Seven memorable Virgin Mobile FreeFest moments

Virgin Mobile FreeFest's launch in 2009 at the height of the recession -- that great economic Dark Age that seemed to disproportionately hit young adults -- felt like a generous graduation gift from some deep-pocketed Daddy Warbucks. Weezer, St. Vincent, Wale and Public Enemy would play, and nobody would have to pay.

It is with some shame that we have to admit that in recent years, like ungrateful children, we started to expect the free party and secretly hated the feeling of 50,000 people descending on a space built for about 20,000. We rolled our eyes a little at the weird constellation of lesser acts who seemed to fill the dead space on the bill.

But with the news that there would be no FreeFest in 2014, we couldn't help but feel nostalgic for all the good times that were had. Below are a few of our favorite festival memories.


Jack White headlined the Pavilion Stage in 2012. (Photo by Kyle Gustafson for The Washington Post)

Weezer, 2009

The 2009 festival was headlined by Rivers Cuomo and Co., who are still best remembered for their pounding aural assaults of the mid-1990s. But who could complain, argued The Post's David Malitz, when it was free? Of Weezer's performance, he later wrote: "For a band that so often seems to exist only to infuriate, Weezer played a nearly perfect set ... Lots of hits, no dead spots, overwhelmingly loud and crunchy, done in an hour."

LCD Soundsystem, 2010

A year later, James Murphy's prescient electro-rock act called it quits. But first, they delivered a show at FreeFest that was everything it should have been. From The Post: "Great big music festivals should end with great big bands performing great big songs for great big crowds gathered beneath great big disco balls. Such was the case when LCD Soundsystem headlined the 2010 Virgin Mobile FreeFest at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Saturday night, offering a 90-minute grand finale that spliced together rock-and-roll's bombast and disco's invincible pulse."

Pavement, 2010

After a much-hyped, beyond-sold-out string of shows in New York, indie rock's moodiest slackers capped off their reunion week in Columbia. That's right, Columbia. Wrote Post pop music critic Chris Richards: "The beloved indie vets performed to gobs of empty seats in the pavilion and plenty of open space up on the lawn, making this big comeback an oddly intimate affair. A few hundred die-hards gathered up front and sang along to 'Cut Your Hair,' 'Gold Soundz' and 'Summer Babe' with the pent-up enthusiasm they've been harboring for 11 years."


COLUMBIA, MD - SEPTEMBER 25th, 2010: Reunited after a 10-year hiatus, Pavement played a carrer-spanning set at the 2010 Virgin Mobile FreeFest at Merriweather Post Pavilion. (Photo by Kyle Gustafson/For The Washington Post)

T.I., 2010

The rapper didn't show up, and Die Antwoord also canceled, perhaps leading M.I.A. to think she didn't have to hurry up and play her set.

Patti Smith, 2011

On the eve of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the punk poetess did what she does so well and managed to get FreeFest's party crowd thinking about the world around them.  "She was greeted with a mixed cocktail of boos and applause when she referred to John Walker Lindh as 'the Bush administration’s scapegoat,'" wrote  Richards. But she countered with this gem: “Remember who you were September 10th.”

Skrillex, 2012

It was at perhaps the peak of dubstep that Sonny Moore let the bass drop for 90 straight minutes, almost twice as long as putative headliner Jack White played.

Sky Ferreira, 2013

Days after an arrest on drug charges, the singer turned up as promised at FreeFest and proceeded to sing like a woman on a mission to prove her detractors wrong. (Women, from M.I.A. to Joan Jett, have always been fairly well represented on the FreeFest bill, a fact that we won't let go unnoticed.) And oh, yes, the downpour that would leave everyone soggy and slipping hadn't yet begun.


Sky Ferreira at  Virgin FreeFest 2013 at Merriweather Mobile Post Pavilion. (Josh Sisk for The Washington Post)
Lavanya Ramanathan is a professional eater/drinker/thinker for Weekend and the Going Out Guide. University of Texas. Northwestern University. Rap fan.
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