Monumental: Landmark Music Festival 2015

The Strokes, CHVRCHES, and Drake (a Canadian headliner!) take over the National Mall at the inaugural Landmark Music Festival in Washington, D.C.

This year marked the first-ever Landmark Music Festival at West Potomac Park off the National Mall in Washington, D.C. While the Mall is home to many free concerts, Landmark is the first large-scale commercial music festival to operate in the shadows of the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. And it was glorious, with 5 stages, unforgettable performances by rising acts and superstars, an amazing (and cheap) lineup of the best local foods, and more.

Below is a roundup of our favorite acts from this year’s Landmark Music Festival.


Son Little / photo by Jai Williams

Son Little
Lincoln / 12:30 – 1:30 p.m.

FLOOD 2 musician Son Little, the artist formerly known as Aaron Livingston, kicked off Landmark on Saturday showcasing stirring, soulful tracks that bounced between blues, soul, Americana, and hip-hop, sometimes all in one song, in front of the Washington Monument and a few hundred early birds. Unfortunately for Son Little and his fans, the hard-rocking women of D.C.-based Ex Hex drowned out quieter tunes like, “Lay Down” with their pop-driven punk music. Still, no one else that performed at the festival on Saturday or Sunday brought soul to their performance the way Son Little did.


Twin Shadow / photo by Jai Williams

Twin Shadow
Jefferson / 2:30 – 2:30 p.m.

Twin Shadow almost didn’t make it from Nashville to D.C. for Landmark, according to frontman George Lewis Jr. But having landed on Landmark’s main stage, Lewis was all smiles in a bright yellow Yamaha jumpsuit and hit all the right notes after launching the show with 2012’s “Five Seconds.” He ran through a slew of hits, including an especially memorable “Old Love/New Love,” which rightfully elicited dancing from a growing crowd.

Despite the impressive performance, Lewis at times struggled to connect his gruff, Springsteenian vocals with the CHVRCHES-esque synthpop his band produced, making it an overall inconsistent set.


Albert Hammond Jr. / photo by Jai Williams

Albert Hammond Jr.
Roosevelt / 3:30 – 4:30 p.m.

The Strokes’ keyboardist and guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. played a solo set Saturday across the way from the main stage his other band band would help close Sunday night. His set was a bit rougher around the edges than that of The Strokes, making the show a last shot of energy before low-key sets from Band of Horses and The War on Drugs.


Miguel, before his jacket was sacrificed to the funk / photo by Jai Williams

Jefferson / 6:30 – 7:45 p.m.

Miguel offered fans more pseudo-philosophy, not to mention skin, than any other artist playing at Landmark. After an opening that masterfully blended “Simple Things” into “Sure Thing,” the Star of San Pedro, dressed in only a shiny black leather jacket, red suede low-rise pants and a scarf, started talking about his upbringing as a mixed-race Latino and African-American, highlighting that he had to mark “Other” in the race box on standardized tests growing up.

He went on to criticize “the idea of normal,” which he called, “subjective,” before playing songs off his new album Wildheart, a project he said he made in response to his struggles with the idea of normalcy. On “Coffee,” Miguel lost the leather jacket and scarves, exposing a ripped upper body that he writhed and thrusted across the stage to the delight of squealing fans. After bringing out D.C. native and rapper Wale for “Lotus Flower Bomb,” Miguel completed his seduction of the crowd with “Adorn,” belting high notes effortlessly while working it for the cameras that projected shirtless shots of the artist onto the huge screens that bordered the stage.


Adam Granduciel of The War on Drugs / photo by Jai Williams

The War on Drugs
Miller Lite / 7:30 – 8:30 p.m.

The success of The War on Drugs’ latest album, Lost in the Dream, was on full display Saturday, with thousands of fans flocking to their Miller Lite Stage show just after sundown. Sure, many of those fans ran for cover when steady rain hit halfway through the band’s set, but plenty of others put on rain jackets or just got wet and stuck around. After playing hits from the new record like “Red Eyes” and “Under the Pressure,” the band ended their clean, nine-song set with “Baby Missiles” off 2010’s Future Weather EP.


The 6 God himself / photo by Jai Williams

Jefferson / 8:30 – 10 p.m.

All day Saturday, festival attendees buzzed over Drake’s headlining performance. It was impossible to avoid, with fans in line for food or taking breaks under the trees along the Potomac or even watching other bands talking about how excited they were to see the 6 God.

The excitement spilled over when Drake hit the stage accompanied by a dizzying array of lights, fireworks and other pyrotechnics. He ran through triumphant early hits like “Over” before turning to harder-hitting recent raps like “6 God,” “The Motto,” and the Meek Mills diss-track-turned-radio-hit “Back to Back.” Romantic Drake was there too, singing impressively on “Hotline Bling,” “Crew Love,” and “Hold, On We’re Going Home,” which dovetailed into a piano ballad. But gone were RiRi collaborations and “Marvin’s Room,” replaced by a harder-seeming Drake.

The classic, corny Drake did make a few appearances, though. Fetty Wap’s “My Way” led into Makonnen’s “Tuesday,” and everyone was goin’ up and singing every word despite it being a Saturday. (No one knew whether to sing “Tuesday” or “Saturday,” though.) Then, Drake pitted the two sides of the crowd against each other in a cheer battle but refused to name a winner, saying, “We should all be on the same team here” to the boos of some fans. In the end, there was nothing but love for Drake at Landmark. He told the crowd, “If I was blindfolded, I would’ve mistaken you guys for Toronto,” before dedicating his hometown anthem “Know Yourself” to the District.


Gotta get that Drake snap / photo by Jai Williams

Dr. John & the Nite Trippers
Miller Lite / 1:30 – 2:30 p.m.

Dr. John & the Nite Trippers were like no other act at Landmark. Dr. John, a 50-year music industry veteran who has won six Grammys and countless other awards, didn’t speak to the crowd once. He arrived on stage looking like a pimp out of the 1960s or ’70s, with a green suit, an off-white shirt with a huge collar, a green hat, and an enormous ponytail that looked to be around two feet long. He played a real piano, probably the only one at the festival Saturday, with unrivaled rhythm, playing old-timey songs as a feisty female trombonist acted as hype man, keeping the crowd up for the early afternoon show.


Lord Huron / photo by Jai Williams

Lord Huron
Miller Lite / 3:30 – 4:30 p.m.

Lord Huron’s Landmark set was a deft blend of the band’s two albums, Lonesome Dreams and Strange Trails, plus some festival-sized noise. The band started with a trio of tracks from their latest effort before diving into the title track off their debut. After a relatively slow “She Lit a Fire,” the band picked it back up with “Hurricane (Johnnie’s Theme),” which had the entire crowd dancing with one another. They ended on a high note with the feel-good “Time To Run” as fans preemptively moved en masse to the Jefferson stage to catch TV On The Radio’s raucous live set.


Dave 1 of Chromeo / photo by Jai Williams

Miller Lite / 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Chromeo can be obnoxious live, but for fans looking for a dance party, Chromeo’s set was the place on Sunday evening. The duo began with the intro to their 2008 album Fancy Footwork, which involves the audience chanting the word “Chromeo” in soccer stadium fashion until the band members, bedecked in leather and sunglasses, took their place on stage behind electric piano stands that resembled women’s legs. After high points “Night by Night” and “Come Alive,” P-Thugg attempted to turn the crowd up with a routine on his talkbox. After that failed, frontman Dave 1 encouraged women in the crowd to get on someone’s shoulders. After coaxing a few up there, the band played “Over Your Shoulder” before getting funky with “Old 45’s,” a cut off their new album, the appropriately named White Women. They closed out with “Jealous,” a genuine hit that sounds more Katy Perry pop than Chromeo’s typical future funk, but the crowd ate it up anyway, losing their minds in dance.


alt-J’s Joe Newman / photo by Jai Williams

Jefferson / 6:30 – 7:30 p.m.

Little has changed in alt-J’s live show since they started touring behind An Awesome Wave in 2012. The band still put on tight performances that sound like their recordings. They still use minimal lighting with different colors marking different songs to mesmerizing effect. Hell, they still close their show with “Breezeblocks,” the hit that got them on the map in the first place.

But their Landmark show, which came with tracks from last year’s This Is All Yours, was different. It was stadium sized. The sound was big, but the video production was bigger. On screens at the side of the stage, members of the band looked like propaganda figures playing in black in white behind computerized color patterns that came in waves. Judging by the vibe in the crowd, the aural and visual indoctrination worked.


Lauren Mayberry of CHVRCHES / photo by Jai Williams

Miller Lite / 7:30 – 8:30 p.m.

CHVRCHES’ live show has changed immensely in the past few years. First, there’s Lauren Mayberry, who has gone from meek-but-charming to full-on badass frontwoman. Where before she would stand and bounce on the stage, now she commands it, strutting around, swinging her microphone on its cord, headbanging and dancing. The charm was still there though, when she made small talk about how she needed a break because the band’s new songs are harder to sing or when, at the end of “Tether,” she laughed at someone in the crowd who had just been hit in the face with a light-up beach volleyball. (Later on, Mayberry caught the ball on stage and then kicked it out to the crowd in dramatic fashion during a bass drop.)

Along with Mayberry’s newfound showmanship, CHVRCHES’ set was marked by absolutely massive sound and a headliner-quality light show. While new songs, including opener “Never Ending Circles” and standout “Clearest Blue,” are geared toward massive outdoor audiences in the way they pack aural punches and electronic crescendos, at Landmark, even older hits like “Recover” and “Gun” were bolder, louder, and more aggressive than usual. The array of synthesizers and industrial sounds had the crowd jumping and the ground around the National Mall shaking. That’s how CHVRCHES should be.


Julian Casablancas of The Strokes / photo by Jai Williams

The Strokes
Jefferson / 8:30 – 10 p.m.

The Strokes came on a bit later than advertised, which is a given when it comes to hugely successful rock bands. And as with other hugely successful rock bands, it was the lead singer who was in charge of pumping up the crowd, with Julian Casablancas yelling things like “D.C., let’s rock!” and “What’s up, D.C.?!” The crowd went wild, but to Casablancas, it was clearly a joke. He was playing a role and said as much outright at the beginning of the show, but that didn’t stop the crowd, hungry for more entertainment, from taking him seriously.

The band played their way through nostalgic hits and newer tracks, with the pop hooks and punk guitar riffs never sounding so good. And they may have hinted at new music on the horizon, though it’s hard to tell exactly what Casablancas was saying when he mentioned it. (A particularly passionate American Sign Language interpreter added to the fun, though Casblancas remarked that he wasn’t sure how she knew what he was saying because he barely knew himself.) Needless to say, despite headlining the last night of a major festival, Casablancas wasn’t all there.

As the set continued on below a rare blood moon lunar eclipse, festival-goers filtered out, walking home or to some form of transportation while admiring the moon and the memorials with The Strokes playing in the background. A comfortable end to a long weekend. FL


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