Proving once again that some of the best things in life really can be free, the 2013 Virgin Mobile FreeFest presented by Samsung brought together 50,000 concert goers for a day of awesome music, great fun, and good karma at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland, just outside Baltimore on September 21. Although being a Virgin Mobile customer is not an admission requirement, a slew of free tickets were released to that group; if you weren’t lucky enough to get a free pass, general admission tickets were sold, but a third option was volunteering in exchange for entrance. The FreeFest has a long tradition of giving back, and this year, fans broke through the $1 million donation benchmark for the RE*Generation, which addresses the needs of homeless youth.
The day’s line-up included something for everyone, with nearly 20 musical acts from many genres, including Black Joe Lewis, MGMT, The Avett Brothers, Icona Pop, and Vampire Weekend, playing simultaneously at two main stages, plus a Dance Forest. Mother Nature tried to stake her claim as festival headliner with a saturating rain that fell throughout the day and evening, as the mellow crowd slogged through the wet grounds. But the storm didn’t dampen the spirits of attendees or musicians. We think the best solution to the mud was to join the crowds who turned the gentle slopes into fun, messy, and splattered Slip-N-Slides! Everywhere we looked, people were having a blast, even those of us who forgot both raincoat and umbrella.
Of all the bands we saw, headliners Vampire Weekend didn’t waste a moment, just stepping up and pounding out the music much to the delight of the fans, who sang along to the songs. What we didn’t expect was how much fun MGMT were, dancing around the stage, smiling, as if they were performing in their basement, and just having fun. It’s great to see a band whose onstage presence doesn’t seem built on ego. Ever the consummate performer, Robin Thicke had the crowd on their (muddy) feet at the West Stage overlooking a swampy meadow. For all the notoriety surrounding Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” it was clear from his performance just how incredibly tight he and his band were as a musical force. Hearing all those voices singing the words to single of the summer despite the seriously intense rainstorm was really infectious.
Our advice for attending next year’s FreeFest would be to purchase one of the VIP packages, which allows you to stay dry and get close to the action in the covered pit area of the Pavilion stage, and there are more bathrooms available. The vibe is definitely friendly, and although there was plenty of partying we didn’t see too many people out of control; instead, folks just seemed to want to have a good time. One thing we thought was cool was a walk in camera studio, not only because the folks staffing it were nice, but because it also offered a brief respite from the rain!
In addition to music, festivalgoers had other diversions to choose from including the Samsung Fun House, an interactive experience that showcased technological advances and diversions. The large Ferris Wheel of Fortune also continued to spin despite the drizzle, but the carpet-covered seesaws weren’t so inviting, due to all the water they absorbed. Festival founder and Virgin entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson was not a visible part of the day’s events – in prior years he had made his presence known, including his infamous parachuting down onto the roof of the Pavilion stage in 2009, between performances by Weezer and Blink 182.
We documented the day with a Samsung Galaxy S III 4G LTE, one of Virgin Mobile’s premier Android-powered smartphones. This high-end Android phone runs Jelly Bean 4.1, so it’s current with this increasingly important OS for mobile devices. We found the 8MP camera a capable performer, performing well even in low-light situations. The 4.8-inch touch screen is a joy to use, large and bright, with smooth sensitivity to touch and swipe. Importantly it locked on to Sprint’s fast 4G LTE Network, and we were able to keep track of the festival without delays. The initial purchase price is steep if you are used to subsidized plans, most of which require a two-year commitment, with steep penalties for ending a contract prematurely. At $55 a month for unlimited data, voice, and text, the extra cost of the phone is quickly covered. Consider the cost differential between it and an iPhone data plan from a carrier other than Virgin Mobile, and you are generally looking at double the monthly cost, and you are locked into a contract. If you are thinking of a large screen, high-quality Android phone with a no-contract plan, then we recommend a serious look at the Virgin Mobile Samsung Galaxy S III 4G LTE.
We have come to really enjoy the Virgin Mobile FreeFest. Not only does it offer a great day of music, merriment, and fun, the Merriweather Post Pavilion is easy to get to and navigate, with lots of parking close by. The design by Frank Gehry gently supports just about any event and act and complements the setting. The biggest problem is figuring out which stage and what band or DJ you want to listen to. And the entire premise, that of helping out charities, is something we can all rally around!
Nancy Burlan & Harris Fogel, with additional reporting by Jonathan Fogel, posted 10/12/13
For more information on the Virgin Mobile FreeFest visit: www.virginmobilefeed.com
For more information on the Virgin Mobile Samsung Galaxy S III 4G LTE visit: www.virginmobileusa.com
All photographs © Harris Fogel 2013