It’s Saturday, May 11, and Jonathan Neman is gazing out across the lawn of Maryland’s Merriweather Post Pavilion as Solange slinks through a funky early-afternoon set.
It’s a venue he attended countless times as a music fan during his years in college at nearby Georgetown University with classmates Nicolas Jammet and Nathaniel Ru. This is the third year the three friends and co-founders of Washington, D.C.-area salad chain Sweetgreen have hosted Sweetlife, a one-day music festival. But, as of less than 24 hours ago, this is the first year they’ve sold out the 20,000 capacity space. It helps that they booked an impressive lineup for a young festival -- Lindsey Stirling, Gary Clark Jr., Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Kendrick Lamar, Passion Pit and Phoenix all joined Solange on the main stage, while the B stage featured performanes from hot indie bands like Holy Ghost!, Youth Lagoon, Foxygen, Ms Mr, Haerts and Neman’s personal favorite, Nicky Blitz.
“This is a full-year process for us,” Neman explains from a watchtower above the Merriweather lawn. “You start out and make your wishlist and you have different levels of success. But this year we made ours and the fact that we got pretty much the whole wish list is unbelievable… We just saw Phoenix three or four years ago at Rock N Roll Hotel at the beginning of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, so to have them here now headlining is surreal.”
Sweetlife was produced and booked in partnership with Seth Hurwitz and I.M.P., owners of D.C.’s top club 9:30, and branding agency Cornerstone, whose co-founder Jon Cohen was in the crowd. Festival veteran Laura Rankin also pitched in as Sweetlife’s director, coordinating sponsorships and marketing activity. Having an all-star lineup on the back-end as well as the marquee should explain how Sweetlife grew from “13 to 14,000 the first year to 16 or 17,000 last year to over 20,000 and three stages today,” Neman says. “It’s combining the things we love -- food, music and community.”