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Virgin Mobile Free Fest 2010: Model for a successful festival

Nov 10, 2010 09:08PM ● By Anonymous

The free ticket concept does have several stipulations, though on the whole, almost every attendee was offered an amazing amount of stimuli and entertainment for a comparatively small fee, if one at all.

Though the vast majority of tickets were snatched up when the tickets went on “sale” online (the purchaser buys the ticket, entering credit card information, yet is charged nothing), many of these tickets are turned over in the secondary market on websites like Craigslist by those looking to make an easy buck or no longer able to attend. Many tickets were also available for those willing to help out at numerous well publicized charity events throughout the region and beyond.

Pavilion tickets (part of a VIP package that included a T shirt, poster, and short backstage tour) were sold for over 100 dollars, and some general admission tickets were sold later on with a 30-dollar fee towards charity. Many attendees were able to purchase last minute discounted VIP tickets through Living Social, a website offering daily deals.

The first act of the day that I was seriously impressed by was Trombone Shorty. Unfortunately, I missed the beginning of the set, yet could not have been more pleased with what I did see. Troy Andrews is Trombone Shorty (he began playing the trombone before he could hold it high enough to hit every note) and he leads his current backing band with amazing passion and infectious intensity. As I came within earshot of the stage, I noticed that the group was absolutely ripping through a horns thick version of fellow New Orleanian Lil Wayne’s rap mega-hit Lollipop.

Watch Trombone Shorty's Performance » Towards the end of the performance, the early day crowd starting to fill the West Stage (the largest stage of the festival located in a field adjacent to the normal amphitheater) was fully involved and as animated as Andrews, clapping their hands and leaping in the air. This isn’t something that I’ve seen too many early acts accomplish at Virgin Festivals past, as they’re often playing to a smaller crowd that reserves themselves for the later and larger named acts.

As they reached the end of their set, Andrews announced that the group would be “…goin’ out- New Orleans style!” The band proceeded to march offstage carrying a wicked rhythm, hook around towards the crowd, and march head on. Settling into a spot with thousands circled around them, several members of the band, still plugged in to house sound gave those who had stuck around for the end of the set what was most likely the highlight of the day musically and spectacle wise. The video is below, and short of viewing it; nothing I can impart will explain how epic and electrifyingly entertaining the moment was.

Almost immediately after this New Orleans party had died, indie rock/folk collective Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros took the stage in the pavilion. These guys have a great, full sound live that I wasn’t expecting. The band’s leader, Alex Ebert, playing the part of Jim Morrison incarnate, was a shirtless, spacey looking ball of energy and kept the band’s lilting indie rock alive while his vocal partner Jade Castrinos added smooth layering and welcomed contrast.  Watch Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros' Performance »

Leaving the pavilion, I faced a difficult decision created by the festival’s promoters. Baltimore’s sons Yeasayer and their electro-trip rock peers Neon Indian were both set to begin at 3:45 and end at 4:45. I opted to watch the beginning of Neon Indian in the Dance Forest, knowing that I’d have to make the trek towards the West Stage in order to catch (hopefully) the highlight and climax of Yeasayer.

Neon Indian was not at all what I had anticipated live. The group’s studio sound is sterile and electronic, with heavy waves of psychedelic studio work pulsating throughout. Their use of a drummer live and focus on more of a rock feel, complete with epic guitar solos was a nice change of pace. The Dance Forest itself was a great feature for the festival, encircled by the massive trees of Columbia’s Symphony Woods. (Fun Fact: Merriweather Post cares for and keeps track of all of the trees on site year round, each being numbered and individually accounted for)

Having left Neon Indian early, I was pleasantly surprised to arrive at Yeasayer just as they began one of their better-loved tunes, “O.N.E.”. Luckily the group also had saved one of their more recognizable and enjoyable songs for their closer in the 80’s pop influenced “Ambling Alp”. Watch Neon Indian's Performance »

Taking the stage after Yeasayer was another local group with high aspirations, Washington D.C.’s own global groove band Thievery Corporation. The group uses various world styles and instruments (plenty of sitar, which sounded amazing in a large festival environment over a heavy beat) to blend up a style as diverse, changing and original as the city they call home.

Promising myself I’d tear myself away from Chromeo in order to make it back to the West Stage for Ludacris, I headed quickly to the Dance Forest. Chromeo’s set was full of exactly what the duo has become known for- quirky, extremely funky songs rife with influence from 80’s hip-hop to today’s electronica.

Ludacris, as the biggest name on this bill was sure to be an entertaining night set. He also represented the only rap act on the bill with the no-show of T.I. who was forced to cancel due to repeated legal trouble, this time for drug possession. Mr. Chris Bridges wasted no time in getting in to the meat of his many hits (I had forgotten just how many he had) and led the crowd through both nostalgic early 2000’s chart toppers (“Southern Hospitality, “What’s Your Fantasy”) and newer hits (“How Low?”).

With blockbuster billing on the largest stage, I was hoping British pop songstress/rapper M.I.A. would provide a set with closure- I had the feeling that one last energetic performance was necessary to move the festival’s rating in my mind from somewhere between good and great to the category of as near perfect as a festival can be. While her set was enjoyable and a bit of a spectacle, it wasn’t quite the emphatic closing point I had hoped for.

Where M.I.A. had failed to pick me up and take me away, cult favorite indie-rockers Pavement also could not produce. Though their songs are well crafted and their current reunion tour has had devoted fans rightfully clamoring for tickets, I found myself still wanting higher energy. Luckily, I wandered back to the Dance Forest, where Iranian-American DJ Sharam provided exactly was I was looking for. With a bright, glowing stage setup and massive sounding booming beats, Sharam led the Dance Forest faithful (it was easy to spot those who hadn’t left, as clouds of dust in the forest slowly accumulated on clothing throughout the day) through a spirited and energetic swan song. Watch Joan Jett's Performance »

As the dust settled, staff began the harrowing task of breaking down the various structures assembled over one week for the festival (Native American teepees, the massive West Stage, the Dance Forest, a large Ferris wheel, etc.) on a very short timetable- WPOC’s Sunday in the Country began the next afternoon. Attendees spilling out of the venue into the messy parking situation in downtown Columbia seemed both pleased and exhausted. Who could complain? The price was right.