The unofficial kick-off to festival season arrived on Friday with the first full day of SweetWater 420 Fest 2022. Performances from The String Cheese Incident, Lotus, Gary Clark Jr., Lawrence, and many more at Atlanta, GA’s Centennial Olympic Park ushered in the hot and humid start to the summer concert season still technically a month away.
Wading through the heat of the urban jungle, salvation arrived early in the afternoon as attendees were anointed in the flow of “#KingButch” Butcher Brown. The genre-fluid act from Richmond, VA touched on a variety of styles, highlighting the artistic diversity of the weekend ahead. Closing out its set with the 15-minute live epic “IDK”, frontman Tennishu confessed to the crowd, “We don’t know what’s gonna happen but we’re gonna take it chin up, chest out,” delivering a mantra for the forthcoming weekend of unpredictability.
SweetWater 420 Festival: Livestream From Atlanta, GA, Friday 4/29/22 – H.A.Z.Y. Stage
Next up on the H.A.Z.Y. Stage, budding bassist Karina Rykman delivered a set of power trio progressive rock, serving as something of a cosmic bookend to the other prog-rock threesome closing the festival on Sunday, Oysterhead. Weaving through a steadily growing arsenal of originals, the low-end mistress also known for her work with Marco Benevento enjoyed all the benefits the large stage had to offer, from booming bass to a vast playground to explore with dynamic movements.
Women remained at the forefront of the H.A.Z.Y. Stage lineup as Lawrence, led by siblings Gracie and Clyde Lawrence, issued an irresistibly danceable set of music. The New York City ensemble continues to chart new heights, coming hot off two weekends at Coachella and a network television debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live! the day before appearing at SweetWater.
The group draws immediate comparisons to Vulfpeck from the bands’ similar styles both musically and fashion-wise, with an affinity for indie funk-forward music and Adidas sportswear. Lawrence is something wholly original, however, serving as an idyllically bouncy band for Millennial/Gen Z fans as they sing about anxiety and sense of self, in addition to the occasional Sean Paul cover or spot-on rendition of the Hey Arnold! theme.
Over on the SweetWater Stage, Gary Clark Jr. delivered a penultimate headlining set originally promised to Snoop Dogg. The line in the bluesman’s lament “What About Us” that beckons “Don’t get too comfortable” proved all too true, as only a brief stopover at his set was possible before jetting back to the intimately spacious H.A.Z.Y. Stage for Lotus.
The longstanding livetronica act was shockingly making its 420 debut on Friday. This coming-out gala also arrived as the band mounts its first summer run with recently minted lead guitarist Tim Palmieri. The former Kung Fu shredder brings with him a youthful exuberance that harkens back to some of the Miller brothers’ guitar-forward days of the early 2000s with previous guitarist Mike Rempel.
Lotus served as a primer for the second set dance party that would follow from headliners The String Cheese Incident as the quintet touched on its most recent single, “Pluck”, as well as 2018’s Frames Per Second with “MacGuffin”. Palmieri led the band through peak-forward takes on the instrumental tracks, the group never dawdling for one moment of its 90-minute set. The festival stalwarts also made sure to throw it back to their celebrated catalog of oldies with a telling of “Spiritualized” that highlighted the trance-tronic sound that has carried the band for decades. Lotus no doubt also won over some new fans with a cover of Tame Impala‘s “Elephant”, which has remained on the periphery of the band’s catalog for years now.
Lotus – “Elephant” (Tame Impala) – 4/29/22
[Video: Fuzzy Dunlop]
The SweetWater 420 Stage was set for the main event: The String Cheese Incident. The Colorado natives rolled into Centennial Park hot off a weeklong stretch of shows that began in Virginia, moving through North Carolina, and landing the band at the Thursday pre-party the night prior. Percussionist Jason Hann took audiences on a quick trip to Cameroon in Central Africa with the indigenous rhythms of “Manga” to kick off the two-set engagement. Michael Kang‘s fiddle effectively brought fans back down to Earth following the intergalactic voyage courtesy of Lotus.
The party rolled on as the band got “Lost” into “Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms”. The String Cheese Incident was in full festival mode as it pulled out “Bollymunster”, followed by Keith Moseley making his own “Joyful Sound”. There is nothing quite like feeling the opening notes to “Joyful Sound” on Keith side.
The song boiled over into a bubbly jam that at times felt like it was ripe for a segue into The Who‘s “Baba O’Riley” from Kyle Hollingsworth. Alas, the band found its way into “Rollover”, with Kyle leading the band through a disco-funk breakdown via his clavinet before ending the set.
Returning for set two, SCI resumed business with “Outside and Inside” before welcoming out Atlanta’s own Rhonda Thomas on a powerful rendition of Aretha Franklin‘s “Rocksteady”. The band hit it on the head with “Can’t Stop Now”, as the speeding locomotive barreled down the tracks and into “Pack It Up” before set two mode was fully engaged with the jamtronic decadence of a Kang-led “Tinder Box”.
Kyle took back the lead for “The Big Reveal”, which resulted in the most quintessential outing of String Cheese excellence as the ensuing jam displayed all the best parts of the Cheese fondue, touching on rock, bluegrass, funk, electronica, jazz, world, and more. Driving home the quintessential Cheese, the band segued into “Colorado Bluebird Sky” to close out the second frame. Returning to the SweetWater Stage one last time, the band brought Rhonda Thomas back out for a rocking take on Led Zeppelin‘s “Ramble On” to close out the show.
The String Cheese Incident – SweetWater 420 Festival – 4/29/22 – Full Show
But now it’s time for me to go, the autumn moon lights my way.
Ramble On into the second full day of SweetWater 420 Fest back at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park with the full schedule of free livestreams here. Check out some photos from day one courtesy of photographers Christian Stewart and Bahram Foroughi below.
Setlist: The String Cheese Incident | SweetWater 420 Fest | Atlanta, GA | 4/29/22
Set One: Manga, Lost > Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms (Flatt & Scruggs), Bollymunster, Joyful Sound > Rollover
Set Two: Outside and Inside, Rocksteady (Aretha Franklin) , Can’t Stop Now, Pack It Up, Tinder Box, The Big Reveal > Colorado Bluebird Sky
Encore: Ramble On (Led Zeppelin) 
 w/ Rhonda Thomas