and historic architecture.
Four stages were set up and placed strategically around the park. They were all easy to navigate between, and more importantly, they all had a plethora of porter johns nearby. Centered between them was a beaucoup of vendors, food trucks, and artist merchandise tents. All setting the table for a jam-packed lineup, headlined with two nights of Georgia's own, Widespread Panic.
I was able to get to Centennial Olympic Park around noon on Friday, but it was apparent that most festival attendees were probably still stuck at work somewhere. The place was fairly empty, but it gave me an opportunity to check out the artist market, and get a feel for the layout. The Hip Abduction was on schedule to open up the main stage at 1:00 PM, so I grabbed a Sweetwater IPA and headed that direction. Unfortunately, their set was canceled, and word was circling the crowd that someone in the band had gotten sick. Daily Bread saved the day with an impromptu set, displaying a few of his self-produced mixes that got people up off the grass and moving their feet.
The crowd was growing quickly as I made my way to the Planet 420 stage for Twiddle's set at 4:15. I was looking forward to these guys, and the jam band from Vermont did not disappoint. I had yet to see them live, and while I enjoy listening to their studio albums, everyone has always raved about their live performances. Their sound is unique and rivaled by none, incorporating strong accents of funk, bluegrass, jazz, rock & roll, and reggae. They opened up and jammed on "Daydream Farmer", and had the crowd wailing along with Mihali Savoulidis on "Lost In The Cold." I was impressed. These guys were all over the place in the best possible way.
I caught the tail end of Moe's set back over at the main stage, and took a break to fuel up on food and water before the Trey Anastasio Band closed the night out with a 3 and a half hour set. I couldn't help but notice that everyone was leaving overjoyed, and already talking about day two.
Day two held big plans for me. The weather was beautiful, and I wanted to get to the festival grounds on time to catch early afternoon performances from Big Something, Anders Osborne, Hiku, and Atlanta native, Ron Pope. Unfortunately, life had other plans, and I got into a car accident on my way up to the city. It was only a minor hiccup, but resulted in me not being able to make it to the fest until about 4:00.
The line to get in was long, but moved quickly as I breezed through the gates and followed the funk to the main stage, where Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue were wrapping up their set. "We're gonna get funky like James Brown," Troy shouted before the band broke into an infectious groove that helped me forget the woes of my wreck, and get me back in the mood for music. Slightly Stoopid was next on the main stage, and although I've never kept up much with their music, they know how to put on a show, and their fans absolutely love them. I met a fan who traveled from Wisconsin with a one day pass just to see them. She was excited about the following acts, but as far as she was concerned, Slightly Stoopid was headlining and you couldn't tell her any other way.
Jackie Greene put on a stellar performance over at the Planet 420 stage. I discovered Jackie when he joined The Black Crowes in 2013, replacing Luther Dickinson as lead guitarist. This guy is more than just a guitarist, though. He's a talented songwriter, and can play just about any instrument you put in his lap. After sitting down behind the keys to deliver a poignant performance of his most popular hit "Trust Somebody", Jackie picked his Gibson SG back up and proceeded to shred on a cover of The Allman Brothers Band's "Hot'lanta." A large crowd had gathered by the end of his set, and those who didn't know were asking "Who is this guy? He's incredible."
Widespread Panic got started right on schedule, and by the time I got to the main stage they were already opening up with an instrumental jam "Disco," and the lawn was shoulder to shoulder almost all the way to the back. Everyone was dancing, and you could feel the positive energy that WSP has been attracting and promoting at their shows since their inception in 1986. That energy remained constant throughout the night until they wrapped it all up with a flawless delivery of "Space Wrangler." I still don't see how these guys do what they do on a nightly basis, without ever seeming to miss a beat.
Well, it just wouldn't be Sweetwater 420 Fest anymore without a little precipitation, would it? The festival has been known rolling in the rain clouds the past few years, and has even been renamed by some people as the "Sweetwater Mud Fest." It didn't stick around all day, but when it rained, it poured.
A psychedelic distorted blues trio called The People's Blues of Richmond played early on the Planet 420 Stage as the rain began to fall. I was able to find refuge under the tent at the Lyrics and Laughter stage, where Funk You was getting DOWN, and the crowd was completely on board. I highly suggest you check both of those bands out.
Our photographer on site, Anna, recommended I check out Clavvs, an indie pop and trip hop duo from Atlanta, over at the Disco 420 stage. Unfortunately, the downpour caused the set to be cut short, but their eclectic sound along with Amber Renee's strong stage presence left me wishing I'd been able to see and hear more.
Bouncing ponchos were rampant back over at the Planet 420 stage where elitists of the funk jam, Lettuce, were bringing the groove. Accompanied by keyboardist and vocalist, Nigel Hall, they drew the largest crowd I saw all weekend at that particular stage, and with good reason. "Sounds Like A Party To Me" is a catchy tune anyone can sing along to, and the title itself would serve as a proper response to anyone asking what Lettuce's music sounds like.
WSP picked up right where they left off with another torching set to cap off a wonderful weekend. Dark clouds came and went, but the rain held off, and the Georgia boys dazzled us again. Opening up with a cover of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth", they jammed for hours, and the crowd reciprocated their energy by endlessly dancing, smiling, and passing around hugs and party favors. The set was filled with crowd favorites such as "Chilly Water," "Driving Song," and "Climb To Safety," and before we knew it we were calling for an encore. The band gave a nod to the 420 theme as they started their encore with Van Morrison's "And It Stoned Me" before officially closing things out with "Action Man."
All in all, I was flat out exhausted, but 100% satisfied with my experience at this year's Sweetwater 420 Fest. I made new friends, discovered new music, and fused the two together to create memories I'll hold onto forever. A tip of the cap to all of the staff, security, and anyone else who had a part in putting this years festival together. I spent three days around people who were drinking and smoking marijuana heavily. Yet, I witnessed zero violence. Imagine that. See you next year!