Virgin Mobile Freefest 2012: Freeking Great Time

The Merriweather Post Pavilion, located between Baltimore and Washington D.C., is a historic venue that features a beautiful, covered amphitheater. The venue is surrounded by acres upon acres of forest and is incredibly reminiscent of the Mann Center in Fairmount Park (Philadelphia). On Saturday, October 6th, it was the sight of the Virgin Mobile Freefest.

Upon our arrival, there was a line of traffic that extended all the way from the venue’s parking lot back onto the exit ramp for the venue on I-95. Once inside, the excitement was palpable. Big name artists such as Skrillex, Above & Beyond, Jack White, M83, Nas, ZZ Top, Santigold and many more were all performing… for free! To top it all off, it was an absolutely beautiful day.


Our first stop was the Dance Forest, one of the three stages at the festival. Wes not exactly sure who was performing at that moment but as we walked to the Dance Forest, the signature sampling of “ALVIN!” from the t.v. show “Alvin and the Chipmunks” gave us a pretty good clue that it was Alvin Risk. Alvin Risk played solid tracks to an audience that was separated by giant trees that towered high above the crowd. By the very end of the set a large crowd had formed at the Dance Forest, which may be attributed to the fact that up next was the beautiful and extremely talented duo NERVO.


NERVO was just another example of one of the huge names in the music industry that was playing at the Festival…for free. NERVO rocked out on stage and played a great, upbeat set that had the crowd roaring and the entire forest dancing (even the trees swayed a bit). One of the downsides of festivals in general is that you either have to pick and choose which artists you want to see, or only see a small part of each artists performance. This is especially true if you are reporting, so after only 15 minutes of NERVO’s performance it was off to see Ben Folds Five at the Pavilion Stage.


The Pavilion Stage was the beautiful amphitheater that is the center piece to the Merriweather Post Pavilion. The talent was spread out evenly from stage to stage, and the Pavilion and West stage both fit roughly the same number of people, so there wasn’t really a “main stage”. Perhaps the most interesting part of Ben Folds Five performance was right after they walked on stage, when Ben Fold’s made a comment about how he noticed how many photographers were in the front row, and so to ensure that they all got a good picture, he decided to throw a chair at the piano. In order to catch Philadelphia native Santigold at the West Stage, we only got the chance to see the beginning of Ben Folds Five’s performance. But from the crowds reaction, they seemed to like every bit of it.


The West stage featured a giant rig, a big open field for people to sit or dance on, tons of food stands, bathrooms, and even a Ferris wheel. The entire stage area was set off apart from the other two stages, and in order to get to the area you had to take a path through a small wooded area.

In her trademark fashion, Santigold rocked quirky outfits, which she changed multiple times during her performance, and performed with a high level of energy. She even pulled fans from the crowd onto the stage as she is known to do.

Up next was the group Alabama Shakes. Lead singer Brittany Howard was absolutely amazing, playing the guitar and singing powerful vocals that had the crowd on its feet back at the Pavilion Stage.


After Alabama Shakes it was back over to the West Stage to see legendary New York rapper Nas, who had just returned from a tour through Europe. Nas had the crowd shouting in anticipation. And even though he was about 10 minutes late to start, it did not appear that the crowd noticed – or cared – as they exploded in excitement when he walked out on stage. Nas played a mix of his 90’s classics as well as newer songs, but as was the theme of the day, it was back to another stage to catch another amazing artist – this time Zedd and Porter Robinson playing back to back as part of their Poseidon Tour.

Zedd is fresh off the release of his album “Clarity”, which is currently the number one “Dance” album in iTunes. The duo played a set that featured many of the songs off of Clarity.


After Zedd/Porter it was back to the West Stage to watch M83. M83’s performance featured a futuristic light setup, tons of fog, and amazing vocals and the use of drums/piano/guitar.


The second to last artist of the night was Jack White, who closed out the Pavilion stage. We hoped to catch the beginning of Jack White and then run over to see Above & Beyond, but that did not happen. Jack White’s performance was just awesome. He played surrounded by five or women women, all who were dressed in white and played a different musical instrument. White took turns making rounds, playing a dual-solo with each of the women in the group.


Skrillex was given the honor of closing out the festival at the West Stage and his set was due to start about a half hour after Jack Whites. The size of the crowd that had gathered in anticipation of Skrillex was absolutely enormous. That may have been because word got around that Skrillex brought his signature space ship stage setup, meaning an amazing performance was inevitable. We’ve covered Skrillex many times, and each time he continues to impresses. His stage setup, including laser lights mixed with insane video, pyrotechnics, and his signature music, make him one of the must see performers out there, whether you are a die-hard Skrillex fan or not.


Overall, the weather was beautiful, the food selection was great (featuring food sold out of cool buildings, such as vintage trucks, and a little wooden barn type building), there was plenty of room to lay out, the crowd/atmosphere was great, the line up was awesome, and to top it all off, it was free! This was all done to support a great cause – with a suggested 10$ donation to RE*Generation, which is Virgin Mobile’s initiative to address youth homelessness. We highly suggest making a donation to them if you haven’t already.

[all photo credits: Steve Garfinkel Photography] – Be sure to “like” him on Facebook!

You can view a full photo gallery below:

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