Returning for its fifth consecutive year at Merriweather Post Pavilion and as the reigning champion of free music festivals in the US, the 2013 iteration of the Virgin Mobile Freefest marked a definitive shift in atmosphere, acts of God non-withstanding. The traditional headliner double bill mold was followed with Vampire Weekend holding down the contemporary arena rockers slot on the Pavilion Stage with Pretty Lights representing the unstoppable EDM force on the West Stage. Aside from that year to year placeholder, and the benefit to The RE*Generation, Virgin Mobile’s initiative to address youth homelessness, rising acts were the focus of the day as many of the featured performances during the day were backed with a significant amount of hype and “who is this?”
Such was the scene on the West Stage, with a large portion of the day’s scheduled talent riding a lone hit single or a debut album release on Tuesday (in some cases both). as the CB/GB’s version of Lana Del Rey in Sky Ferreira did more posturing than entertaining with a high profile arrest more easily Google-able than her actual catalogue (of which there is very little anyway). CHVRCHES certainly impressed with their refined electro-rock and singer Lauren Mayberry’s high pop register, and one can’t help but think that the network of summer festival stops common near their native Glasgow helped to hold the attention of a crowd that likely hadn’t indulged in their NPR advance stream.
Possible one hit wonders Icona Pop were game to help guest bartend at the fundraising RE*Gen bar, but brought little more other than recycled, literally, bits of influences past to a very exciting multitude of screaming teenage girls. This was the slot that area natives The Dismemberment Plan dazzled in only a year earlier. By the time “hey, hey, hey” crooner Robin #Thicke took the stage, the cold, driving rains had picked up to a nearly intolerable level. That didn’t stop a genuinely grateful Thicke from putting his machismo, big band showmanship on full display, and yes, “Blurred Lines” closed the set and was a hell of a lot of fun.
The only stop personally made to the expanded Dance Forest, which moved from one end of the Pavilion back lawn to the other, was for Washed Out who crafted an excellent live set based around expanding grooves and periphery elements from the best of the band/project’s recorded material.
Running concurrently with The West throughout the day, The Pavilion Stage was geared towards the hip rock fan with the soaring harmonizations of Little Green Cars kicking things off after a wild card set from The Knocks. Black Joe Lewis managed to shake the rain off of some ponchos as he howled and worked tirelessly backed by his impossibly tight and funky band.
In an odd bit of scheduling, the acoustic led power of Dallas Green’s City and Colour and The Avett Brothers sandwiched a frustrating set from MGMT who just can’t seem to catch a break with the best of intentions. Following a week of lukewarm response to their insular, pop eschewing third, self titled LP, the band were plagued by sound issues early on as Andrew VanWyngarden visibly cursed whoever was running sound. Naturally, after all this tension you wouldn’t be surprised if a melt down occurred, but MGMT and VanWyngarden remained very patient wanting only to deliver a set representative of their full, most current artistic intent. This included incredibly trippy visuals, and “Electric Feel” but no “Kids”. Sorry kids.
When all was said and done with the Pavilion Stage at Freefest 2013 as Vampire Weekend strode onto the stage, only the ones lucky enough to have gained shelter under the large roof of the out door arena were spared the drowsing effects of the driving rain. As buoyant as Ezra Koenig, clad in a spiffy Brooklyn Nets jacket after playing the Barclays Center the night before, and the impeccably refined and honed sound of Vampire Weekend can be, the weather was just too much for those outside the bandshell with many trying desperately, and failing, to escape falling into the unavoidable plots of churned up mud.
In stark retrospect, and as a regular attendee since 2010, the Virgin Mobile Freefest has been a event seen as the summer-into-fall landmark which has been treated to stellar season appropriate weather. So many, including those flower girls that many bemoan, just weren’t prepared for the wrath and spirits were doused.
That being said, 2013 was another rousing, and adversity scaling success in terms of production and performance from all involved with the Virgin Mobile Freefest. Fingers crossed for sunny and mid 70’s next year.