Yesterday my friend Tracie and I attended a small portion of the Virgin Mobile FreeFest. Virgin has sponsored music festivals in Canada and Europe for years. In 2006 for some reason they decided to add Baltimore to their list of sites. The first three years were held at Pimlico Race Course, which for those who don’t know is where the Preakness, the second horse race in the Triple Crown series is held. You had to pay to attend the festival those three years. My husband and I went the second year because The Police were headlining and I figured I was never going to get another chance to see them in concert. Despite the fact that the concert was all day long we only went for the last two acts, which were The Beastie Boys and The Police. It was something like 105 degrees in the shade that day and it was also during one of the times in my life when my arthritis was really bad and I could barely walk. Given the heat and how miserable I was we decided to just make it out for the bands we really wanted to see.
In 2009 the festival moved from Pimlico to Merriweather Post Pavilion in Colubmia, Maryland and instead of being a paid festival became free somehow in the name of charity. If I recall correctly, the first year in order to get tickets you had to volunteer somewhere for a certain number of hours, but I think they dropped that requirement after the first year. They do still release a certain number of tickets under that stipulation as well as another portion of tickets that you do pay for with the money going to charity. This year I believe they were supporting homeless youth. Many of the tickets though are just completely free. I saw a story in the Baltimore Sun where Richard Branson was quoted as saying the festival costs him $3 million dollars to put on every year. I don’t really understand why he continues to provide the money to do this every year or why Baltimore is the one city he continues to do this in, but good for him and us while he does I guess.
Even for free this is the first year there have been any bands playing at the festival that I was interested enough to make the effort to see. Even then there were only three that I really wanted to see: Trampled by Turtles, Ben Folds Five, and Alabama Shakes. Luckily when they released the stage schedule all three of them were scheduled back-to-back on the same stage. Trampled by Turtles was scheduled to start at 2:30 so Tracie and I decided to meet up at 1:15 at shopping center just a few miles down the road from Merriweather to consolidate to one car and head into the festival. One would think that given this is the fourth year that the festival has been in this location that they would have figured out the traffic and parking better. They had so many roads blocked off around the area that traffic was a disaster. I would really like to ask someone in charge what the thinking was behind what they were doing because they were just forcing a ridiculous amount of traffic into many fewer lanes than exist to handle it. Lucky for us Tracie works down in that area and at the location they were using for off-site parking so although we had to sit in traffic for a little while Tracie knew how to take us in the back way instead of how they were directing all the traffic. So we got out of it much faster than most people. We didn’t know which lots were being used for shuttle parking so we just drove around until we found one with a sign on it. This apparently was not the main lot where people were parking though because the first shuttle we saw just drove right by us despite the fact that we were standing right in front of this sign.
We only had to wait for about 10 minutes for the next shuttle to come by and actually stop for us, so it wasn’t too bad but still annoying. I’m pretty sure the same driver who drove past us was the one who was driving the shuttle we took back because when we told him what lot we were parked in he had no idea what we were talking about. We wound up just getting off at shuttle stop #3 and walking because we decided it would be easier. This tells me they weren’t training the shuttle drivers very well. Also the shuttle stop actually at the festival entrance was not where the sign was. The sign was located maybe half a block away from the actual road into the festival, but they apparently decided just to drop people off at the road instead of the sign but not bother to move the sign so that we weren’t sure where to stand and wait when we were leaving. We left at 6:30 and there was still a shocking amount of traffic and people going into the festival. I heard one kid getting off the shuttle we were getting on say that they had sat in traffic for 3 hours. I can’t even imagine how insane things were going to be when the festival ended and everyone was leaving at once. I’m glad we didn’t stay for that. Also the Baltimore Sun story I read estimated that there were about 20,000 less people there this year than last, which I can’t even imagine given how crowded it seemed when we left.
Aside from the traffic issues it was a great day for the festival. As I mentioned given what I was seeing and hearing we lucked out with the traffic. We did wind up missing the first 15 minutes of Trampled by Turtles, which probably would not have been the case had the first shuttle driver not driven by us. We also would have heard a little bit more of them if we weren’t completely confused about where we were when we got into the festival. Merriweather is located in the middle of some woods and we entering from a location we don’t normally go through when go to concerts there so we didn’t immediately realize that they had put up a fence around the woods to encompass the festival and the two additional stages, which is where we came in. So we wandered a bit until we got our bearings and figured out how to get into the pavilion proper, which is where the stage we wanted was. I noticed that most of the people there didn’t even bring blankets or anything to sit on as I guess they were prepared to wander. We were definitely some of the older people in the crowd. It was mostly high school age through early twenty-something age people. I was happy that we just staked out our little section of the lawn with our blankets and sat. The weather was great for it. During the hour we were sitting in traffic it got really cloudy and windy and seemed like it was going to rain, but shortly after we got in the sky cleared up and it was gorgeous. It was starting to get a little cold as the sun was setting and we were leaving, which means we left at the perfect time. I was thinking all the girls we saw wearing barely anything were probably regretting their clothing choices at that point.
Despite the fact that we were slightly late for Trampled by Turtles we got there just in time to hear them play “Alone”, which is the song I was most looking forward to hearing.
Here’s a picture of them playing it on the big screen.
Next up was Ben Folds Five. I’ve seen Ben Folds solo before, but never Ben Folds Five so that was fun.
They played a mix of stuff from their new album and older stuff. I really like “Do It Anyway”, which is the first single from their new album. Though given the awesomeness of their video for the song I will be forever disappointed whenever I see them play the song and Fraggles don’t show up.
During the set change between Ben Folds Five and Alabama Shakes Richard Branson came out and stood on top of the Pavilion roof, thanked everyone for coming, and then sprayed the crowd with a bottle of champagne. I was surprised to see that he was actually there.
The last band we were there for was Alabama Shakes, who were great as usual. I love their old school rock and roll sound.
The festival was great for the three bands we came to see, but by then I was ready to go. It was getting cold and more crowded. People were getting drunker and higher as evidenced by these gentlemen who spent the Alabama Shakes set like this at my feet.
Tracie was incredulous that when we were getting ready to leave that some girl stopped her and asked her if she had any weed. Let me mention that Tracie is currently 7 months pregnant.
All in all it was a great day for a music festival, though I will definitely note for any future years that my sweet spot for this concert is definitely in the middle of the day.