Who brings together three stages, 20 artists ranging from Black Joe Lewis to Pretty Lights to Gareth Emery to Vampire Weekend, 11 hours of non-stop music, 50,000 fans across 40 acres, all with a price tag of free? That would be Virgin mega mogul and founder, Richard Branson.
Sir Richard scored another win with his annual Virgin FreeFest that has fans in the know vying for the too-good-to-be-true, two-ticket limit at the very second they become available depleting the supply in record time year after year. Virgin Mobile’s good-spirited concept has fans exercising their sense of appreciation with positive energy, good vibes and a resulting contribution of over $1 million in donation over the last five years. Virgin Mobile USA’s agenda is to direct its profits from VIP sales, donations and revenue from the iconic Ferris wheel ride to operate RE*Generation House which is a transitional living facility for Washington, D.C.’s homeless youth.
Increasingly outgrowing their former nook the Dance Forest was relocated this year. It kicked off with New York’s Ghost Beach who offered, “We’re happy we started off with you guys,” then made the obligatory yet comical, “We’re going to play new songs blah, blah, blah.” Their initial sound conjured up a little Lenny Kravitz meets The Flaming Lips. They moved on to “Miracle” which SoundCloud and their Facebook calls Tropical Grit Pop, a fitting descriptive matching singer Josh Ocean’s Hawaiian shirt and his thrash dancing.
The ladies made a grand entrance at the West Stage launching the platinum-haired, creamy-skinned, John Lennon spectacled, Madonna-esque Sky Ferreira with her industrial style fashion complimenting her sultry and smoky melodies. She was contrasted by her follow up, the clean-cut, conservatively dressed, angelic voiced Chvrches whose minimalistic threesome on-stage delivered some of the biggest sounds while garnering some of the loudest reaction from the crowd.
Manufactured Superstars opened with Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” and that they did. The Dance Forest crowd didn’t let up when Congorock took the decks and delivered tracks like W & W’s “Lift Off!” just as the day’s promised rain began.
The relentless rain didn’t hamper a dense West Stage crowd from seeing Kaskade who thanked the drenched revelers for sticking it out with him. He of course wowed them with “Move For Me” and also the festival favorite, one of the many versions of Empire Of The Sun’s “Alive” also played later by Madeon.
Any skepticism based on the recent controversial display with Miley Cyrus about Robin Thicke was instantly diminished the moment he darted on the stage. He propelled from stage right impeccably dressed with his jacket trailing in motion, his blinding smile, his aviator sunglasses, his gleaming streams of sweat and his non-stop showmanship. His entourage included a drummer who couldn’t stay in his seat, two smartly dressed tandem guitarists and three striking, choreographed female backups. A thunderous crowd of screaming females expressed wanting him and drop-mouthed males who wanted to be him. Mr. Thicke stole the show as one fan aptly described him as a cross between Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake.
The downpour escalated as the Madeon crowd at the Dance Forest interpreted the weather conditions and the unstable mud as some sort of bonus, special effects. Gareth Emery stood side stage, protected from the elements to witness the energy and expertise of the phenom artist.
Vampire Weekend closed out the packed Pavilion Stage arena to an adoring and grateful crowd who were comforted to be under the protection of the pavilion overhang. Surrounding crowds scattered in all directions to reach the destination and shelter of their vehicles as the festival slowed to a close.
It was a surreal day of music, mushroom-shaped golf carts, swings who’s swinging action generated a spray of water from the rider, a torrential downpour, water-damaged cell phones, fluorescent, fur-covered teeter totters, #FreeFest to post your favorite festival moments, a free-spirited camaraderie and an overall feelgood experience. The Virgin FreeFest motto of “Let Free Ring” continues to ring so true.
Images by Kathy Vitkus