The Common Good

The 2013 Sweetlife Festival: At the Intersection of Passion and Purpose

Passion and purpose.

Photo Brandon Hook / Sojourners
The crowd at the sweetlife festival waits to hear the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Photo Brandon Hook / Sojourners

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Sounds familiar, huh? Those two words are at the heart of activism and social justice. I could have safely assumed that almost every young Christian activist at the Justice Conference in Philadelphia back in February was passionate about a particular purposeful cause. I’m surprised a Christian conference hasn’t already picked up on the whole passion and purpose thing for slogan or tag line.

Christian conferences aside, I never thought those two words would be the foundation of a cutting-edge music and food festival at Merriwewather Post Pavilion, and certainly not one where 18,000 people were jamming to some of their favorite artists and scurrying over to local food trucks for healthy, delicious food in between sets. Heck, I didn’t know there was such a thing as a festival that focuses on both music and food.

But this year’s 4th annual sweetlife festival on Saturday surprised me. Much more than a festival, sweetlife reflects a way of approaching life; a way of living where passion and purpose intersect. These principles are what steer sweetgreen, a network of sustainable eateries originated in Washington, D.C., and now with locations throughout the Northeast, founded by Georgetown graduates Nicolas Jammet, Jonathan Neman and Nathaniel Ru in 2007.

“We exist to create experiences that exceed expectations, where passion and purpose come together, that leave people better off than when we found them,” the founders said in a press release.

Sweetgreen is a place that unites ideas and concepts commonly thought to be mutually exclusive not only in business, but also in life. The company believes that food can be both healthy and delicious, high-quality and affordable; that experiences can be both meaningful and fun, hip and wholesome; and that business practices can combine style and substance while being mutually beneficial to the company and community they serve.

And the sweetlife festival was created to encourage a holistic lifestyle where each experience is the intersection point that results in a sum greater than the individual parts.

Sounds incredible, right?

Well, it was, aside from some of the outrageously expensive food (think $7 for a hotdog and somewhere between $8 and $11 for a beer).

Encompassed in the intersection of passion and purpose is the pairing of delicious, healthy food and cutting edge music. The festival started four years ago with a small gathering of about 300 people outside the sweetgreen store in DuPont Circle, Washington, D.C., featuring a few bands and has since blossomed into a massive multi-stage event with 18,000 attendees that takes place in one of the most famous amphitheaters in the country.

This year’s lineup featured headliner Phoenix, who tore up the main stage, played most of the songs from their newest album Bankrupt!, and sprinkled a few oldies in there, with frontman Thomas Mars ending up in the crowd for an acoustic rendition of “Countdown,” off of their last album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix; Passion Pit, a lively indie pop group out of Boston, who surprised most festival goers with their electric live set, and who seemingly stole the show; the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, an older rock group that kept it simple and straight up rocked; and Youth Lagoon, an up-and-coming experimental indie group. The guys at sweetgreen made sure both stages were packed with great artists and talent to keep festival goers occupied from noon till 11 p.m.

Accompanying the music was not only healthy food, but ethically sourced healthy food served in a purposeful, sustainable environment.  

“It all started with our belief that our community would benefit from a healthy, delicious, and eco-friendly dining option,” sweetgreen said. “While the restaurants around us were willing to compromise on quality or values, we knew there was a different way to do things. We passionately believed it was possible to create ‘food that fits’ — your values, your budget, your tastes, your imagination, and your community.”

The company paired with local farmers and trusted partners to provide the food, which ranged from Japanese chicken and noodle dishes to burritos to barbecue pork sandwiches to tasty vegetables and desserts and much more.

Sweetgreen was also committed to offsetting the power generated at the sweetlife festival and remaining carbon neutral by purchasing renewable energy certificates and installing solar panels on the main stage roof.

And once festival goers were done with their delectable treats they can throw them in one of many tri-waste stations sweetgreen created with help of Fatworm Composting to minimize the amount of trash headed to the landfill after the concert. Each experience vendor will provided compostable utensils, cups, and napkins.

The music was incredible, and the food — I was able to snag a barbecue pork sandwich, some fried chicken, and corn — while a little on the pricey side, was great too. Hopefully Christians can learn from what sweetgreen has accomplished in just four short years to provide a culturally impressive and respected music experience with a delicious and nutritious food experience as well, nourishing both the body, mind, and soul in a holistic experience at the intersection of passion and purpose for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Brandon Hook is the Online Assistant at Sojourners.

Photo: Brandon Hook / Sojourners

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