This past weekend I traveled down to the dirty south to Atlanta, Georgia for the 12th annual Sweetwater 420 Fest. It is an annual music fest put on by Sweetwater Brewing Company in the Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta.
The festival is very diverse and a lot of the acts or at least a good chunk of them are stoner related, it is called 420 Fest after all. It’s also a very Eco friendly fest, especially this year with the opening day on Earth Day. One of their slogans which was posted around the fest was: We’re here for a good time, she’s here for a long time! And I will say that a good time was had by myself and all I encountered.
Day one 4/22 (Which also happened to be my birthday)
I arrived on time because I was interested to see the first act on the main stage. That act was BIG SAM’S FUNKY NATION from New Orleans. They are lead by trombonist and lead vocalist, BIG SAM WILLIAMS. What a way to start the weekend is all I can say. A funky dance party on a hot, sunny Friday afternoon is just what the doctor ordered, especially after the news of the passing of Prince the day before. There was a big purple shadow over this fest because of the loss of Prince, which was to be expected. BSFN were the first to unleash a tribute to Prince, a slowed down, super funky version of Let’s Go Crazy. They did it in the style that Prince has done many times live. If you have seen the footage of Prince doing Let’s Go Crazy at the SNL 40th Anniversary post party, then you know how Big Sam and the boys did it. I couldn’t ask for a better act to start off this festival. Not one bad song and they kept the funk going for the whole hour they were on stage. For my fellow Chicagoan’s, Big Sam’s Funky Nation will be at Martyr’s on May 27th and I highly suggest you check them out. http://www.bigsamsfunkynation.com/
I wandered over to the Planet 420 stage next to check out a band from San Francisco called HI LO HA. I dug them, they were refreshing indie/folk rock band that didn’t sound like the typical indie garbage. They had a cool rockin’ vibe to them and I am glad I gave them a chance. You can find them on Facebook.https://www.facebook.com/HiLoHaMusic/?fref=ts
Next up was LUCERO from Memphis on the main stage. I must admit I had no interest in them but I gave them a chance. I ended up enjoying most of their set. I didn’t know much about them going into them, I just assumed they were going to be some country crap. I was totally wrong, they were a nice mix of Alt. Country/Southern Rock/Memphis Blues. They were tight as a band and the crowd appreciated it. Lead singer/guitarist, Ben Nichols kept mentioning how it was weird that they were opening for Cypress Hill and Kid Rock, but that he wouldn’t have changed it. I had a chance to chat with Ben after their set, you can find that video on our Facebook page, please check it out. https://www.facebook.com/Lucero/
The mighty CYPRESS HILL was next for me. I am a huge CYPRESS fan, their first album was a tape I wore out back and forth to college every day. When I first saw them they were a tiny opening act on ICE CUBE’S Steady Mobbin’ Tour in 1992, and they were billed as The Cypress Hill Crew. This year Cypress is celebrating their 25th anniversary, so their set was chalk full of hits spanning their career. You name it and they probably did it. B Real and Sen Dog were on fire with their delivery and DJ Julio G who has replaced DJ Muggs was on top of the beats. Along with them and keeping the soulful beat on percussion was Eric “Bobo”, he’s the son of Latin jazz great, Willie bobo. They left the crowd very satisfied and of course very stoned. https://www.facebook.com/cypresshill
During the CYPRESS HILL set I ran into Bret Bollinger, the bass player/vocalist for PEPPER. Another video you can find on the main page of our Facebook. PEPPER is a favorite of mine, they are just a really fun band and they don’t give a fuck. That lead us back to the Planet 420 stage for a nice hour and a half set by the Hawaiians. They are a 3 piece reggae rock/ska band from Hawaii, very influenced by Sublime. The humor in some of their lyrics carries on stage and into the crowd. They just have an awesome energy to them and the last thing you will get at a PEPPER show is bored. Their new album, OHANA comes out this Friday April 29th. Bret also let the cat out of the bag and told me they will be at Riot Fest in Chicago this September.https://www.facebook.com/pepperlive/?fref=ts
Fridays headliner was next, the infamous KID ROCK. I know there are a lot of KID ROCK haters out there, but he puts on one hell of a show every time he gets on stage. His most recent albums might not be the greatest, since he caters more to the country crowd nowadays, but that is not the case live. He mostly sticks to the rap rock material that made him a star and the good ole crowd singalongs. About 30 minutes into his set, in the sky right behind the stage we noticed it getting very dark. It was imminent that a very bad storm was about to hit. Right around the 45 minute mark of his set, ROCK and his band started into the intro to Purple Rain. The crowd went crazy, including myself. Just hearing those opening notes and then turning around and seeing the downtown Atlanta Ferris wheel bathed in purple was a sight and sound to see and hearThen literally 20 seconds into the song he got cut off. They made him evacuate the stage because of pending lightning. About 5 minutes later the waterfall of rain came pouring down and all the fest goers went running in every direction. We hightailed it back to the VIP area (The Honey Hole) to hide out under a tent. We stayed as long as we could until Atlanta Police officers finally got their way and got all of us out of there. Luckily we timed it right and the storm let up right when they were kicking us out.
Day one was great. The setup of the festival was very convenient as far as being able to get to everything. My only beefs would be they didn’t have the gates open in time, they were about 45 minutes late and if you were in the middle of the fest grounds you heard a lot of bleed over from both stages. But it wasn’t horrible because for the most part you are never in the middle of the fest trying to listen to one band, it was mostly when you were walking from one area to the next.
Day Two 4/23
When I first arrived to day two I caught the end of NORTH MISSISSIPPI ALLSTARS, they were decent but not really my thing. I ventured over to the Planet 420 stage and caught a band called CHROME PONY. They really reminded me of Cage the Elephant. They were a nice surprise, just a good rocking time with plenty of energy for a band who had to start early and play to a smaller crowd.
The first act I really wanted to see on the main stage was MACEO PARKER. If you do not know who this is, please stop reading this and google him right now, I’ll wait………
In case you were too lazy to do it I’ll fill you in. MACEO is known for his work with James Brown, he plays on many of Browns hit songs. He also was a member of Parliament-Funkadelic in the seventies. Other stuff to look up by MACEO if you want some good funky jams is anything by Maceo and All the Kings Men or Maceo and the Macks and of course all the PRINCE albums from the early 2000’s feature MACEO. He joined up with Prince in the late 90’s and played on a lot of his albums for a good decade or more and toured with him. So with all that mentioned you can see why I was hyped to see this legend. Parker and his band came on stage to 1999 in tribute to his fallen friend. They ripped right into the funk from there, but they also slowed it down at times and got very soulful. They paid tribute to his whole career, James Brown, Parliament, and much more. His band put some of these younger acts on the fest to shame. Members included in his arsenal ranged from former Parliament and Ray Charles members just to name some. His drummer, Peter Maclean held the pocket all afternoon. I got to chat with him later in the night, it was a cool story of how he got into the band, you can find it in another video on our page that I posted that day. I wasn’t sure how the rest of the day was going to go after Maceo and his group destroyed, but I was dying to find out.
I eventually journeyed over to the 420 stage again to catch a funky gospel band called THE WORD. Now I had no clue who they were, I just had time to kill before I caught REBELUTION on the main stage. They ended up being a super group including ROBERT RANDOLPH, JOHN MEDESKI and all three members of NORTH MISSISSIPPI ALLSTARS. Apparently they all got together through their love of gospel music. I really enjoyed them and this is what I love about festivals, the stuff you discover that you had no clue about.
After a good taste of gospel I went back to the main to hear some good reggae vibes from REBELUTION. In the past few years I have become a big REBELUTION fan. They played LOLLAPALOOZA in Chicago in 2014 and last summer they stole the show when I saw them with SUBLIME. It’s just good, laid back reggae rock, more traditonal sounding then some of their contemporaries in the reggae world. The marijuana flowing in the air during their set definitely rivaled Cypress Hills.
After a stoney reggae afternoon it was time to pick it up again and AWOLNATION provided that. They packed the area by the 420 stage. By far the biggest crowd of the weekend by that stage. I am not a huge fan but I do like the songs that I know by them. Seeing them Live is a whole other story. They were on fire and had the crowd in the palm of their hand. Front man Aaron Bruno was a wild man on stage and a good ring leader for the group and the crowd. I left halfway through their set because I wanted to at least catch half of the Roots set.
My timing couldn’t have been better either, I walked up to see THE ROOTS bust out the best cover I have ever seen of Purple Rain. My jaw was on the ground the whole time, they ripped through it. It was so amazing and bad ass. From there they went right into an awesome rendition of Move On Up by Curtis Mayfield. The band was so in sync and just feeling the energy from the Atlanta crowd. Their emcee, Black Thought is so under rated and he showed off his skills big time. They are so much more than Jimmy Fallon’s band. They were before they joined his show and they still are. They had a good sing along with the crowd when they went into their song Seed 2.0, which is a funky ass jam. The crowd was humongous for them and for AWOLNATION on the other stage, but then the “headliner” of Saturday came on, BASTILLE. Now BASTILLE is fine for what they are, I personally am not a fan and apparently a lot of the fest goers on Saturday weren’t either because the crowd thinned out quite a bit.
I had a blast once again on day two. My only beef this time was the placement of a couple bands. I really think AWOLNATION should’ve been moved to the main stage as the sub-headliner and THE ROOTS as the headliner, moving BASTILLE to the second stage headline spot. I just think if they did that they would’ve kept more people there.
Day Three 4/24
The final day of the fest arrived and we entered during the set by LEFTOVER SALMON. Again a band that is not my thing but it made for good background music as I started my fest experience. The first band I wanted to give a shot was PEOPLE’S BLUES OF RICHMOND. Obviously from Richmond, VA, these guys rocked. A three piece that reminded me of Wolfmother but with a little more dirty blues attached to their sound. I left their set a fan big time. Another band that had to start early in the day with just a handful of people watching, but ended their set with a nice big crowd.
MANCHESTER ORCHESTRA was next on the main stage. They are a decent festival band to me. I have some of their tracks but not a huge fan. Though in the past three years I have seen them on three different fests, LOLLAPALOOZA, RIOT FEST and 420 and they always sound good.
After MANCHESTER I decided to go give another band I knew nothing about a chance. NAHKO AND MEDICINE FOR THE PEOPLE played the 420 stage and holy crap were they good. It’s hard to explain what they are because there are many musical influences in their sound. Soul, Reggae, folk, traditional Hawaiian and a little Dave Matthews if Dave Matthews sounded good. NAHKO also has a little Pharell Williams in his vocal sound too. They commanded a huge crowd on the 420 stage and the dancing and singing was contagious. They are on tour most of the year and playing many festivals, so if you have the chance definitely check them out.
It was hard to pull away from NAHKO but I wanted to catch some of ATMOSPHERE. The Minnesota rap group always puts on a good show and is another who is a festival main stay. I was able to catch their last few songs and the hip hop grooves sounded good in the Atlanta heat. They will be in Chicago this summer on the Mamby on the Beach festival.
MICHAEL FRANTI & SPEARHEAD were next on the main stage. FRANTI towers on stage and it is just amazing watching him rap and play the guitar at the same time while running all over the place. His band was tight and had the feel good summer vibe going with the songs The Sound of Sunshine and Say Hey (I Love You). The latter brought NAHKO out to help on vocals. For both of those songs FRANTI brought kids from the audience on the stage to help sing and it was so cute, especially hearing the shyness in their voices, but when they are older they will have a very unique tale to tell.
Atlanta’s very own, LUDACRIS was next. This another example of bad placement. LUDACRIS should’ve been the festival closer, especially being a hometown boy. The biggest crowd of Sunday gathered to hear all his hits and man I forgot how many he has. Just about every song he did was a radio hit. Also he has been a guest on so many other artists songs, and he had no problem reminding us of that. His DJ had his moment by giving the crowd a PRINCE medley to sing along to. LUDA didn’t want his set to end, he actually went over his allotted time and gave us one extra tune, but they had to pull him after that so BEN HARPER can get his full set.
With that I bring us to the final act of the 2016 edition of the 420 fest, BEN HARPER & THE INNOCENT CRIMINALS. Now these guys are good, I been a fan of most of Harper’s material since the early 90’s, but I think they should’ve been the sub-headliner. Being the final night and the crowd just danced and sang their ass off to LUDACRIS, it was only expected that the crowd thinned out once again. That didn’t matter though, a good portion stayed and jammed out to the smooth sounds of HARPER and his Innocent Criminals. The best moment for me was hearing my favorite song by him, Burn One Down, a smoking weed anthem that got so many to light up that HARPER even commented that the smell was thick on stage.
So that does it my friends, those are my thoughts from the 2016 SWEETWATER 420 FESTIVAL in Atlanta. Overall they did a great job putting on a very fun festival. Like I said earlier I only had a couple beefs but they were very small. I would definitely go back to Atlanta next year if they will have me. I want to thank Sweetwater Brewing Company for taking care of me and my friends and for making one of my favorite beers, Sweetwater Blue. That’s not ass kissing that is just the truth!
I give the 420 FEST a 4.5 out of 5 stars