The Upstate Life
The Upstate Life

Tuesday, September 01, 2009
TUL's Take: Virgin FreeFest @ Merriweather Post Pavilion

Let me start out by saying that this was the easiest, most convenient music festival experience I have ever been apart of. We barely hit any traffic while driving up to Columbia and easily found parking in the Columbia Mall parking lot which equated to a five minute walk to the festival grounds. This was already much better than getting to Pimlico and we hadn't even stepped inside yet.

Once we did, we were instantly enamored with the layout as it brought out a more homey feel than that of the Baltimore racetrack where previous Virgin Festivals had been held. Between the hills, trails, and shade it kind of reminded us of Bumbershoot as that was probably one of our favorite festival venues prior to this weekend.

While heading over to the pavilion to see Mates of State, we stopped at the Dance Tent and checked out a bit of Holy Fuck and kind of regret not spending more time over there as they sounded like they were putting on a good set. Once we found some seats inside the pavilion, we quickly realized we were perhaps the only MoS fans within a five foot radius as everyone around us seemed to be waiting for Taking Back Sunday. I mean, come on: rocking married couple with baby > well, whatever TBS is. It's science.

We then made our way towards the West Stage which was where we would eventually spend the majority of the day at. Up first was DC-native Wale, who, compared to when I saw him at Bohemian Caverns back on Inauguration Day, had an entire band (local go-go group UCB) backing up instead of a DJ. This was a good idea since it translated well to the festival audience. Wale is quite the showman and his banter between songs was rather entertaining, especially when tossing water bottles to the crowd "Check it, I'm Jason Campbell. Oh wait, I got sacked."

Up next was none other than The Hold Steady, a band I have seen over a handful of times. Their set on Sunday, however, didn't really do it for me. Maybe because I was already getting drained from standing in the hot August sun for too long, but despite sounding great, I just couldn't get into it as much as if I were at some small bar in Albany where they're relentlessly rocking out in a crowded, dank space. They still wear their heart on their sleeve when performing regardless of venue though.

Public Enemy was up next after their DJ did 15 minutes of scratching. The crowd was the largest of the day thus far as Chuck D, Flava Flav, and the entire Terror Squad brought us back to the Terrordome. I was never a big Public Enemy fan but these guys, despite their age, put on a tremendous effort and really got the crowd going during their hour long set. Halfway through the show, we decided to check out the various tents and vendors before coming back for The National.

Ah yes, The National. While their records have been solid, I was never rally captivated by the times I've seen them perform live. Sunday, however, was different. It's been roughly two or so years since I saw them in concert, but since then, they have improved by leaps and bounds and it visibly showed onstage. Lead singer Matt Berringer was a force to be reckoned especially during "Mr. November" and "Squalor Victoria". The added horn section was a nice bonus and added a new dynamic to the band, especially for a setting as large as a music festival. What can I say, they won me back over during their powerful hour-long set and I think I'll have to go to their next show at the 930, whenever that may be.

Speaking of the 930, I don't think I learned my lesson when I stood in front of the subwoofers at the club when TV on the Radio came to town. Granted I had a great spot to see, but I couldn't hear shit. Turns out I made the same mistake when Girl Talk performed on Sunday, except dude had the bass at 11. It's become quite evident that one doesn't need to be along the barrier to watch Greg Gillis do his thing, especially when you have a bunch of clowns dancing up onstage trying to upstage one another. Rachel made the intelligent decision to head up towards the back of the field so she could actually hear all sound frequencies while I was stuck using makeshift earplugs made from the toilet paper they were shooting out by Girl Talk's accomplices.

The band I was really excited to see all afternoon was in fact the headliner of the West Stage, Franz Ferdinand. And boy, these guys delivered on all fronts. I've seen them three times prior to Sunday, and this by far was their best performance to date. Not only that, but I personally felt that they stole the show at FreeFest. Kicking off the set with "No You Girls", the band has truly perfected performing live. Between the razor-tight guitar riffs, call-and-response tactics, and collective (and ridiculous) drum solo, the boys from Scotland put on one hell of a show and closed the FreeFest out with a collective bang (minus the cymbals as they were already disassembled during the rousing finale "Lucid Dreams").

Overall, the FreeFest was a huge success and I was so glad to be a part of it. Virgin and IMP did an impressive job and I actually preferred the grounds of Merriweather over Pimlico should they decide to hold another festival. All of the vendors were friendly, getting to/from stages was easy, and the food selection was great. Here's hoping Virgin Fest returns in some sort of fashion next summer!

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