Virgin Mobile Free Fest 2011

6:37 pm by

Virgin Free Fest 2011

This past weekend, my Angry Badger and I took a trip to Baltimore to check out this years edition of the Virgin Mobile Free Fest. After a late night of drinking on Friday night, we woke up as early as we were physically capable of, headed to the bus station to catch the silver line to Columbia, and the famed outdoor venue Merriweather Post Pavilion. Arriving just in time for the first acts of the day, we made our way into the lush, wooded venue with our new Fan E-Packs loaded to the gills with a new t-shirt, poster, 24 oz cup and more. We also walked into one of the best days ever.

Read all about the day and check out some more terrible iPhone pictures after the jump.

With two main stages in the festival grounds, and a wooded Dance stage in between, there were plenty of options for our musical ADD – and with the non-stop goodness of the line-up, we were pinballing back and forth for the entire day. Our first stop was the closest to the entrance – the Pavilion stage which was currently hosting buzz makers Bombay Bicycle Club to a half-full house. They had a really good sound, and had a really fun time on stage, but this show might have been a wee bit big for them just yet. They definitely have the right formula to make it big, but need the help of a car commercial or some other game changer to get their name out there to a broader audience. They will be big, though, mark that down.

We decided to check out the rest of the park towards the end of their set, and eventually make it over to what we started to refer as the farm stage due to copious amounts of hay covering a recently rained-on mix of mud and manure. The smell was terrible from time to time, but the music was way too good to pass up. First up was Two Door Cinema Club, a band that has been making quite a stink of their own for the past few years with hits like “What You Know” and “Something Good Can Work.” I caught them briefly at ACL last year, but with all of the other music I was surrounded with all weekend, I kinda just forgot to check them out after. With my lady giving me more of them to listen to earlier this year, I finally knew enough to form a pretty good opinion of the Irish indie rockers. It was still pretty early, and most people didn’t have their boozy swagger on yet, so the energy of the set was a bit lacking, but they sounded just as good if not better than they do on record.

Virgin Free Fest 2011
Two Door Cinema Club

We took off in search of other ventures as we happened upon the Dance stage where Porter Robinson was fiercely spinning to a noticeably large conglomerate of kids predominately there for the dance card. After getting our groove on and pumping our fists for a while, it was back to the Pavilion stage for one of my most anticipated sets of the day.

Austin’s Okkervil River are getting better and better with each performance, and they’re building up quite the fanbase because of it. While they’ve been around a while, they’re finally getting the bigger gigs they deserve. With a set that focused mostly on their new material, which is all quite good, it was there older cuts that I was there for. “Our Life Is Not A Movie, But Maybe,” “John Allyn Smith Sails” and “Unless It Kicks” woke the crowd up, and even featured a sidestage appearance from the one and only Richard Branson, but most of all it seemed to be the real start of the day in terms of quality sets.

Virgin Free Fest 2011
Okkervil River

After Okkervil, we headed back over to the Dance stage to catch Calvin Harris. The Scotsmen used his extended set to focus on energetic dance remixes of both obscure techno tracks, radio hits and even some classic rock thrown in for good measure. After attending Identity Festival, it was nice to see a good DJ that didn’t need to throw the bass up to 11 to entertain. His track “Awooga” seemed to elicit the strongest crowd response of the set, with hands raised to the sky from front to back. After a bit, though, we headed out to see what else we could find.

I’ve seen Grace Potter & the Nocturnals several times over the years, and have always been impressed by the burgeoning starlet, but never have I heard her sound as big as it was at Free Fest. Jumping from piano to her signature black and white Flying V, she truly shined with both her vocal prowess and her instrumental skill. I went from impressed to amazed in the short time we spent with her, and look forward to the next opportunity to catch a full show.

Virgin Free Fest 2011
Grace Potter & the Nocturnals

Off again to the farm stage, we pushed up to the front just in time for the first few notes of our second Cut Copy show of the year. I enjoyed Cut Copy a lot at Houston’s Summerfest back in June, so I was really looking forward to jumping along with the indie dance rockers for their hour onstage. With a much more energetic crowd than earlier in the year, Cut Copy used that to their advantage and made us all sweat it out while we sunk deeper grooves into the hay topped mud below. Making it into my top three or four sets of the day, I left the show with “Lights and Music” stuck in my head, and it hasn’t left since.

Virgin Free Fest 2011
Cut Copy

We took off towards the end of their set to catch the last couple songs of !!!. We were really bummed that they played at the same time as Cut Copy, especially since they are in the exact same vein stylistically, but instead of moping about it, we made the most of it by catching as much as we could. They’ve been playing a lot more lately, so I’m sure we’ll have the chance to see them again. What I did see of their set, though, was stellar.

We were super busy all day, and never had the chance to eat, so developing quite the buzz, we decided it would be the best idea to try and find some food while listening to the legendary Patti Smith finish off her set. Hoping for crabcakes, were were forced to settle with turkey sandwiches, but that didn’t matter because we had a great performance to take in from Smith. With only a few songs left, she made the most of it with a strong version of “Because The Night” followed by a set closing version of Van Morrison’s “Gloria” which was the perfect way to end it. She didn’t necessarily fit with the rest of the days lineup that pulled in more of a younger crowd, but she definitely shined and found a fair amount of new fans because of it.

Virgin Free Fest 2011

Cee-Lo was playing across the park, and we weren’t too worried about heading that way, so we walked over to the Dance stage to see what LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy was spinning for his robust crowd. A mix of disco, funk and soul with some quality beats backing them, Murphy was entertaining, but unsatisfying to those hoping and preying for a little LCD in their lives. Staying only momentarily, we headed back over towards the Pavilion.

Virgin Free Fest 2011
James Murphy

We found a few seats towards the middle of the crowd just in time for the start of TV On The Radio‘s twilight set. It seemed like it took either them or the sound guy to warm up for the first few songs, but as soon as they jumped into their classic track “The Wrong Way,” everything was just fine. Bringing a bigger horn section into the mix since I’ve seen them last, they seemed to employ them much more as well as a much bigger, more manic sound from the rest of the band. While it was the first time of the day I was presented with a seat not on the moist grass, I decided to enjoy most of the set on my ass, but that didn’t stop me from getting down. I couldn’t think of sitting for the last four or five songs of the set, though, with “Red Dress” picking me back up, and keeping me there with “Starting At The Sun,” “Repetition” and “Wolf Like Me” to close it all out. Good shit. So glad I get to see them again next weekend at ACL.

Virgin Free Fest 2011
TV On The Radio (blurry)

After fling out of the pavilion, we headed back over to the farm stage for the last half of Empire Of The Sun‘s set. An interesting mix between gaytronica and performance art, the group had the gigantic crowd dancing along entranced at the costumed dancers and overall general madness that filled the stage. They were truly entertaining in all senses of the word, I just wish I was a bit closer to truly take in everything instead of focusing more on the screens. We stayed until the end of the set, and got out of the way as soon as the kids with mouse heads started pushing up for the stages final performer of the day.

I get so giddy every time I’m walking up to a Black Keys show. I’ve seen them on numerous occasions now, but it doesn’t matter, they fucking rule my world. This show was no exception. It was a bit quieter than I usually like my Keys, but it still slayed, and was definitely my favorite set of the day. Starting in the original duo formation, they played through five or six of their earlier songs, as well as a kick-ass cover of The Kinks’ “Act Nice And Gentle.” Taking a brief break while bringing their auxiliary keyboardist and bassist, they jumped into a 6 song stretch of material from their latest album Brothers, starting with the funky “Everlasting Light” as they raised a giant disco ball out from behind them. Closing off with three more songs, including one of my favorites in “Strange Times,” they walked off the stage to the erupting cheers of the biggest crowd of the day. With no one leaving their seats, and the entire audience chanting for the band to return for an encore, they quickly made it back for a show closing version of “Your Touch” to the delight of everybody. They were by far the best act of the day, and will continue to make me giddy every time I have the chance to see them.

We had two options at this point, either the farm stage for Deadmau5 or the Dance stage for Ghostland Observatory. As soon as we heard the opening notes to Ghostland’s “Piano Man,” we had no other choice. We ran to the stage and pushed our way to the front for the most fun set of the day by far. I’ve seen Ghostland Observatory several times, but it’s been a few years since I last did, so this was a welcome return from the Austin duo. Equipped with a bunch more lasers than the last time I caught them, they made their way through a smattering of new and old material. It was my first time hearing anything from their latest effort, Codename: Rondo, and I was debating on how the new songs would sound live, but I was far from disappointed. They absolutely killed every one of them including “Glitter” “Give Me That Beat,” the title track and the set closing club banger “Kick Clap Speaker.” It was the perfect way to close out Virgin Mobile Free Fest, and put us past the brink of exhaustion after pushing ourselves harder and harder all day.

Virgin Free Fest 2011
Ghostland Observatory

I’m incredibly happy that I made it out to Merriweather Post Pavilion for Free Fest – I seriously couldn’t have had a better time. The people of Baltimore, Washington DC and the surrounding areas were all very nice and couldn’t have been more hospitable the whole time we were in town. We went without a plan, and everything worked out perfectly due mainly to suggestions and help from everyone around us. I really hope I can make it back up there next year for Free Fest 2012!