Three stages, 22 featured artists, thousands of people, and a ferris wheel; Saturday’s annual Virgin Mobile Freefest was a music extravaganza Maryland will not soon forget. Thousands of people descended on Columbia, Maryland to see some of their favorite artists and support Virgin’s RE*Generation initiative to stop youth homelessness. While the bulk of attendees came from parts of DC, Virginia, and Maryland, some people made the journey from places as far as Seattle to attend this massive festival. The District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia (DMV) don’t often get to experience festivals of this magnitude, which explains the huge turnout at the Merriweather Post Pavilion festival grounds for Saturday’s Freefest. For EDM fans in particular, there are few local events that match the scale of Freefest, one being the longtime fan favorite Starscape and the recently conceived Identity Festival. After Virgin announced this year’s line-up that included some of EDM’s biggest acts, the DMV dance music massive began snapping up the thousands of available free tickets for what would be a superb showing of house, dubstep, and trance, among other genres.
Approaching the gates of the festival, the bass could be felt as well as heard–usually a good sign for EDM aficionados. After meandering around the entrance for a while, the rumbling of sub-frequencies began in the distance, providing a sonic cue that the time had come to journey inward to the center of the action: the Dance Forest Stage. Using the thudding bass as a navigator, the path to the Dance Forest stage curled around the perimeter of the rock & roll-centric Pavilion Stage, where groups like Ben Folds Five, ZZ Top, and Jack White were slated to perform. Fortunately, the three stages were appropriately positioned as to not sonically interfere with the other stage’s performances, until a certain trance group took to the decks (more on this later).
Upon arriving to the Dance Forest, it was apparent that much of the EDM crowd hadn’t arrived yet, so it was a perfect opportunity to explore the rest of the festival grounds before the dance stage became overly crowded. After spending a few minutes watching Volta Bureau throw down some funky house and nu-disco at the Dance Forest, the exploring continued onward to the West Stage where M83, Nas, and Skrillex were set to perform. All three stages clearly had over a five thousand person capacity, but the Dance Forest was noticeably the smallest of the three stages. Interestingly, there was a fourth stage along the way, not technically a stage at all, but an inflatable white square called the Chromacube. Sponsored by LG, this cube not only featured some serious breaks and funky garage music, but also served as a photo booth where fans were painted with colorful light art.
As the afternoon sun began to disappear behind the clouds, the Dance Forest stage became brighter and louder. Soon, D.C. native Alvin Risk stepped into the DJ booth, at which point it became obvious–“we’re gonna need a bigger boat!” Thousands of people packed densely into the limited-capacity Dance Forest to see Alvin spin, and with a line-up of Nervo, Thomas Gold, Porter Robinson, Zedd, and Above & Beyond still scheduled to perform on this stage, the area would soon be overflowing with people.
After Alvin threw down a proper set of electro mashers, Nervo kept the energy bubbling from the very beginning of their set with their huge Afrojack, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike collab The Way We See The World. The ladies pounded out anthem after anthem including Deadmau5’s romping tune The Veldt, driving the crowd into a heated frenzy. By this time, the EDM fans had begun to fill the entire stage grounds as German DJ extraordinaire Thomas Gold was preparing to follow up the Nervo twins’ bold electro set. Thomas Gold did not miss a beat and provided the crowd with perhaps the most memorable moment of the entire festival when he seamlessly blended a massive moombahton tune into Oasis’ Wonderwall. The crowd showed their appreciation with a loud roar, followed by an even louder praise as Thomas transitioned from Wonderwall into the thumping electro-house banger Bong by Deniz Koyu. Already fans were ear to ear with smiles, but were clamoring in anticipation for the back-to-back set featuring Porter Robinson and Zedd. The two young prodigies stepped up after Thomas finished and laid down a full-scale audio assault on the crowd, dropping moombahton, electro-house, dubstep, and even trap. The duo unloaded tunes like Pay Attention To The Drums, The Legend of Zelda, Unison, and Internet Friends–to which the crowd erupted in hysterics. However, the entire show up this point seemed like a prelude to what was to come–a massive two hour set by Above & Beyond on the Dance Forest stage and a two hour set on the much larger West stage by dubstep heavyweight Skrillex.
Skrillex was with full Mothership accoutrement–his stage production filled with elaborate pyrotechnics, piercing lasers, and over-the-top video segments. He pounded the crowd with classics like Still Getting It, Ruffneck, and his Levels remix, while on-lookers stood shoulder to shoulder in amazement. Only those that have seen Skrillex perform with his full stage production can truly understand the level of entertainment that was on display at the West stage this past Saturday. In the meantime, the trance gods Above & Beyond demonstrated to the Freefest crowd why they are still one of the biggest names in all of EDM. Their mixing–surgical; their track selection–uplifting; and their visuals–inspiring; A&B’s set encapsulated the energy and emotion that’s fueled the growth of EDM over he past ten years in one DJ set. With a proper dose of Anjunabeats tunes like On My Way To Heaven and select cuts from their Group Therapy album, the group’s two hour set began and finished in what felt like 10 minutes. As mentioned in the beginning of the article, it must be pointed out that the ground-shaking 4-on-the-floor kick drum from A&B’s set could be heard throughout all of Maryland! Unfortunately, that includes the nice people listening to guitarist Jack White over at the festival’s Pavilion stage–Above & Beyond owe those on-lookers a sincere apology for drowning out Jack’s 60 bpm rock ballad with thumping, 140 bpm kick drums.
As the festival concluded, EDM fans left the show in high spirits having witnessed the genre’s top artists and knowing that the profits from the show would be used towards the fight against homelessness among youths.