Virgin Music Festival debuts with power-packed style

Sept. 25, 2006, midnight | By Ashley Lau | 14 years, 3 months ago

U.S. version of British rock festival hits Baltimore on a high beat

For 12 hours on Saturday, Sept. 23, the picturesque Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore was transformed into a stereo-pounding, crowd-surfing, body-pulsating celebration of music as Virgin Mobile kicked off its very first U.S. version of the massively successful U.K. Virgin Music Festival. As the product of ambitious Virgin Mobile Chairman Sir Richard Branson, the U.S. debut of V-Fest brought together over 40,000 people of all ages, races and creeds.

Unlike most rock festivals, V-Fest didn't have a set formula in deciding which artists would assemble its line-up. Instead, the festival featured a power-packed line-up of musicians spanning a grand spectrum of genres and eras from classic-rock legends The Who, to British deejay Carl Cox to indie-rock newcomers Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.

If anything, the theme of the day was a bazaar of offbeat musical surprises. Popular electric-soul hip-hop duo Gnarls Barkley stunned the crowd when they came out dressed head to toe in gladiator-style togas, channeling a Roman theme. The Baltimore-based DJ and producer Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo Green of Gnarls Barkley arrived on stage with a 12-piece band as they strung out, beat after beat, a series of songs that included their explosive 2006 hit, "Crazy." "This is a celebration," Green told the crowd. "Let's drink to a beautiful day of good music."

While music from the main Grandstand Stage resonated deep into the crowds, other artists and deejays packed the line-up at the smaller Clubhouse Stage on the other side of the racetrack and at the Dark Horse Race Tent. The Clubhouse Stage attracted a smaller crowd, not to slight the artists, which included the New York-based dance-rock band Scissor Sisters and the headlining alternative-rockers, the Flaming Lips. True to their style, the Scissor Sisters arrived onstage in glammed-up, sparkle-studded outfits, as if to rival the eccentrically dressed Gnarls Barkley.

Among other attractions at the 140-acre racetrack were a Virgin Mobile Tent with a cell phone recharging area, a bar, beauty salon and chill lounge, a Major League baseball gaming area and live graffiti art. Festival merchandise was sold at various locations throughout the festival, with band and concert T-shirts going for as much as $40. But just as fast as the crowd piled in did the merchandise sell out. Before the sun went down, almost all festival clothing was sold, leaving only XL sizes in stock for a majority of the concertgoers.

As a part of the effort to get more concertgoers involved in the day's fun, fans had the option of texting Virgin Festival or sending in cell phone pictures to be displayed up on a Jumbotron screen. In between acts, this oversized broadcasting screen to the sides of the Grandstand Stage displayed miscellaneous messages and photo clips as the crowd eagerly awaited the arrival of each new performance.

If there was one act that locked the attention of both youngsters and old-timers, it was The Who, touring for the first time since the 2002 death of bassist John Entwistle. The band arrived at the festival with a power-heavy set of songs, featuring everything from classics like "My Generation" to new tracks appearing in an upcoming album. The awe-inspiring hour and 20-minute set highlighted Roger Daltry's aging, yet still powerful voice.

Even Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea told the audience, "We're proud to play on the same stage as The Who." But then it was for the Peppers, headlining the evening, that the packed crowd had anxiously awaited. At the end of the night, concertgoers stood restlessly on the grand lawn, some crouched from pained legs after standing for hours on end, and others screaming out for the band to make its entrance. And though the Red Hot Chili Peppers didn't arrive until a little over 20 minutes after their scheduled time, any angsty feelings from the crowd were quickly erased as the band came out full blast to awe the audience with a powerful opening of their classic, "Can't Stop."

Full of energy as always, frontman Anthony Kiedis maintained his pulsating, soothing voice as the band churned out song after song, including new material from the band's recent album, "Stadium Arcadium." Taking on a slower, more toned-down approach from their usual funk-punk style, the band ripped out solos from the talented guitar riffs of John Frusciante, fast-paced drum beats of Chad Smith and high energy strings of Flea — even Kiedis had his turn on the drums. To cap off the evening, and to the cheers of thousands of faithful fans, the Red Hot Chili Peppers ended in style with an encore appearance.

By the end of the night, after being morphed from an equestrian center to a music festival, the Pimlico Race Course had transformed once more into its final phase: a barren field of plastic beer bottles, paper plates, music tickets and unused festival pamphlets — a reminder of the music-packed day that transpired.

Ashley Lau. Born in Boston, Ashley is a huge Red Sox fan and sometimes wishes she could just live at Fenway Park. She loves to run, do tae kwon do, travel, cook, go to concerts and has a new obsession with the TV show 24. Someday Ashley … More »

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