More than 40,000 people flooded the Merriweather Post Pavilion Saturday for the Virgin Mobile FreeFest where musical genres and generations united across three stages for a not-so-typical concert.
Now in its second year of doling out thousands of free tickets, the fifth-annual concert tapped a diverse range of artists -’90s indie rockers Pavement, dance-punk legends LCD Soundsystem and hip-hop sensations M.I.A. and Ludacris – to headline the event. FreeFest-goers also enjoyed a carnival-like atmosphere with fireworks, a Ferris wheel and greasy food.
Despite the big-name headliners, earlier acts kept fans belting out choruses throughout the day. Whether it was the 10-piece group Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes or the bubbly duo Matt & Kim, energy remained high despite sweltering temperatures.
“I was front-row center at Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes and [frontman] Alex [Ebert] grabbed on to all of us and sang with tears in his eyes,” said GW sophomore Stephanie Bauer. “My friend tried to give him my scarf but he only held it for a little while. Regardless, I’m never washing it.”
The infectious enthusiasm of Matt & Kim also generated a buzz on the Pavilion Stage, as they interspersed pop covers throughout their set, prompting a festival-wide singalong of Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend.” The band’s keyboardist Matt Johnson was also one of the many artists calling for festival organizers to allow more fans into the seated pavilion area.
“I’ve heard there’s something not quite free about this area right here,” said Johnson, pointing to the VIP section of the pavilion. “Let’s free the FreeFest. You people [on the lawn] should find a way to come down here.”
This festival was more than just entertainment for a predominantly young audience. The idea behind this event was that free admission – aside from the VIP passes – would give an incentive for attendees to donate money to the event’s main cause, youth homelessness.
“This is a cause that’s very near to my heart,” said Ludacris, who wrote a song three years ago called “Runaway Love” about runaway teens.
Since T.I.’s current difficulties with the law forced him to bow out of FreeFest, Ludacris was the rap representative of the day.
While some festival-goers chose to see Ludacris, others watched both Joan Jett & the Blackhearts and Pavement’s attempt to prove that age has no bounds on stage.
“For those of you who don’t know, we’re like an old band that broke up a long time ago,” Pavement’s frontman Stephen Malkmus said jokingly.
On the West Stage, M.I.A. was certainly missing in action when she arrived noticeably late. Soon enough though, she was animated on stage, grooving to her bass-heavy beats.
“I’m high enough to do this now,” she said while proceeding to sing her most famous single, “Paper Planes.”
GW sophomore Eshalla Merriam said her favorite part of the festival was when “the bodyguards lifted us on the stage and M.I.A. told us to start a mosh pit on stage. We were dancing around on the stage and it was super fun.”
As free glow sticks were distributed and a giant disco ball dropped, LCD Soundsystem provided a synth-heavy closing set that had fans glowing in the wake of their dance hits like “Dance Yrself Clean” and “All My Friends.”
“At the end of the night, the air was full of dirt,” said GW sophomore Harrison Kaufman. “I could barely breathe, but it was a still a lot of fun.”