For the last few years, Atlanta’s Sweetwater 420 Fest has been plagued with less than stellar weather. It never really stopped the music loving city from coming out in droves to see the likes of Snoop Dogg, Robert Randolph, or 311. Well, until this year.
Friday night had the festivities kicked off by Big Sam’s Funky Nation and the beautifully overcast weather they brought with them. This was followed by crowd favorites Lucero, jam band juggernauts The Disco Biscuits, and an unstoppable set by hip hop legends, Cypress Hill. As the night went on, the weather went from breezy to torrential downpouring during the first 20 minutes of Kid Rock’s fist-pumping quadrant of old school hits. Having to cut his set short, the festival ended the steam engine momentum Kid Rock usually brings to his shows. Hopefully, the rest of the weekend would been better off and the crowd would be able to visit all the ridiculously talented vendors and enjoy the amazing food trucks provided near the entrance. That’s if you could actually enter.
This year, a few changes had been made without much fanfare to those that actually bought tickets. First off, no more bags were allowed, nor purses. You were allowed a fanny pack or a small ONE-STRING backpack. I am guessing this was more of a security precaution, but as most festival goers can protest, you need a bag to tote around your belongings for three days. Several people in front of me had to be turned away while carrying all they needed for their weekend trek. Some couldn’t even bring in their purse. In addition, the prices for 3-Day passes nearly doubled since last year. Entering the park, you saw absolutely nothing enhanced for that money. Same layout. Same handful of food trucks. A few more comedians added. A truck that had over-priced souvenir cups (with unlimited refills on water and soda) that weren’t much different from last year, yet more expensive. Even the merchandise stand for Sweetwater looked like it was picked through and thrown up there quickly for the masses. For those that did make it in, there didn’t seemed to have been many. The attendance throughout the weekend was paltry at best. This didn’t change much whether it was 2pm or watching a closing set by a headliner. This was definitely a major change from the last two years and hopefully, a wake up call for the promoters. The prize is all of this was guaranteed front row seats to your favorite band without having to shell out for those silly VIP tickets.
All in all, these things didn’t stop Saturday openers, Robert Randolph & The Family Band to blow the gates off with their set. As usual, their rollicking one hour was filled with good old fashioned jamming, cover songs, and a free form that rivals anyone in their genre. The audience got a double dose of him when he joined The Word for their rare concert appearance which was an absolute gem. The rest of the day was fortunate with amazing (and sometimes blistering) weather and foot-stomping shows by the sometimes trio, North Mississippi Allstars, James Brown’s saxophonist Maceo Parker, and The Roots. The latter showed they are way more than just a back up band for Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night show and looked like they were having more fun than they have in years. After the sonic assault of those five bands, things came to a close with radio friendly Bastille and their hypnotic light show.
After all the bad weather, price jumps, and lack of anything new, Sunday came to a peaceful close. After the high energy day before, attendees were greeted to festival veterans, Leftover Salmon and their infectious song catalog. Not a second passed by that a foot wasn’t tapping or a circle of fans weren’t dancing. This groove was rightfully passed along to newcomers, People’s Blues of Richmond and Bonnaroo favorites, Atmosphere. This is where Sweetwater 420 Fest usually excels. You can go from dirty blues and swamp rock to genre bending hip hop like Atmosphere without batting an eye. The audible journey started to get kicked into high gear again with a crowd surfing 60 minutes with Michael Franti & Spearhead as well as everyone’s favorite rapper in college, Ludacris. While he is off rubbing shoulders with Vin Diesel in the Fast & Furious movies, Luda makes the occasionally hometown appearance to give us hit after hit after hit. At this moment, the sun is down and the cool winds are a-blowin’ as Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals open up with “When Sex Is Dirty” from their brand new album “Call It What It Is.” They blow through an hour and a half of sing along classics and five brand new songs. After a rocky start to the weekend, they closed out this year’s Sweetwater 420 Fest with a bang and more crowd chanting moments than a Springsteen concert. Hopefully, the fest will learn from their mistakes and shortcomings, but keep delivering on the amazing acts they keep getting. A nice little kick off to what looks to be a spectacular summer of live music in Atlanta.