This past Saturday was the music event of the summer for local music fans. Virgin Mobile FreeFest commenced at Merriweather Post Pavilion, just outside Baltimore. For those not familiar with FreeFest, the majority of tickets are free with an option of donation, while limited tickets are sold. All the proceeds go to charities assisting homeless youth. I have to say, this year they gave/sold way more tickets than last year. The grounds were packed solid with fans. I took in music at each stage, and they were significantly more crowded than last year. While crowds don't mix with my need for personal space, they must have raised a ton of money for charity.
Merriweather Post Pavilion is one of my favorite venues in he area. The grounds are absolutely beautiful, and it produces top notch sound. The festival is set up for three stages for the 20-plus bands. The main stage is at the Pavilion featuring covered seating and a large lawn area. The second stage is at the West end of the park in an open field. The third stage, termed "The Dance Forest" lies between the two other stages. We had a three full days of rain in the week before FreeFest. So much so, that flooding closed schools on Thursday and Friday. To my surprise the grounds were in relatively remarkable condition. There was bound to be mud with the amount of rain we received, but it wasn't terrible. The west stage definitely was in the worst shape, and the mud had a bit of a foul smell. All in all, the staff did a great job getting everything ready.
On the the music. The first band I had the pleasure of seeing was Alberta Cross at the West Stage. This was one of my favorite sets on the night, partly because it was early enough that I could get close to the stage. Their set was highly energetic, and I would definitely go back to see them. The guitars were ablaze, as Alberta Cross performed their Southern Rock-esque tunes. It was a great way to start the afternoon.
After catching just a bit of Bombay Bicycle Club, I returned to west stage for Two Door Cinema Club. This was the band I was looking forward to seeing most. Unfortunately, I have to say I was a bit disappointed. While I enjoyed some songs, it felt like many of them sounded similar. They are a pretty young band, however, and their second album is in the works. Sometimes it takes a couple of releases for a band to venture out from the comfortable. For this performance, in my opinion, it could have been better.
From their I headed to the main stage for Okkervil River. I've always heard about this band, and while I've briefly explored their catalog, I hadn't truly delved into what they were capable of. While Two Door Cinema Club was a disappointment, Okkervil River was a pleasant surprise. I think I enjoyed this set the most. The band was made of solid musicians all around. There was a mix of raucous songs and emotional slower songs. Lead vocalist and song writer Will Sheff was particularly impressive.
Immediately following Okkervil River on the main stage was Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. This was another impressive performance. I saw Grace and company open for The Avett Brothers last year and was impressed. This performance was even more impressive. Grace Potter has an All Star voice, and she can really rock; more than most any female in music right now. The Okkervil River/Grace Potter block was my favorite chunk of the afternoon.
I was only able to catch the final two songs of Cut Copy, and by all accounts of those who caught the entire set, I really missed out. This seemed to be a crowd favorite, and judging by the crowd's enthusiasm during the final two songs it seems to be an accurate assessment. I will definitely have to try to catch them some other time.
From there my night slowed down. One of the drawbacks of the afternoon for me, was sheer volume of people. I'm the kind of person who enjoys things from the outskirts. I'm not comfortable in close quarters. Well... outskirts didn't really exist at FreeFest. Also, while the crowd was generally well behaved, like is bound to happen at an all day music festival, there were some who went beyond their alcohol limits.
I caught some of TV On The Radio, but was underwhelmed. I did check out Teddybears in the Dance Forest, truthfully just so I could see those bear masks. The masks didn't disappoint. I'm not particularly into electronic music, so I wasn't expecting Teddybears to be a highlight for me, but they were entertaining.
Black Keys were the last band of the night. I stayed for three or four songs which were decent. However, the crowd completely filled the lawn. Seeing the stage was near impossible, so I called it a night.
Virgin Mobile FreeFest is a great event. I mean... it's free! You really can't go wrong, and they consistently bring great bands on the cusp of what's next in music. It was slightly disappointing for me. However, it was mostly because of my own concert preferences rather than the quality of the music or the venue.