Virgin Mobile’s #FreeFest Festival: An Electrifying Show

FreeFest giant crowd

Last weekend I attended Virgin Mobile’s FreeFest Music Festival in Columbia, Maryland. To say that the acts were amazing would, frankly, be an understatement. Over 50,000 music lovers made their way to Merriweather Post Pavilion to imbibe the finest liquor, scoff down a good-old-fashioned Maryland crab cake, and let the good times roll. Let’s rundown some of the highlights:

Jack White at FreeFest

Notice Jack White's wedding ring. I assume he's married to his band members.

When head-liner Jack White and his all-female band hit the stage, pandemonium ensued. Fans shook uncontrollably as White violently strummed his guitar, the drums pounding in the background. White offered the crowd a little of everything from his collection. He belted classics like “Hotel Yarba” from the White Stripes’ White Blood Cells album and mixed in new tracks like “Sixteen Saltines” and “Missing Pieces” from his debut solo album, Blunderbuss.

ZZ Top Freefest

ZZ Top sports their vintage guitars.

ZZ Top took the stage before White, and they looked and sounded almost exactly like they did 30 years ago. Their beards are somehow still the same color as they were in 1982. The three legends treated the crowd to favorites like “Cheap Sunglasses” and brought their most loyal groupie, a dog named Gizmo, onto the stage at the end of the set.

ZZ Top dog gizmo

Gizmo the dog moves to the music.

While Jack White tore up the main stage, Skrillex performed on the West stage. Sitting atop a giant spaceship, Skrillex dropped the beat as flames, lasers and smoke disoriented the crowd. I’m 100% certain that Skrillex designs his performances with the intent to brainwash the audience. As he performed, giant video monitors flashed subliminal images of pentagrams and pyramids, sandwiched between montages of Santa Clause being terrorized. Sometime later, a clip of a macabre fanged character dancing on the set of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” appeared on the monitors. Bloodcurdling, to say the least. Skrillex’s set was one of the most hypnotizing live performances of any artist I had ever seen.

Skrillex at FreeFest

Skrillex, the face of dubstep, prepares to shoot smoke into the crowd.

On the main stage, in the late afternoon, you would have sworn it was 1998. Ben Folds Five stepped out of the shadows after a twelve year hiatus without missing a beat. Even though the audience was mostly filled with teens and people in their early 20’s, they seemed to know every Ben Folds Five lyric. I guess emulating your older brother’s musical tastes when you’re growing up comes in handy. As I walked to the main stage to see them, “Brick” was playing, and I heard someone comment, “I got a lot of girls by learning to play this.”

Ben Folds Five Freefest

"Give me my money back. Give me my money back, you bitch...and don't forget..."

Allen Stone, one of the earlier acts of the day, brought the crowd to its feet with his rendition of Bob Marley’s  “Is This Love.” Stone ended his set by reminding the audience that connecting with people in real life is always superior to connecting with people in the social media universe. I felt that was one of the more intriguing messages of the day.

Allen Stone

Allen Stone gets intense.

Nas at freeFest 2012

Nas' renditions sounded exactly like the album versions.

Alabama Shakes

Brittany Howard and the Alabama Shakes bring the metaphorical house down.

trampled by turtles

Trampled by Turtles delivers a trademark rowdy performance.


Santigold and her crew dance like there's no tomorrow.

Nervo at FreeFest

Nervo turns up the head-banging electro-house.


M83's light show was a gripping, cinematic jewel.

Penguin Prison

Penguin Prison's electro-pop sent the crowd into a trance.

walking to the west stage FreeFest

Portugal. The Man just hit the West stage. That's the bat signal for hipsters.

Richard Branson and Nero Freefest

Sir Richard Branson, The Nervo Twins, and Ron Faris have some fun backstage.

Overall, this year’s FreeFest was unbelievably enjoyable. I can only imagine how crazy next year’s festival is going to be. Check out some pics of FreeFest concert-goers at Virgin Mobile Live.

Photos courtesy Gunaxin and VirginMobileUSA.

By Will Paoletto


  1. I was there. I think you described Skrillex’s set pretty well; I do feel sort of brainwashed. Goddamn, it was awesome.

  2. I was there too. M83’s light show was sick. Skrillex’s set was crazy, as expected. I thought Santigold also gave a high-energy live performance.

  3. Looks like it was a blast. I couldn’t make it this year, but I’m already planning on being there next year.

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