This past week at the Merriweather Post Pavillion, Virgin Mobile hosted its annual Freefest. The tickets to the festival are free and the proceeds of donating at the event go straight to a worthy cause. This year they have raised over $600,000 for the Re Generation Virgin Mobile initiative to combat youth homelessness. The festival draws over 50,000 visitors and a host of top notch performers with acts playing on three separate stages simultaneously (the stages are named Pavillion Stage, West Stage and Dance Forest). Even Richard Branson, the Chairman of Virgin Group, served as a guest bartender.
Given the crowd and high caliber lineup this is definitely one of the premier music festivals in the DC area and it is hosted for a great cause. Notable names that performed at this years Freefest, included ZZ Top, Jack White, Nas, M83, Santigold and EDM producer Skrillex. Aside from Skrillex, electronic music was well represented by many other artists.
Immediately upon entering the grounds, I walked into Alvin Risk getting the crowd pumped up with his set on the Dance Forest Stage. Risk is known mainly as a dubstep producer from his remixes of Kaskade’s Eyes and Ali Loves Diminishing Returns which the untrained ear could describe as “insane robot music” however, he has also collaborated with the Districts own Tittsworth on “Pendejas” which is one of the cardinal songs which helped kick-start the music genre of Moombahton native to D.C.
After Risk pumped up the crowd, the high energy (and very sexy) twin DJ duo of Nervo took to the stage dropping house banger after banger. An interesting political moment happened towards the end of their set. A few Romney staffers or supporters must have had a little too much fun during the day and began to chant “Romney/Ryan 2012” to the beat of the music as it would drop.
Later in the afternoon, on the West Stage Santigold came out wearing a catwoman-like suit covered in mirrors and accompanied by dancers dressed similarly. Despite the weird factor, which at one point included two guys in a white horse suit on stage, she delivered a great vibe with crowd favorites Big Mouth and Shove It as well as tracks from her new album.
Back on the Dance Forest Stage German DJ Thomas Gold brought his unique style of fanfare which kept the crowd jumping non-stop. A consistent heavy baseline was truncated by certified hits such as Gesaffelstein’s Control Movement and Axwell’s In My Mind.
Thomas Gold was followed by a tag team set by Porter Robinson and Zedd, who are 20 and 23 respectively. The two put on an extremely high energy set showcasing their unique production talents. The two are extremely gifted producers, however I must say that the highlight of their set was Zedd playing his remix of the theme song from the old video game The Legend of Zelda which was a moment for all of us gamers in attendance to bask in the union of two amazing worlds.
After cutting out of Porter and Zedd early I walked to the Pavillion Stage to see the Alabama Shakes. I had never heard of the band and judging by the name alone I expected to be disappointed, but they were possibly one of the best acts of the night. The unique soul-rock of The Alabama Shakes put on a truly deep and inspiring show that was perfectly timed as the sun set. Despite lead singer Brittany Howard’s uncanny resemblance to a schoolteacher, her performance was heartfelt and sincere, and reminiscent of Janis Joplin. Her passionate performance of their song “You Ain’t Alone” as the sun began to set was one of the most beautiful and relaxing moments I have ever experienced at a show.
After a quick jaunt to the West Stage I arrived perfectly in time to see Nas take the stage. As a veteran in the rap game it was hard to expect anything different from him than an absolute stunning performance. Every aspect of Nas’ performance was on point. Along with an incredible stage presence he started it off by kicking it old school with several throwbacks from Illmatic, as well as New York State of Mind, Nas is Like, and If I Ruled The World.
To close out my night I saw the British trance Trio Above & Beyond. They describe their sets as ‘Group Therapy’ and that moniker is perfectly fitting. A deep, deep trance performance interspersed with messages typed by them on the big screen relating to love, friendship, and including a very special tribute to Neil Armstrong were all very moving to the crowd. After the performance I legitimately did feel happier and more at peace as if I had really undergone group therapy.
This event is definitely something to mark on your calendars for next year. The festival crowd was extremely energetic and positive and I found myself dancing, screaming with excitement, and high fiving complete strangers all day long. There is music for everyone and if you keep an open mind you will find some unexpected gems.
Let us know what you thought of the Virgin Mobile FreeFest and who your favorite act was of the festival in our comments section below.
Written by Jackson Cosko