Free music? Yes. Legally? Even better. Virgin Mobile’s FreeFest was back this year in full eclectic force at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md., on Sept. 25.
Merriweather Post Pavilion was decked out in Virgin Mobile and other sponsors’ banners, tents, outdoor lounges, giving FreeFest the feel of a carnival — or even a hipster Disneyworld, with swarms of twenty-somethings, freebies and funnel cake. A Ferris wheel decorated with a Virgin Mobile logo was set up next to the West Stage and was colorfully lit up at night, adding to the fun feel.
The event marked the fourth year that the Virgin Group sponsored the music festival, but only the second year tickets were free. In 2009 the festival was dubbed “FreeFest” and general admission ticket seekers were encouraged to donate $5 to various homeless youth charities partnered with Virgin. When the main batch of tickets sold out, Virgin Mobile’s FREE.I.P. program allowed people to sign-up for various volunteer drives to earn tickets. Last summer’s FreeFest raised more than $80,000 for youth homelessness and logged over 30,000 hours of volunteer time.
Some notable acts:
• Trombone Shorty, a funk band from New Orleans, played their afternoon set at the West Stage to a small crowd. Their music was infectious and catchy as the crowd jammed along. Highlights included a solo by frontman Troy Andrews during their single “Hurricane Season” from their “Backatown” album and their surprisingly sweet take on Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop.”
• Yeasayer, a psych-rock band from New York, played a set that varied greatly. They wrapped up their set with crowd-pleasers “O.N.E.” and “Ambling Alp,” which were perfect for dancing along to the psychedelic-pop. Previous songs lacked the fun bounce the closers had.
• Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, seeming a bit out of place, rocked away any doubts and performed with the same hard, rebellious edge that first made them famous in the ‘70s. With decades passed, little seems to have changed Jett as her singing sneer only led to more singing along, especially during “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” which had the entire lawn clapping and yelling in unison.
• Matt & Kim were booked to play the open Pavilion Main Stage. The duo looked microscopic on the stage compared to larger bands like Edward Sharpe and LCD Soundsystem — not that size stopped Matt & Kim from performing with great smiles plastered on their faces and their typical through-the-roof levels of fun and energy. In addition to powering through most of their original songs, Matt & Kim snuck in covers of “Jump On It,” “Just A Friend,” and “Better Off Alone.”
• Ludacris was FreeFest’s lone rapper as he performed to an enthusiastic crowd. The audience was very receptive to Ludacris’s own hits like “Area Codes,” “Act a Fool,” and “Move Bitch,” as well as when he mixed in his guest verses on hit songs like Taio Cruz’s “Break Your Heart” and Fergie’s “Glamorous.”
• M.I.A. and LCD Soundsystem were arguably the most anticipated acts of FreeFest, so when M.I.A.’s hour long set was scheduled to overlap LCD’s by 30 minutes, people weren’t pleased. M.I.A. did not help the situation by showing up to perform almost 30 minutes late. Finally, a teeter-tottering M.I.A. appeared, one-piece poncho and all, and began her set with a fantastic rendition of “Bamboo Banger” off her sophomore album “Kala.” After opening with a hit, M.I.A. stayed away from performing other hits until the end of the set. M.I.A. put in a strong performance with her strong, unique style of rapping and fascinating stage presence.
In what critics hail as the best set of FreeFest, LCD Soundsystem rocked the pavilion.
Unfortunately, those who wanted to catch both headliners had to miss nearly the first hour of LCD’s bumping set, missing hits like “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” and “Dance Yrself Clean.” Luckily they were still treated to a fantastic live version of “Yeah.” A massive disco ball hung from the rafters, perfectly complementing the beats and only encouraging the audience to dance even more than LCD’s music already does. A perfect end to Virgin Mobile FreeFest, LCD Soundsystem’s set energized the crowd when many felt like they were running on empty after the long music-filled day.