Interview with Jonathan Neman (Sweetgreen and Sweetlife Festival founder)

While covering Sweetlife for Virgin Red Room several weeks ago, I chatted with Jonathan Neman, one of the founders of Sweetgreen, the health food chain which produces the festival each year. Only bits of the interview went into the festival review, so I’m posting the whole text here. Neman shares his thoughts about the meaning of Sweetlife and the festival’s expanding future.

When you guys started Sweetgreen, did you ever envision branching out into live music?

It was always part of the brand. It was always a way to connect to the community, but we never thought it would turn into its own business, you know? From the very beginning we used to have artists come into the stores and play.

This is the third year of Sweetlife, right?

This is the third year here, but we did it in a parking lot the year before that. The whole festival was the size of this [motions to backstage area], the first year.

Do you have any plans to expand? Like, maybe into camping? This would be a great place to camp.

Yes! That’s the vision, to really make it a full experience, more than just a 1-day event.

Do you think that will happen next year?

It might happen next year, maybe two years, but eventually we want to really build a home for it, and have it be more than just food and music: food, music, ideas…almost bring more Burning Man, Wanderlust into it.

Maybe some art next time?

Yeah. Sweetgreen is about this ideal – it’s what we call passion and purpose, and so anything that fits within that is what we want next time.

Is that what’s meant by “living the sweet life?”

Sweetlife is that intersection of passion and purpose, so, it’s like, healthy food with music. They shouldn’t go together, but, they do.

They do! I think they go together pretty well. So, it seems like DC has become maybe a destination for music lately, do you think Sweetgreen has had anything to do with that?

I hope so. I mean, I think it was really already happening, and we were just lucky to be friends with a lot of the artists. That’s the good thing about DC – it’s a small creative community. Everyone is very collaborative with each other. For our first few festivals, it was just U.S. Royalty, Will Eastman, all these local guys that were playing for free. They would play for salads, essentially. And it’s cool to see a lot of those people grow with us, like U.S. Royalty. We’ve kind of all grown together.

Will [local DC band] Shark Week will take off in the same way?

I think Shark Week’s got something good going on. And [lead singer] Ryan used to cut my hair. I think Ryan’s got something special.

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