Sweetlife Festival grows from backyard concert to big attraction for music fans

Jonathan Elbaz, Capital News Service

WASHINGTON – In April 2010, a small Washington, D.C., restaurant chain staged a concert for 700 people in front of its Dupont Circle location. On Saturday, the same chain expects to stuff the mighty Merriweather Post Pavilion with 20,000 strong.

The fourth annual Sweetlife Festival, run by restaurant chain Sweetgreen, will take over the Columbia venue for the third straight year. The stacked lineup of lively, trendy musicians — with this year’s crop yielding Phoenix, Passion Pit, Kendrick Lamar and many more — will play alongside dozens of farmers and food producers selling healthy, organic foods.

Through key industry connections and the exploitation of an unfilled niche in the region’s live music scene, Sweetgreen has transformed its backyard concert into a juggernaut of an event.

Sweetlife is now one of highest-profile music festivals in the Mid-Atlantic. It’s not everyday that a salad chain can fill an amphitheater.

Sweetgreen opened in 2007 on M St. in Northwest Washington, after its founders — three Georgetown business students — pined for better food options around campus. The store boasted a menu of organic salads and blended a warm wood-paneled aesthetic with the expediency of a Chipotle-style food joint.

“We feel the best moments of your life can be the healthiest moments of your life,” said Sweetgreen co-founder Nic Jammet.

Shortly after opening the first shop, the founders decided to blast tunes through the outdoor speakers and heaved a cheap amplifier inside to spin some Daft Punk. The high-octane beats were a little too raucous for the business lunch crowd, but some customers vibed to the lower-energy indie and alternative rock tunes.

There was real synergy between the fresh food Sweetgreen sold and the hip music it played. After staging in-store sets from Thievery Corporation, Toro Y Moi, Walk the Moon and other young musicians, the founders realized that with the right selection of music they could push the Sweetgreen brand beyond food.

They planned a modest event for April 2010


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