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Sweetwater 420 Festival ~ April 18-20, 2014 ~ Centennial Olympic Park, Atlanta, GA

Written by: Mike Gregory

This year’s SweetWater 420 Festival came out swinging for the fences announcing heavy hitting all-stars Galactic, Steel Pulse, Sublime with Rome, G. Love and Special Sauce and Chris Robinson Brotherhood.  This year we were playing against a formidable opponent, none other than Mother Nature, and she would not go down without a fight. Though, when all was said and done, a festival win would be logged into the record books.

SweetWater 420 celebrated its 10th anniversary in a new location, Centennial Olympic Park, nestled in the heart of Atlanta (past festivals were held in Candler Park, also in Atlanta). The festival is all about being “green” and people were encouraged to take public transportation, or ride and park their bikes in the Bike Valet inside the park. Bags for recycling were scattered throughout the park and people pitched in to do their part.

The festival coordinators thought of everything, right down to hammocks for the fans that needed to get off their feet for a few moments. Two stages alternated bands throughout the weekend complete with VIP areas stocked with “free” beer, a cash bar, indoor bathrooms, shelter, and even an oversized JENGA puzzle standing 4 feet tall! A comedy tent, the Not So Silent Disco, Artist Village, Kidzone, Food Court, Craft Beer tent, Easter Egg Hunt and a Cornhole Tournament kept patrons stirring about like a beehive in the springtime.

Surrounded by Atlanta’s cityscape, complete with a gigantic ferris wheel towering overhead, the festivities began promptly at 4pm on Friday. With Easter being a time for family gatherings, a festival of this magnitude could have been a risky venture, let alone the weather forecast of steady rain. Everyone hoped the forecast was wrong, but the green blob on the radar seemed to hunker down and make itself comfortable over downtown Atlanta. Mother Nature may have brought the rain, but Friday’s music line-up brought the thunder and lightning!

The crowd represented Atlanta’s most loyal music fans; they were in no way swayed by the gloomy skies and were rewarded as such with a funky display of southern rock by Louisiana’s own, Honey Island Swamp Band. They play together like a well-oiled machine and love doing it from the looks on their faces! The band played numerous gems off their latest release, Cane Sugar, produced by Grammy winner John Porter—worthy of serious attention! Fans lapped up guitar and mandolin solos while the keyboardist played his Hammond B-3 organ like it was his last day on earth. The crowd showed their love clapping, cheering, hooting and hollering.  No doubt they added a few more Swamp Rats to their fan base after that blazing performance. Honey Island Swamp Band laid the groundwork for what would be a magical weekend of music, albeit a wet one.

It quickly became apparent that forecasts were correct and the rain was here to stay, but spirits remained high regardless. Some were prepared for the rain better than others. Gas South came to rescue those in need, handing out hundreds of ponchos as people made their way to the main stage to catch another Louisiana favorite, Galactic. Galactic played a stellar 2-hour set with a bit more vocals than past performances adding another dimension to an already top-notch band.  The crowd couldn’t contain their enthusiasm as they shook their booties to the funkiest of New Orleans funk. Smiles were plentiful as SW420 flowed from the tap just as steady as the rain coming down.

While Galactic was laying down the grooves, just a short distance away Conspirator was busy running their sound check at the Planet 420 Stage. Conspirator could be described as a band that plays electronic music on actual instruments. The crowd gathered in anticipation and I could tell there were some serious Conspirator fans in the group. Judging by the influx of people at the stage, the Not So Silent Disco crowd loves this band!  A bit later, the colorful and animated Steel Pulse pumped out reggae beats to close out the opening night of SweetWater 420 Festival. Band members spread out across the stage appearing larger than life.

From 8-11pm, the comedy tent engaged many people looking to stay dry. Others found shelter in the SweetWater experience tent for beer cocktails.  No matter where you went, smiles and laughter could be heard; that is, except for at the Disco. Nothing but people jamming out to DJs Sugar Kayne, Nextakin & Daddy Dough Tag Set,  Eddie Gold, An-Ten-Nae and Two Fresh. A good portion of the disco was under shelter so it would remain a good spot to stay dry for the entire weekend. After the sun went down, the rain and cold began to have an effect on concertgoers. As the night wore on, the crowd thinned out revealing a muddy pit; and this was only day one.

On Saturday, the party picked up where it left off from the night before, though Mother Nature would repeat her performance with soaking rain throughout the day. It was readily apparent that crews were up all night trying to dealing with the mud.  Metal planks were laid down from the stage to the sound booth for people to stand on. Of course there were those that were perhaps swine in their previous lives and decided to wallow in the mud. About 2000 people ran in the 5k race and those that stuck around would see Wesley Cook, EOTO, Sublime with Rome, Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers, and Anders Osborne.  The disco sported DJ Applejuice, Sorted, MK Ultra, Ployd, NiT GriT, Up Until Now, Paul Basic & Supervision, and George Acosta spinning groves for the crowd that seemed to love it.  The comedy tent featured Brian Emond, Cherith Fuller, Jake Head, Kevin Saucier (of course he is), Paige Bowman and Rob Haze among others. The tent was packed to the gills all day and offered up laughter to those looking to forget about life for a while.

Anders Osborne jammed intense solos that spoke to the souls of onlookers—a crowd favorite for sure. An estimated 16,000 people showed up on Saturday, and no doubt Sublime brought them there. The stage show was a little weak and boring though the crowd enthusiastically sung along to the lyrics. The Cornhole Tournament set up on a sidewalk courtyard. This disrupted the flow of people walking from stage to stage. Equally, it disrupted the tournament.  Plans for next year’s tournament may want to include a tent in the grassy area in case of inclement weather.

Mother Nature finally relented on Easter Sunday with abundant sunshine for everyone to enjoy; so much, in fact, that those without sunscreen would be red-faced by the end of the day. It breathed new life into an already fun festival. Masses of crowds were everywhere. Sunday smelled like a festival, with funnel cakes and food trucks catering to everyone’s taste. The food court and market were bustling with action the entire day. Everything was magnified from the previous two days. Surprisingly, Centennial Olympic Park drains off pretty well. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a mud pit and I was shocked to see people dressed in white walking around as if we were in the middle of a drought. The usual cast of characters was in the crowd as well—a girl dressed as a butterfly, a guy with no shirt wearing what appeared to be a wolf skin, something right out of Dances with Wolves.

Music wise, it was another big day on the stages and at the disco. Sunday’s DJs included Ralphie and Louie, ATLiens, RL Shine, Jiriki, Ill Esha, PhuturePrimitive, and Archnemesis while the Dirty Dozen Brass Band brought a little slice of New Orleans feel good music to the party at the main stage. Kung Fu kicked it up more than a few notches when they took the stage. They play their instruments with ferocious finesse that can only be described as unscrewing the cap off a fire hydrant and music coming out! Seeing this band live is where it is at, but if that is not an option check out their latest release Tsar Bomba; heck, check it out anyway! These guys rocked it and are coming back to Atlanta in the fall. Schedule your life accordingly! People continued to pile in the park as G. Love and Special Sauce took the main stage late afternoon. He was dressed in a robin egg blue color leisure suit playing a guitar of the same color. Reggae Rock band, the Dirty Heads, have amassed a loyal following and they showed up in full force to dance to the beat they were laying down.

Sunday peaked with the Chris Robinson Brotherhood performing from 7-9pm. The vibe was mellow for the first few songs and then progressively picked up momentum until it was time to go home and catch a few Z’s before the Monday morning rat race would begin. SweetWater 420 Fest pulled off another winner. Can’t wait until next year!

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