Virgin Mobile FreeFest will not return in 2014

Those last bouncy notes of Vampire Weekend you heard from the sloshy, muddy lawn at last year's FreeFest at Merriweather Post Pavilion? We hope you relished them, for it might have signaled the last time you'll hear upwards of 20 big bands and electronic acts for free, for some time, at least. A spokeswoman for Virgin Mobile USA today announced that the free festival, which had taken place in the Washington area since 2009, will not return in 2014.


The  Ferris wheel at Virgin Mobile Free Fest 2013 at Merriweather Post Pavilion. (Josh Sisk for The Washington Post)

In a statement, the company wrote that it would instead make a direct donation to the Sasha Bruce RE*Generation House, the Southeast Washington home for homeless young adults, which has, in the past, received the proceeds of each year's festival plus a matching donation from Virgin Mobile USA.

I.M.P. Chairman Seth Hurwitz, who produces the festival and operates Merriweather Post Pavilion, wrote in a separate  statement:  "The Freefest was this fantastic product of a crossroads of [Virgin Group founder Richard] Branson and some very creative people at Virgin. The mixture got shaken up every year, and it always settled at the last possible moment for that year. That was part of the spontaneous magic that everyone could pick up on I think. Unfortunately, the pieces are not all there right now with Virgin. Whether they are again who knows. But the Freefest concept is fantastic and we are exploring options to continue it at Merriweather.”

The Virgin Festival first came to Pimlico in Baltimore as a paid concert in 2006, growing into a two-day event in 2007 and 2008. It was the recession that prompted organizers to make the festival FreeFest in 2009 at Merriweather Post Pavilion. At the 2011 festival, Virgin founder Richard Branson told Post pop music critic Chris Richards, "You lose a bit more money than if you were charging for [tickets], but we don’t have to spend money on advertising and the feel-good factor is great." The concert entertained an estimated 50,000 ticketholders last year, giving away many of them in a highly competitive online process, and offering others to those who volunteered locally. Those who couldn't land tickets that way could buy a ticket package that included a T-shirt and other festival gear.

Here is the full text of Virgin Mobile USA's statement:

Virgin Mobile FreeFest, the signature award-winning music festival created by Virgin Mobile USA, will not return this year.  We’ll be making a difference, in a different way.  The festival has been held for eight years – with the last five at Merriweather Pavilion in Maryland as a free benefit to support homeless youth.  FreeFest has been noted for its wonderfully eclectic mix of emerging and established indie rock, hip-hop and EDM artists, boasting line-ups that included Skrillex, M.I.A., Vampire Weekend, Nas, Ludacris, Santigold, Black Keys and many more. 

Instead, Virgin Mobile will continue its tradition of helping make a difference and support the youth homelessness cause by making a significant donation directly to the Sasha Bruce RE*Generation House in honor of National Homeless Youth Awareness Month, established by Virgin Mobile USA in November 2007. 

Virgin Mobile Music Festival began in 2006 and became a free one-day concert in the midst of the 2009 recession as many bands were cancelling U.S. tours and consumers were having trouble affording leisure activities.  Virgin Mobile wanted to create something positive for its customers, music fans and the community in the face of so much economic turmoil and give back.  Instead of asking people to pay for another music event, Virgin Mobile asked people to donate time and money to help in the fight against youth homelessness.   As a result, the Virgin Mobile FREE.I.P.  program was launched to award concert tickets in exchange for volunteer hours and in-kind donations to support the RE*Generation program to help homeless youth. 

Since FreeFest’s inception, the public’s efforts have raised more than 75,000 volunteer hours, over 30,000 in-kind donations and more than 1 million dollars for RE*Generation non-profit partners.  The most significant accomplishment by far was underwriting the construction of a new transitional living facility for youth, The Sasha Bruce RE*Generation House by Virgin Mobile, located in Washington D.C.  The home opened in December 2012 and currently houses eight young people between the ages of 18-22.  The House provides safe shelter but also educational and mentorship support and programs to teach young people about entrepreneurship and urban farming.

Lavanya Ramanathan is a features reporter for Style.
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