Sunday, October 14, 2012

Virgin Mobile FreeFest 2012

October 6 marked the date of Virgin Mobile's fourth annual FreeFest. Located in Columbia, Maryland, the free festival covers forty acres of land surrounding the Merriweather Post Pavilion venue grounds.  Scattered across three stages, over twenty acts performed from noon to nearly midnight.  I had two main objectives upon entering the festival, attend the Santigold set and, most importantly, see M83.  I'll have you know that I saw both sets and so much more.

My day started off with Volta Bureau.  The DC based group was the first to play the Dance Forest stage and started their set at noon.  They played an hour set and garnered quite the crowd.  There may not have been an insane pack of raving madmen like many of the later Dance Forest sets attracted, but the attendees were equally as enthusiastic about the music.  Plus, what better way to start the festival than with some dancing?

After Volta Bureau, I stuck around for Penguin Prison.  I had the opportunity to see Chris Glover's musical project earlier this year when they opened for Neon Trees at the 9:30 Club.  His FreeFest set was just as fun and the audience was noticeably more familiar with the music.  RAC collaboration "Hollywood" and "Don't Fuck With My Money" were crowd favorites.  The setlist was switched around a little differently this time and he included his cover of Lana Del Rey's "Blue Jeans".  I'm so glad that I had the opportunity to see Penguin Prison once again.

Penguin Prison ended at 2:00 and I took advantage of this moment to check out some festival food, which was consumed while simultaneously observing a short bit of Portugal. The Man's set at the West Stage.  I can't say much about the band, for I only heard a few songs from the stage's field.  This pattern continued, as I stuck around for about three or so songs from The Dismemberment Plan, Nervo, and then Ben Folds Five.  Ben Folds Five sounded great with some standout piano action.  Nervo's crowd almost swallowed me alive, so I watched from a distance to avoid missing other sets.  The Dismemberment Plan interestingly had a crowd of almost solely men from an older demographic when compared to the festival's general consensus.

By 4:30, I was at the West Stage waiting for Santigold's set to start.  She gets the award for most elaborate stage antics, and I'm not talking about lights or pyrotechnics.  Backed by a pair of matching dancers, Santigold pumped out a high energy set that included some serious dance breaks and costume changes. During "Creator", the front row of the crowd was invited up to the stage to start a dance party/riot.  The setlist was an even blend of songs from both of her records, with singles mixed throughout.  She even performed her Major Lazer collaboration, "Hold The Line".  I loved every moment of it.

In the gap between Santigold and M83, I watched Alabama Shakes from the Pavilion lawn and caught the front end of ZZ Top.  Alabama Shakes completely surprised me, in a good way that is.  I had heard their record before, but the studio recordings don't do the band justice.  The album isn't bad, it's just overshadowed in comparison to the show.  To fully experience Alabama Shakes at their finest, go see them live.

M83's set started at 7:50 and I had to leave ZZ Top's show to make it over to the West Stage in time.  M83 was absolutely spectacular.  The group blasted through their set, flipping back and forth between stretched out electronic selections and the big singles.  You can imagine the reaction towards "Midnight City".  The saxophone solo is really that much more epic in person.  "Intro" will forever be M83's opening song for live shows.  They also put on a massive light display, which gave the entire stage an extraterrestrial feeling.  I only wish they could've played for a bit more, as they were only on stage for a one hour time slot.  If you're aware of M83's catalog, then you know that they could've easily played a considerably longer set.  Either way, it was stunning.

I finished the night by moving back to the Pavilion for Jack White's set. Unfortunately, I only managed to see him from the lawn seating, as you can see in the picture above.  And while I thought he was outstanding, there will be a full separate post featuring Jack's show from the perspective of someone who witnessed everything from the pit, so keep an eye out for that.

At the end of the day, FreeFest was a major success.  I managed to see so many great acts.  Virgin Mobile will have video of the sets available for streaming sometime soon, just in case you want to see what you missed, or relive a moment. I highly suggest you try your best to grab some tickets when FreeFest comes back around next year.

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