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Go to the Music and Club Scene

Between Rock and a Hot Place

By Eric Brace
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 3 1996; Page B01

"I just came back from Disney World. . . . This is very normal," said HFS-tival concertgoer Jamie Partridge, halfway through Saturday's daylong alternative rock fest at RFK Stadium. "A lot of people, a lot of noise, a lot of heat, a lot of fun."

Indeed. The appeal of WHFS-FM's annual event is pretty basic: Pack yourself into a large concrete structure with more than 50,000 of your closest friends, put 20 bands on two stages, apply beer and suntan lotion as necessary, and hang out. Partridge, 25, who'd driven in from Warrenton for the event, was there for the scene more than the music and was enjoying it. "You've got people of all ages having a good time," she said, noting the tiny but very noticeable contingent of fortysomething fans. "You think, gosh, that could be my parents."

Down on the floor of the stadium, Lindsay Haddos was one of those people. "I was kind of scared when I came here. I wanted to see Lush and came right up to the stage. The mosh pit kind of overflowed," the 44-year-old said. But otherwise, she was having a grand time: "I'm surprised there aren't more people our age."

The essence of the HFS-tival could be found there on the floor, a sort of refugee camp for people fleeing their jobs, worries, and, in some cases, consciousness for the afternoon. People mobbed together in the first few rows, moshing back and forth and heaving the occasional body in the air. Farther back, it was more like a day at the beach, but with no sand, no cops and much higher odds of random feet trampling your stuff.

Up in the very highest seats -- so far away that sound from the speakers arrived too late to be in sync with the two giant video screens flanking the stage -- the scene was almost tranquil. "The breeze, the better sound," said Corky Kaericher, detailing the advantages of his perch far above the sea of sunburned skin on the floor. "Plus, you get better airplane action," he added, launching a paper glider that wobbled and spiraled into the tier below.

On the main stage, Everclear held forth in the midafternoon and gave the crowd a sing-along in the form of a revved-up version of Tom Petty's "American Girl." Jewel was next and opened with an a cappella song on domestic violence, Tracy Chapman's "Behind the Wall." Somebody apparently didn't appreciate it and tossed a Frisbee at the stage, clocking the singer in the head. She abruptly walked off the stage, not having even finished the second song of a 20-minute set.

Outside the stadium in the fenced-in parking lot, amid the food and beer lines, Madame Flora shouted tarot readings over the din of bands performing on the festival's second stage. Human bowling had a lot of fans, although the human bowling balls had a somewhat different perspective. As Patrick Henry climbed out of the ribbed steel ball inside which he'd been strapped and rolled against giant soft pins (yes, a strike), he said, "It makes you want to throw up." But he wasn't there simply to challenge his stomach; he was there for the bands. Which? "No Doubt. The lead singer is hot as hell."

The tent catering to the socially and politically active was the calmest area, of course. How could Clinton/Gore '96, Handgun Control and the Vegetarian Society of D.C. (among dozens of others) compete with Girls Against Boys, or even the lemonade stand?

In the cool tunnels under the stadium, a man in red cape and crown was everywhere. "I'm King of the Backstage," he said happily. The MCI supervisor won his "Access All Areas" pass from WHFS in a contest on Friday, by faxing in a letter to the station saying that his name, John Jester, should qualify him for the throne. "I can go anywhere," he said with a loopy expression on his face. "I go into the bands' dressing rooms, and they go, `Who are you?' and I go, `I'm the King,' and they go, `Oh, cool, nice to meet you.' "

But seeing a man wandering around in a king's costume can't be weirder than playing RFK for the first time. Dave Grohl was nervous before his band, the Foo Fighters, went on in the evening.

"I'm [expletive] scared," he said with his happy grin, the one that made a woman walking past him say, "You are so cute." He smiled at that, too. The former drummer for D.C. punk band Scream and, of course, Nirvana shook his head, still smiling, and said, "Man, there are a lot of people out there today."

Another act with a D.C. heritage, Jawbox, was the first band on the main stage, and while the 11:30 a.m. set time was bad, waking up at 6 a.m. to get to the stadium for a sound check was worse. "It's ungodly for rock music," said bassist Kim Coletta. "But there were still tens of thousands of kids there. It was amazing."

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