With the success of bringing the first Virgin Festival to the United States last year, Virgin Group owner Richard Branson decided to try his luck again. The 2nd annual Virgin Festival, chalk full of various artists including the Police, the Beastie Boys, and the Smashing Pumpkins, spanned over a weekend on the Pimlico race course in Baltimore, Maryland once again.
I arrived Saturday morning after a six hour drive through the wee hours of the morning. As tired as I was, I was more excited to attend this excellent festival a second year in a row. This year the Virgin Fest took place about a month and a half earlier; last year the event took place in late September. The only problem with this was the summer heat.
With temperatures soaring almost to the triple digits I slopped sunscreen on my exposed body parts, threw on a bandanna, a hat, and prepared for the misery the sun expelled on all who attended.
The setting was very simple, there was the main stage (North Stage), a second stage (South Stage), and a DJ tent and various food, merch, and awareness vendors. Everything was at a reasonable distance within the horse race track where bands did not have their performance collide while playing at the same time. The festival was recycle friendly with various stations around the ground promoting recycling. Most stations had an attendant standing there to help distinguish the trash. To make things even more earth friendly, some of the plastic cups were not actually plastic but made of a corn substance that would decompose. If that was not cool enough there was a stand where people could win points for merch by picking up recyclable trash off the ground.
The first act I caught was Fountains Of Wayne (FOW). The only song I ever knew by these guys was “Stacy’s Mom” and I really was not expecting much. FOW put on an amazing show rifling through a set that included rock and even a little country. They were an excellent choice for an opening band as they grabbed the attention of many. I look forward to checking out their catalog now that I know they are not really a once hit wonder band. To the disappointment of many one-hit-wonder lovers, “Stacy’s Mom” was not performed and that, to me, was a bold move on their behalf.
Up next was old rockers Cheap Trick. It was great to see a band that has been around so long take the stage and rock out. Rick Neilson entertained the crowd as Robin Zander kept up with his vocals. My most memorable moment with this band was all of the guitars Rick Neilson played with. I have never seen so many unique guitars played in one performance. Rick Nelson even tried to give one away to a lucky girl in the front row but security did not like that gesture and quickly took it away.
The beautiful Amy Winehouse walked on to the stage with a very large crowd to welcome her and her beehive hairdo. She sang “Rehab” to the over heated fans but it seemed like the rest of the band had more energy than she did. It appeared as if she was not thrilled to be a part of the festival.
After Ms. Winehouse I had to take a break from the sun so I ventured back to the press area where I was greeted by friendly staff and ice cold water. I took a few minutes to cool off and get myself together before I was to interview the Beastie Boys. After waiting almost two hours and getting cut in line by John Norris of MTV, I interviewed the Beastie Boys for 7 minutes and went back to check out the festival.
A little more time passed than anticipated so I missed the performances of Incubus and indie act Peter, Bjorn, & John. Luckily I have two great friends who attended the festival with me who each took in a performance. I learned Incubus sounded great and was perfect for the hot festival and I also learned that Peter, Bjorn, & John was the surprise of the weekend as they put on a great show. I really wanted to check out Peter, Bjorn, & John but I was happy enough just to see my friend smile as he spoke of them.
I took a hike through the festival while Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals played one stage and LCD Soundsystem played the other. Both acts I do not have too much interest in so I thought it would be a great idea to see what else the festival had to offer. There was a wrestling stage that grabbed people’s attention as the masked men slammed one another into tables. Art was scattered around the field as were performers amongst the uncountable tents that featured everything from beer and food to civil rights activists and local businesses. There was plenty to see and do even if you did not want to see any of the bands at a certain moment, plus there was tons of free stuff.
The band I have not seen live since 1998 hit the North Stage, Brooklyn’s very own Beastie Boys, and just about everyone at the festival was there to witness. Although the years have passed and grey hairs can been seen, the B-Boy’s along with legendary Mix Master Mike and Money Mark put on one of the best sets of the weekend. They dug deep into their catalog cranking out old and new songs a like. They re-mixed classics and performed material off their new release The Mix Up. This made the whole 100 degree temperature worth it.
The sun finally started to set into the western sky and it cooled down enough where you were not melting. The one thing I must say about this festival that made it better than the last was the water truck. Although you would have to wait in line, free water was available so the smart concert goers were hydrated without emptying their wallets.
Fans all over the area flocked to the main stage to see the Police. After an almost 22 year hiatus the trio took stage. I myself took a seat on the grass far enough from the gathering but still close enough to listen. I was worn out and needed a break. Luckily the screens on each side were large enough that I was able to see the show from a far distance. Sting and crew played out and it sounded as I had thought it would, astonishing.
Even though the festival was promoting clean air and recycling the grounds were trashed thanks to the ever caring fans who just could not make it to one of the recycling stations. Thankfully there were crews cleaning up the area to prep for the next afternoon.
I gathered my friends and headed to Motel 6 so we could finally get some sleep, or so I thought. Thanks to modern day technology our credit card room key did not work on our room, so our sleep was delayed for a couple of hours until another room was assigned to us… another room with only one bed… that had a gaping hole in the side of it.
Sunday morning, back to the Pimlico race course where day two was about to start. The temperatures were not as hot as the previous day, but still not the most comfortable. There was also a threat for rain and thunderstorms and it could be felt in the air.
I opted to skip out on Aiden and Matisyahu (who actually stole most of the day’s crowd) on the South Stage so I could see Regina Spektor play the North Stage and I am so happy I did. She emerged on stage with a fake stuffed snake wrapped around her neck, smiling as the fans cheered for her. Her performance was beautiful. Performing solo she and her trusty piano played such songs as “On The Radio” and “That Time” while the fans sang along. I was very impressed with her singing abilities and look forward to seeing her live again sometime soon.
Since I had not checked out the Dance Tent I thought I might as well see what was inside. Dieselboy & Andy C. were both pumping out drum and bass techno beats to the crowd in the tent. It was like an inferno in there so after two minutes I decided it was best to venture off and stray away from the rave tent.
Instrumental rock band Explosions In The Sky gathered a nice size crowd at the South Stage as they played through their almost one hour set. Most of the crowd including myself just stood there in a trance as they rocked out.
Panic At The Disco took the North stage but I was not too interested in them as Bad Brains were to take the South Stage. I still do not understand why they got to share the same stage at the Beastie Boys and the Police. There was not even that big of a crowd watching them. After a couple of songs I headed to the other side of the race track only later to find out that Panic At The Disco covered “The Weight” by The Band. I wish I would have stuck around to hear that.
Washington D.C.’s Bad Brains were another one of the bands I wanted to see the most at the festival. Seeing their live performance made my day. Playing “I Against I” was just one of the treats they offered the huge crowd as well as starting up the first mosh pit at the festival. For being half a century old, HR and crew did an excellent job playing through old and new songs, I myself was most excited to hear "Banned in D.C."
There is no doubt in my mind that the Wu Tang Clan who hit the South Stage should have been on the Main Stage. I still have no idea who thought that they should appear on the smaller stage. Everyone on the grounds seemed to show up to see the Wu perform, including Virgin Group owner Richard Branson. Minus ODB, all of the original members of the Wu Tang Clan took stage after the fans waited over 20 minutes. With some minor microphone problems the boys treated all attendees to some hip hop haven. Fans of all ages threw up the “W” with their hands in approval. I heard "C.R.E.A.M." live, life does not get much better than this…
Towards the end of the notorious Wu Tang Clan show the rain started to fall fro the sky. It was not heavy yet but enough to have other fans slowly take cover for fear they would eventually get drenched, and that they did.
Previously I took a moment to talk to my friends about the plans for the rest of our evening after the Wu Tang Clan. We all agreed we had taken in enough for the weekend and chose to opt out seeing Velvet Revolver, and both festival closers 311 and Smashing Pumpkins. It may not have been the most wise decision but it was a smart one as we were all tired and wanted to hit the road and go home. The dry dusty race track slowly turned into a sloppy muddy mess as we packed up the vehicle.
The festival, without a doubt, was more entertaining than last year's as there were twice the amount of bands and more interactive activities. The crowd seemed happier and fuller. The food was in fact not too pricey as compared to other festivals I attended and included one of my new favorites, crab cake sandwiches. I did stay away from drinking alcohol because we all know what happens when you drink too much… you forget most of the show. I myself wanted to take in as much as I could and not forget anything. This year's Virgin Festival is going to be a tough act to follow and I am looking forward to seeing what is in store for the Virgin Fest in 2008.