From Coachella to Lollapalooza, some summer music festivals have become an event where talented artists are overshadowed by obnoxious, and often underage, crowds.
But perhaps because Landmark Festival, which made its debut this Saturday and Sunday, stood for a cause, the crowd seemed more tame. Alongside the flower-crown-and-flannel-wearing millennials were young couples pushing strollers and even a few guests that appeared to be the same age my own parents.
Over two overcast days, Landmark brought together about 40 artists with ticket proceeds going toward the Trust for the National Mall, a nonprofit partner of the National Park Service devoted to preserving the Mall.
Some booths around the festival grounds at West Potomac Park allowed guests to take trash bags that they could use to clean up littered beer cans; they could return the full bags at the end of the day to receive prizes. Other vague appeals to activists in the crowd included the “What do you march for?” wall on which guests scribbled down causes and issues that inspired them – everything from “women’s rights” to “dad bods.”
But it was clear that most people just came for the music.
Drake, Saturday night’s first headliner, captivated the crowd with his powerful stage presence. After a day of running around the festival grounds, I didn’t think I had it in me to withstand the tightly packed horde of high schoolers surrounding his stage for two hours. But as soon as the Canadian rapper hit the stage, I miraculously found the energy to sing and dance to every song on the setlist.
Drake didn’t miss a beat as he breezed through a repertoire of his most popular songs and verses, both old and new – from “Headlines” to “Hotline Bling” and “Back to Back,” his latest diss track against rapper Meek Mill. Some of the onstage gimmicks – like fireworks, excessive airhorns that punctuated each song and his (probably) insincere declarations that this performance was his favorite one yet – were harmless, but grew tiresome after a while. He also apologized, on behalf of God, for the rain. Thanks, Drake.
Closing out the festival on Sunday night, The Strokes lived up to everything you’d expect from a headliner, rocking out with powerful vocals and guitar solos on classics like “Hard to Explain” and “Last Nite.” In between tracks, frontman Julian Casablancas – who was inexplicably sporting sunglasses at 9 p.m. – provided entertaining (albeit mumbly) banter with the audience. The performance wasn’t reserved but it definitely wasn’t over-the-top. The band arrived on stage more than 15 minutes late and left the stage about 10 minutes early, without responding to audience chants for an encore.
Alt-j’s performance drew one of the biggest crowds of the weekend, but the band lacked the stage presence that makes concerts memorable. Even during fast-paced songs like “Left Hand Free,” the band remained stiff and motionless. Performing at the same time on the other side of the park, English folk singer George Ezra played a much more lively and intimate set, which included his soulful radio hit “Budapest” and a crowd-pleasing cover of Macy Gray’s “I Try.”
Some of the smaller, lesser-known bands offered the most memorable performances. On Saturday afternoon, The Mowgli’s were all smiles, bouncing around stage at a down-to-earth performance of feel-good love songs like “Whatever Forever” and “Say It, Just Say It.” On Sunday evening, CHVRCHES’ synthetic beats, accompanied by lead singer Lauren Mayberry’s sweet vocals, were electrifying.
The D.C. Eats food tents, curated by chef Jose Andres, attracted some of the largest crowds at the festival, offering everything from sushi to vegetable-infused lemonade. I decided to skip the more popular vendors like Shake Shack and Ben’s Chili Bowl, and instead headed over to the tent for Duke’s Grocery, an East London-style eatery in Dupont Circle. The $9 “posh” BLT sandwich – with avocado and garlic aioli – and $8 corn-on-the-cob – with tangy cotija cheese, spicy sauce and cilantro – were pricey but satisfying takes on two classics.
Because of Landmark’s toned-down take on activism, anyone seeking a crowd that was passionate about saving the world should have probably taken the trip to New York for the weekend to catch Global Citizens Fest. And die-hard festival-goers expecting to rave came to the wrong place. But for everyone in between who just wanted to enjoy the music, Landmark made a promising start as a new tradition for D.C. residents.