Landmark Music Festival
Landmark Music Festival 2015 Photo: Cristina O'Connell

What We Saw at Landmark Music Festival

Over the weekend, West Potomac Park held the first ever Landmark Music Festival. Over two days, over forty different artists rocked the picturesque setting on the National Mall and brought thousands of fans into the heart of the City. From local rappers and legendary piano players to new solo artists and brass bands, Landmark Festival brought a highly enjoyable and eclectic buffet of artists for DMV-ers to choose from every hour. While it was not humanly possible for On Tap to cover every single performance over the two days, here is the best of what we saw:

Best 80s Throwback: Twin Shadow 

Brooklyn based, Dominican American singer George Lewis Jr., better known by his stage name Twin Shadow, brought Landmark’s Jefferson stage an early surge of energy on Saturday afternoon with an arsenal of 80s acoustics. Wielding an Eddie Van Halen worthy Kramer guitar and flanked by more synthesizes than musicians, the singer and his band brought a mix of synth-pop and new wave to the National Mall not heard since the reign of Reagan. Moog’s name was omnipresent and they even ran a reel-to-reel player onstage. Talk about a throwback!

Best Homecoming: Wale   

Even some of DC’s longtime residents may have forgotten that Billboard chart topper Wale is a true DC native, but Wale certainly has not forgotten his hometown. The Northwest DC born, and go-go influenced rapper went above and beyond at his biggest DC show yet, after rocking the DMV at the Fillmore in January. Wale was on fire as he played off the high energy unleashed by the crowd gathered for his mid-afternoon set as Jefferson Stage, bringing the crowd the big hits while he also played around and experimented with new numbers. As one of the few natives that got time on the mainstage, Wale did not let his slot go to waste, and educated the tourists on the power of real, DC hip-hop.

Best Unplugged Moment: The Lone Bellow 

Landmark featured no straight forward country acts, but did feature many artists who infused their music with some twang and put dixie soul in their lyrics. The Lone Bellow, two of whose members were born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, brought their alt-country, indie folk rock sound to Landmark’s Roosevelt stage for an early evening set on Saturday. While the group is good as an electric five piece, they captivated as a trio. The group’s three, main vocalists gathered around a solitary microphone and, accompanied by a single guitar, delivered their powerful gospel number “Watch Over Us.” Moments like this do not happen much in mainstream music today; it was truly magical to behold.

Best Classic Rockers: US Royalty

DC natives US Royalty know their classic rock, and bring all the swagger, killer riffs, and attitude of bands like Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, and Thin Lizzy. With experience under their belts from multiple sets at Sweetlife and Kentucky’s Forecastle Festival, the group has come a long way from their 2009 debut in the DC scene. Bringing a set chalked full of old favorites like “The Desert Won’t Save You,” alongside newly written, road tested material, the blues/garage rockers showed the un-coverted why they’re one of the hardest rocking acts in the DMV. Look for these rockers to be taking center stage all too soon. 

Best New Rockstar: Miguel

Miguel may have been introduced to the world as an R&B crooner along the lines of Frank Ocean and The Weeknd, but Landmark saw Miguel reborn as a rock star. Strutting onstage with all the pomp and circumstance, and layers of jewelry and scarves, of front men like Steven Tyler and Robert Plant, Miguel proved that you don’t need to play rock n roll to act like a rock god. Over his one hour set, Miguel and his band tore through the majority of his new album, Wildheart, as well as some old favorites and a surprise guest appearance by Wale. Even people on the other side of the park felt like they were burning up from the heat of Miguel’s smoldering performance.

Best Dance Party: Red Baraat

Both nights of the festival, the BMI tent stage closed out with performances from two of the best brass bands in the country, leading the festival’s nighttime dance parties. Saturday night saw the legendary, New Orleans Rebirth Brass Band draw crowds out of the rain with their big easy sound. But not even these second line swingers could compete with the all-out rhythmic assault of Brooklyn-based, Bhangra brass band Red Baraat. With their dynamic sound that combines elements of Go-Go, Bhangra, Indian Brass bands, Bollywood, jazz, and so much more, Red Baraat had the packed tent grooving to every beat of the dhol and re-energized the initially tired crowds tenfold. The band even danced around onstage as much as the crowd!

Best Power Trio: The Joy Formidable

Welsh alt rock trio the Joy Formidable have been a long standing favorite at the 9:30 Club so it was refreshing to see them out in the open air. In fact, it was refreshing to see them at all! The group spent the last twelve months holed up in their own studio in Northern Wales, recording what will be their third, full length record. Itching to get back on the road, Joy Formidable packed their hour set with buoyant, joyful and complex alternative and prog rock, including a cut written for the new album called “Passerby.” The group’s joyous, big rock sound is the perfect match for a festival, and found themselves with a packed crowd on Sunday afternoon. Hopefully it won’t be so long before we see them again!

Coolest Cat: Dr. John

When Dan Auerbach tells Dave Grohl to his face that Dr. John is “Cooler than you will ever be,” you know you have a different sort of musician. Dr. John is the living embodiment of New Orleans’ musical and cultural heritage, and one of the most influential musicians of the twentieth century. The 74 year old, living legend opened up the Miller Lite Stage on Sunday afternoon, playing a career and city spanning set that saw him bring the Big Easy to the DMV like no other could. From a cover of Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World” to an irreplaceable performance of the NOLA staple “Big Chief,” Dr. John brought the funky, boogie woogie piano, dance music that people have been crazed by for five decades. As Dr. John left the stage, the crowd could only look on in wonder as they realized that they would never see another single person, as cool as Dr. John.

Most Heartfelt Moment: Dan Deacon

Dan Deacon has built a reputation on two things: one, making some of the most “out there” music in the DC-Baltimore region and two, having the most physically engaging audience participation of any performer. A master of crowd psychology, Deacon sought to connect his overflowing audience at the Roosevelt stage on Sunday with each other more than his music. Before launching into his song “USA” Deacon instructed the audience to join hands, close their eyes, and imagine several faces. After imagining the faces of people who weren’t in our lives anymore and people who love us he asked “Now I want you to picture the face of the last minority person who was killed by an authority figure in this country. Picture how they’re like those first two faces for someone else in this world.” It was a chilling yet beautifully unifying moment, and the most emotionally powerful one of the weekend.

Future Festival King: Nate Ruess

As sad as it is to think that fun. may never return from indefinite hiatus, Nate Ruess’ first solo show in the District showed how we can survive without the group. The handful of festival goers that opted out of Miguel’s set on the mainstage and wandered across the park, were treated to the best showmanship, and some of the best energy, of the weekend. Ruess was already an energetic, bombastic performer as the lead singer of fun., but leading his solo band gives him nearly endless freedom as a performer. Ruess transformed every song into an anthem, and kept that high octane, religious fervor-feel up through his entire hour set. While covers of fun.’s “We Are Young” and “Some Nights” brought the crowd to its feet, Ruess’s cover of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” sent the audience into the stratosphere. As Ruess led the crowd in joyous, ecstatic sing along after sing along Saturday night, it was all too easy to picture him doing it as the headliner on the big stage. Ruess’s rocket is just taking off, and we were all to fortunate to witness the blast-off of this incredible performer. 

Best Headliner: Drake

If Landmark Festival belonged to any one artist, it was Aubrey Graham, better known around the world as Drake. Drizzy proved himself as one of the top performers around, and why he earned the right to top the bill at festivals around the world from New York’s Governor’s Ball and London’s Wireless Fest to DC’s own Landmark. For well over and hour, Drake was able to make the cavernous Jefferson stage seem small through the force of his personality, performance style, and powerful voice. The Toronto-raised rapper packed his set tight with hit after hit, often stringing together disjointed verses and choruses from multiple songs to make epic medleys. Onstage alone with only his minimalist visual productions and pyro, Drake turned his headlining slot into a testament for why he currently owns the world of hip-hop and why he is one of the most sought after performers in live music. If Landmark continues into the future, Drake may well be the “best they ever had” for headliners.