10 things we learnt at Freefest
- Oct 09, 2012
Virgin Mobile FreeFest invaded the Maryland countryside last weekend, bringing with it top sets from Jack White and Santigold, oversized beers and a giant Virgin ferris wheel. The sprawling event at the iconic Merriweather Post Pavilion was free to attend, but guests were asked to give a small donation for Sasha Bruce Youthwork, which helps transform the lives of young people. So the festival fun was all for a good cause, and included a few surprise appearances into the bargain...
10. Richard Branson pulls the best pints
Before FreeFest kicked off on Saturday afternoon, one fan asked Richard Branson on Twitter if he would be going. “Yes!” he replied, “try never to miss a FreeFest.” And so it was that Richard Branson surprised carpark drinkers gathering outside Merriweather Post Pavilion, when he wandered past, waving merrily. Later, he sprayed champagne on the audience from the top of the Pavilion stage, and even popped up behind one of the main bars with Australian twins Nervo, to hand out free pints to those queuing for a drink, plenty of whom couldn’t believe their eyes.
9. Skrillex is here to stay (As long as you want him to, anyway)
“It’s been the most amazing year for me,” Skrillex told his enormous crowd at a late night set on the West Stage. “And as long as you all still want to hear my music, I’m going to keep making it for you.” It has been a big year indeed for the LA DJ, after he scooped up three Grammys, an MTV music award, and a girlfriend in the shape of British songstress Ellie Goulding. At his headline FreeFest set, Sonny Moore pulled out the pyrotechnics as fiery jets streamed skywards from the stage while basslines rumbled across the field.
8. ZZ Top take their dog everywhere
They might have a new album called ‘La Futura’ out, but not much has changed onstage for ZZ Top. There were matching beards and top hats, co-ordinated dance moves, and some highly cheesy visuals at Merriweather Post Pavilion. In front of a big screen showing gyrating rodeo queens and silhouettes of taranchulas, Dusty Hill and Billy Gibbons played a set of badass blues. There was even a last-minute cameo by their dog.
7. Ben Folds is charting higher now than he did in the nineties
Down to three, but still more in number than Ben Folds shows have been for a while, the Ben Folds Five proved they’ve still got it in an early evening set on the Pavilion stage. “We’ve just had the first top ten album of our careers!” said Folds. The set was peppered with tracks from ‘The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind’, but also plenty of old favourites including a killer singalong to closer ‘Army’.
6. Dance music sounds better in the forest
Merriweather Post Pavilion proved to be far more expansive than the beautiful amphitheater-shaped Pavilion stage. The FreeFest dance stage was hidden away in the forest, across the lush green fields and a little bridge over a stream. Under a leafy canopy, Penguin Prison, Porter Robinson and the aforementioned Nervo released a steady stream of beats well into the night, while disco lights danced off the trees.
5. Nas has lots of hits
During his hour-long stint on the West Stage, Queens native Nas jumped from inspirational (‘I can’) to the confessional, (‘One Mic.’) He even had time for a cover of the Eurythmics’s ‘Sweet Dreams,’ all while wearing the world’s fattest diamond ring. He was in buoyant mood, swapping ‘Life’s a Bitch’ for the jubilant ‘Life is Good.’ But when the music faded on ‘Bye Baby,’ about his divorce from Kelis, he suggested that his life offstage remains unresolved. “I did touch her last night and I was like, ‘Can we make love one last time?’” he told a shocked crowd.
4. We’re moving to Columbia, MD.
With no mud in sight and extra-tall beers, Merriweather Post Pavilion is the perfect festival spot. Its history is fascinating, too. Jimi Hendrex, the Who and Led Zeppelin all toured here back in the day. And Animal Collective loved playing Merriweather so much, they decided to name their album after it.
3. Santigold is the greatest dancer
In a pair of lime green sunglasses, Santigold knew how to stage a visual spectacle. Her synchronised dancers were most spectacular of all, brandishing axes on ‘L.E.S. Artistes,’ brief cases for ‘The Keepers’ and twirling umbrellas during ‘Disparate Youth.’ Her Major Lazer collaboration ‘Hold the Line,’ saw a pantomime horse make a guest appearance, before she invited half of the crowd onstage to join her for ‘Creator.’ Even if material from new album ‘Master Of My Make Believe’ doesn’t quite match 2008 self-titled debut, her afternoon slot was a master class in festival excellence.
2. M83 makes you take to the sky
There was a rush to board the surprisingly fast ferris wheel to catch panoramic views of M83’s victory lap for ‘Hurry Up We’re Dreaming.’ Away from the queue, girlfriends scaled their boyfriends’ shoulders during the synth-heavy highlight ‘Midnight City.’
1. Seven Nation Army will never sound old
The signs were bad: Jack White throwing a strop at Radio City in New York a week before, and leaving the stage early into his set. But at Freefest he was in blinding form. Flanked by his all-girl band, he zipped through most of ‘Blunderbuss,’ with occasional detours via his Dead Weather and Raconteurs back catalogue. Forays into White Stripes history, though, were best of all. Nearly a decade since Elephant’s release, ‘Seven Nation Army’’s guitar riff still makes for the most dizzying of festival moments.