A hot time in D.C.

HFStival bands give fans a day of alternative rock

May 24, 2004|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

WASHINGTON - No parents, no teachers, no principals or any other real authority figures are anywhere in sight, so behavior isn't closely monitored much here. Naturally, nearly everyone cuts loose, lets it all hang out - literally and figuratively. Giggling girls run in and out of the men's restroom. Reefer smoke mingles with the greasy scent of fries and chicken fingers.

Welcome to the HFStival at RFK Stadium. This is the annual all-day rock extravaganza put on by the "true alternative" rock station, 99.1 WHFS and sponsored by the likes of Miller Lite, Subway, Bacardi, Starbucks and others. It has drawn between 65,000 and 90,000 fans over the last decade. Every year - and Saturday, with about 60,000 fans, was no exception - high school and college students seem to dominate the audience. As the music thumps, rages and erupts, bodies in the stands and on the field slam into one another, bounce and sway - way off the beat.

There's no escaping the music - the throbbing urgency of metal and punk on the main stage in the stadium, outside the street stage and inside the "buzz tent," where local and up-and-coming national acts jam. There's no escaping a merciless sun either, as more than 200 are treated for heat exhaustion while nearly 50 people are sent to area hospitals, some with broken bones.

"I don't come to see the bands really," says Georgia Cowley, 17. She's a senior at West Springfield High School in Springfield, Va., and has come to HFStival via the Metro for the last two years. "I just come to hang out. A lot of music festivals are about just one or the other: Hanging out or music. But here, you can hang out and, like, listen to some of the greatest music."

Her friend, Kristin Kutch, 17, says, "The bands and the environment and your friends are here. And this is just once a year, so you can't help but have a good time."

This year, some of the hottest acts in alternative rock storm the main stage: O.A.R., Papa Roach, Cypress Hill, P.O.D., the Offspring, and a rare performance by the Cure. And since hip hop is what rock used to be - The Sound of America - there was one token rap act, a major one, too: the smooth Jay-Z.

But, come on, this is the HFStival. No one is here to absorb the nuances of a band's live show: the changes in an arrangement, the expansion of a groove, a difference in lyrical interpretation. Please. Who can understand the lyrics anyway? It's like a huge backyard party - a raucous, dirty, uninhibited one - with live music and a wannabe-hip emcee, who introduces each act with gratuitous use of the f-word. For some, the thunderous music is almost irrelevant.

"Beer. Brings me back every year, man," says Don Ireland, a gregarious 30-year-old warehouse worker from Pasadena. "I mean, man, the music is good. The Cure is here this year, and I've been a fan for 20 years, man. And the ... " - he stops to gawk at a girl in hot pants - "the sights are always good."

On the main stage, each set is about 45 minutes to an hour. The main acts hit the stage in the middle of the afternoon. Papa Roach's Jacoby Shaddix (aka Coby Dick) screams over crashing drums, fusing his approach with some rap syncopation here and there. But for the most part, everything stays in the generic metal-rap groove the group has been working since 2000's Infest. It's been two years since lovehatetragedy, the band's last album. "She Loves Me Not," the hit from that CD, is delivered with ferocious power. But "Can't Go Any Further," a new song from the band's album due out in August, is lackluster and meanders.

Cypress Hill, the original Latino hip-hop supergroup, infuses its new material - namely "What's Your Number" and "Latin Thugs" - with a slight, undulating dub sound. But the new stuff is almost indistinguishable from such older songs as "(Rock) Superstar" and "I Ain't Goin' Out Like That." Every cut has the same dark, droning, stoned beat of "Insane in the Brain," the smash hit that launched the group in 1993. The trio performs it, of course. And the entire field seems to be jumping in time with the beat.

P.O.D (short for Payable On Death) brings tight musicianship to the stage and an overall highly energetic show, which precedes Jay-Z's. And you can feel the anticipation building for the Brooklyn rapper as the stage crew breaks down P.O.D's set. In my section of the stadium, a group chants his name.

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