Escaping the Popacalypse at Landmark Music Festival, with mixed results - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
Photo by Tom Beck

Washington, D.C. was home to the inaugural Landmark Music Festival this past weekend, as headliners Drake and The Strokes graced the stage along with a slew of other top-notch bands including Philly bred artists Son Little and The War on Drugs. The lineup, which was loaded with great talent, also included Houndmouth, The Suffers, Manchester Orchestra, alt-J, Chvrches, Ben Howard, George Ezra, Albert Hammond Jr, The London Souls and Band of Horses. The festival did a lot of things right — namely the booking of top-notch talent. However, Landmark has its work cut out for it if it wants to earn a spot among the best festivals in the country. Let’s start with the bad.

The beer selection was atrocious. Your only options were Miller Lite, Coors Light, Redd’s Apple Ale, Smith and Forge Hard Cider, and Blue Moon. Not a single mainstream non-light pale lager was present on the menu, despite Miller Genuine Draft, Coors Banquet and Molson Canadian all being formidable options that the festival’s main beer sponsor, MillerCoors, could have provided. The decision not to sell decent beer at the festival was a bit puzzling, as many, including myself, opted not to fork over $8 for less-than-mediocre beer, and rather drink either water or Coca-Cola for $3 for most of the festival. I understand my chances of being able to enjoy a craft-brewed IPA at a festival were slim, however, I would’ve settled for a Molson.

Photo by Tom Beck

Photo by Tom Beck

As if the poor beer selection wasn’t bad enough, the lines for beer, liquor and food were quite possibly even more ridiculous, extending far beyond 100 people per line at times. Many of the bars ran out of beer, as festival goers were forced to continue to stay in line and miss the great performances going on around them, until golf carts full of beer arrived. (The long-awaited beer deliveries were generally greeted with sarcastic applause from those in line.)

On the bright side, the festival’s promoters did a great job booking artists. With the exception of the two headliners (which we’ll get to), every single other band I saw was fantastic. Alt-J had hands down the best performance of the festival, rivaled only by The War on Drugs’ set. The London Souls, The Suffers, Houndmouth and Albert Hammond Jr also were among the standout performances.

Photo by Tom Beck

The Suffers played a charismatic set at Landmark | Photo by Tom Beck

But the best news of the weekend? The Philly bands were spectacular. Son Little kicked off the festival, and garnered a great reception from all who gathered to watch his set. His soulful, bluesy vibe resonated through the crowd, fitting in well with some of the other more rock and roll acts of the weekend. The real highlight was The War on Drugs, who were the penultimate act of Saturday night. The band kicked things of with “Arms Like Boulders,” and maintained energy throughout the entirety of their hour-long set, which also included songs like “Red Eye,” “Under the Pressure” and “Baby Missiles.” To make an already great show even better, rain began falling from the sky about midway through the band’s set. And it was just the right amount; enough to add to the atmosphere, yet still far from drenching those the audience. Miraculously, despite ominous grey crowds and forecasts of rain virtually all weekend, the brief drizzle that fell during the War on Drugs set was the only precipitation that fell all weekend.

Those headliners, though. Such promise, but they simply didn’t pull through. But that’s no fault of the festival; The Strokes simply didn’t play to the best of their abilities, and Drake offered nothing more than one of the most cliche performances I’ve ever seen in my entire concert-attending and reporting career. My favorite line of Saturday night was when the Toronto born rapper insisted that he wanted “to do something different tonight,” without specifying anything in particular. Why? Because “it looks like we have some real Drake fans in the house!,” he yelled, as the audience cheered delusionally. Right. As if you don’t say that everynight, Drake.

Photo by Tom Beck

Compared to their performance at Shaky Knees earlier this summer, The Strokes’ set was a letdown | Photo by Tom Beck

Sunday night’s headlining performance by The Strokes also didn’t live up to expectations, as frontman Julian Casablancas audibly labored through many of the band’s songs, noticeably screwing up the first couple lines of “Someday.” Casablancas apologized after the song, blaming the mishap on the fact that he had been listening to early demos of the song on the internet, and confused some of the lyrics. However, what was most disappointing about The Strokes’ set, is that the band, who was scheduled to play from 8:30-10pm, went onstage 15 minutes late, and ended their set 10 minutes early, cutting out around 25 total minutes of set time, which could have been better spent playing fan favorites such as “Under Cover of Darkness,” “You Only Live Once ” or “12:51,” all of which were absent from the setlist. Their set was a far cry from their much, much better performance at Atlanta’s Shaky Knees, which I covered back in May. The one silver lining of the set was Casablancas’s announcement that the band would be heading back into the studio to record a sixth album.

Although Landmark may have faltered a bit logistically, they got the most important part right: booking great bands. And just like what the fake Jim Morrison accompanied by a weird naked Indian from Wayne’s World 2 once said, “If you book them, they will come.” Turns out, he was right. To boot, the food selection at the festival was much better than the beer selection, as a vast variety of options were provided for hungry concert-goers.

The best news to come out of this weekend’s festival in the nation’s capital, was that above everything else, Landmark shows potential. The event was hosted by C3 Events, which has also organizes Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits Festival, so you know it’s in good hands. Without doubt, the faults of Landmark were glaring enough that C3 will surely fix the issues at hand if they decide to put on a follow up event next year.  And as long as they book a lineup at least half as great as this year’s, I’ll be heading back.

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