For two days the Home of the Preakness in Baltimore was transformed into a music-lovers’ paradise, complete with Virgin angels spraying cool mist to offset the summer heat and cheerfully handing out souvenir programs to enhance the vibe. As in the past two years since the annual event launched, the devil was in deciding where to be with over 40 of the greatest bands and DJs on two stages and in a state of the art dance tent. Choose and you might lose. But you really couldn’t go wrong.
Memorable moments from Saturday included: KT Tunstall, before playing “Saving My Face” suggesting, “Instead of getting bigger boobs, we should get third ones—that would be more memorable.” Duffy sounded like Ronnie Specter in a Ronettes revival remarking between songs that she didn’t think she’d ever played a gig at 1:30 pm before; the crowd pogoing madly to gypsy rockers Gogol Bordello; seeing a couple of teen-aged girls singing and dancing to “A Hard Day’s Night” played by a Beatles tribute band, the Silver Beats; and rock ‘n’ roll founding father Chuck Berry (who at 81 still manages a mean little duck walk) having V-Fest producer Seth Hurwitz sit in for his drummer on “Johnny B. Goode.” Then there was LA house legends DJ Dan and Donald Glaude tag-teaming, the latter sometimes manaically whipping his dreads while beating an electronic drum pad or scratching; the crowd moshing to Bloc Party‘s “Mercury” while skateboarders freestyled on a nearby half-pipe; DJs Steve Lawler and Ferry Corsten chatting with fans and being presented with Mike Ming Dell laptops in the Dell Dome, while Underworld’s singer/guitarist Karl Hyde‘s other-worldly, mesmerizing, weightless dancing proved most entertaining. Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters raised his acoustic guitar vertically and attacked the chords on the choruses in “My Hero” (which he dedicated to “Jimmy”), ending the night with “Best of You” and Grohl calling out, “Thanks a lot, you guys! Take care of yourselves!”
Sunday’s smorgasboard included: the irrepressible Go! Team with vivacious lead singer Ninja and backup vocalist Kaori Tsuchida (recorder, glockenspiel, piano) singing irresistible anime-punk; Bunny of Rabbit In The Moon, master of stage presence, rolling off the stage over the crowd in a gigantic clear “hamster ball”; Deadmau5 kicking off his set in his blue and white mouse head mask, his magnetic tribal electro-house inspiring a slam pit (quickly diffused by security); Taking Back Sunday lead singer Adam Lazzara crouching at the edge of the stage during “A Decade Under the Influence” which morphed briefly into The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s so Heavy),” and later wondering out loud if Bob Dylan is ever on Facebook; Lil’ Wayne peeling off his T-shirt revealing a tight white tank top, exclaiming, “It’s getting hot! Or is it just me?” and rapping, “When I say more – you say volume!” and the crowd shouting back, hands up in the air. Moby ended his thundering powerhouse techno set standing atop the deck table fists outstretched victoriously like Zeus and the crowd chanting his name; a couple embracing, kissing and swaying when Bob Dylan’s band started “When the Deal Goes Down,” the crowd singing hauntingly with Trent Reznor to NIN’s “Piggy (Nothing Can Stop Me Now),” the ever-smiling Armin van Buuren slowing down his last track to a stop and waving, then obliging his ecstatic fans with an encore, a trance remix of U2’s “Beautiful Day.”
Leave it to overachiever Kanye West (who worked shout-outs to Takoma Park, Md., the University of Maryland Terrapins, and Barack Obama into “Flashing Lights”) to end half an hour past closing time, climaxing with “Stronger,” pantomiming being attacked and losing balance, falling face down flat on the stage, then rising up with one index finger raised triumphantly, exhorting the crowd, “Let me see your hands! Touch the sky!”
Add to the mix the eco-friendliness, live attractions like the Charm City Roller Girls, random sightings of dancing bushes and Ranger Rick (National Wildlife Federation raccoon character), awareness-raising booths, and a portion of each ticket going to charities, one couldn’t ask for a better planned celebration of music, art and our planet. Massive shout-out to Sir Richard Branson for the best V-Fest yet.
Words: Mary Ishimoto Morris
Images: Kathy Vitkus