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Downtown Music Festival: Ryan Hemsworth, Antwon, and Earl Sweatshirt

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The Downtown Music Festival kicked off this weekend in New York City’s Lower East Side. The Downtown Music Festival is designed to showcase rising artists in a small, intimate environment. I began my festival experience by starting out at Element where Ryan Hemsworth, Antwon, and Earl Sweatshirt would be playing. Unfortunately, my time at Element wasn’t as exciting as I was hoping.

Element offered the small, intimate space that the Downtown Music Festival promised. However, I feel they also should have been advertising a night of rude behavior and uncomfortable situations. As I patiently waited in line and revealed my ticket along with my ID, I was immediately outed to the streets of New York as a “country bumpkin”. While I am indeed from a rural area, I think I’ve lived in the city long enough to no longer be classified as a bumpkin, but that’s beside the point. After a quick pat-down by security where my pen was confiscated for being a dangerous weapon (my friend managed to sneak in mace, but again, I digress), I was quickly ushered to the under 21 section. I wasn’t thrilled at being segregated initially, but I ended up having a much better experience from the balcony than I would have had on the floor.

As the crowd began to mill in, it struck me that this was just another, slightly more expensive night, for Element. Ryan Hemsworth brought out his new mix he made specifically for the Downtown Music Festival, but no one paid much attention. He was essentially a glorified DJ at a New York City nightclub. That’s not to say his mix wasn’t good. He cleverly mixed current hip-hop with some classic Backstreet Boys that overall created a nice vibe, but the Downtown Music Festival didn’t really showcase his talent much. Everyone was much more focused on the dancing or the alcohol they were consuming.

Ryan Hemsworth at the Downtown Music Festival

There was a slight break before Antwon took the stage and the crowd grew. I wasn’t very familiar with Antwon prior to his performance, so his attitude may have been an act; however, he seemed a little too angry. He lacked the necessary stage presence to have the audience focus on him, and it wasn’t too long before the crowd of people resumed their club-style dancing and drinking. There were several moments when he yelled profanities at various audience members and tried to force his way into the crowd. The crowd alternated between clearing out of his way and pushing him back onstage, and he still never managed to fully grab their attention. He was less than pleased with their response and made his displeasure known with a “f**k you” dropped every 5 minutes. After he unraveled himself from the mic cord that he had spent his act wrapping around his body, Antwon left the stage abruptly with little feedback from the audience.


By the time Earl Sweatshirt took the stage, it was obvious that he was who the crowd really came to see. As the joints were lit and passed around (but I couldn’t bring a pen in?), Earl Sweatshirt took the stage to an excited uproar, but he too didn’t have the stage presence I was expecting and hoping for. In between songs, he would spend several minutes conferring with his DJ before performing. He knew what his fans wanted and how to handle them, but even then, I had expected a more organized set list. Or a set list. When he did rap, I was left unimpressed. My favorite line of the night, which he encouraged the audience to sing with him, was “I’ll f**k the freckles off your face, b***ch”. True poetry.

The true star of the night was Sweatshirt’s DJ, who had more stage presence that any of the acts combined. She was fierce and knew how to handle the stoned and drunk crowd before her. She was easily the best part of the night.

There were a lot of determining factors that made my first half of the night unenjoyable. The crowd was more club-ready than concert-ready and the venue left a sour impression, but there were plenty more acts and venues to see before I could write off the Downtown Music Festival.

Mackenzie is an Alabama native attending NYU and studying Journalism and Dramatic Literature. She hopes to one day live in London and write for the BBC.
  • jarred

    lol. “sweatshirt’s dj” you obviously didn’t do too much journalistic research on the artists you were covering. also, what exactly would you like a crowd to do during a DJ set? not dance??