By Kayenecha Daugherty
Though the gates opened at 11 a.m., the main parking lot of Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md., was full by 8:30 a.m. as eager music lovers waited to enter the Virgin Mobile FreeFest 2012.
By noon crowds were gathering in front of the Dance Forest stage to watch Volta Bureau and their mesmerizing computer-generated graphics that engulfed the platform. Having gotten my dance/electronica music fill, I headed over to the West Stage to catch hometown boys Future Islands. Fans went wild as they performed "Walking Through That Door." I then raced over to the Pavilion Stage to catch Allen Stone's performance and made it just in time to see him serenade the audience with a cover of Bob Marley's "Is This Love," as well as his own song "Satisfaction."
At one point during the day, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, a previous recipient of The Recording Academy's President's Merit Award, was lifted onto the roof of the pavilion and greeted the crowd via the large screens that surrounded the area. He then proceeded to spray the onlookers below with two bottles of champagne.
As the day progressed, floods of fans descended on the pavilion for Ben Folds Five, who made their return after a lengthy hiatus, and Alabama Shakes, causing the gates to the seats to be closed as the space quickly reached capacity. With the murky East Coast weather as a backdrop, Ben Folds Five performed a balanced set of older material and new songs from 2012's The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind.
One of the cool things about the Virgin Mobile FreeFest is that the event is so much more than music. Added activities included a skate park, a huge Ferris wheel and the Chroma tent, which housed a DJ and live art installations. Also, the festival is put on for a good cause. Since 2009, the festival has served as a means to offer free music in the face of a tough economy, while drawing more attention to youth homelessness. Since its inception, the festival has raised nearly $600,000 and generated more than 75,000 hours of volunteer time. Donations from the festival's 2011 installment helped build the Virgin Mobile ReGeneration House, a homeless youth shelter in Washington, D.C.
My favorite festival performers were Santigold, Nas, ZZ Top, Skrillex, and the festival's headliner, Jack White. Backed by his all-female band, the GRAMMY winner played a series of guitar solos before leading into "Sixteen Saltines," a song from his latest solo album Blunderbuss. Other songs performed included "Hotel Yorba," "Fell In Love With A Girl" and a closing performance of the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army." Across the lawn, GRAMMY winner Skrillex spun through a set that was heightened with fire balls, lasers and smoke machines — proving the festival succeeded in offering a little something for everyone.
The Virgin Mobile FreeFest was a perfect end to the summer concert season. Until next year ….
(Kayenecha Daugherty has been a music influencer in Baltimore for years and is now the Administrative Coordinator for The Recording Academy Washington, D.C. Chapter. She would take the sunlight over the spotlight any day so if you are looking for her at an event, check the background. Follow her on Instagram @soulcialista.)