Some 60 acts rock as 2-day HFStival draws 40,000

Young - and not so young - crowd into Merriweather


There was a lot of music to be heard at the 17th annual HFStival Saturday and yesterday at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, and the nice weather also ensured there were ample opportunities for festival-goers to show off their tattoos and body piercings.

A festival site booth offered piercings of such body parts as eyebrow, tongue, navel and nose for $40, with an accompanying sign kindly noting: "free mouthwash available during festival."

It was the sort of booth you expect to see at an event that draws young hipsters, and one wonders whether any newly pierced young adults went home and shocked their moms.

This was the first time the event was held at the Columbia venue, which more than doubled its concert space to accommodate two satellite stages, said Jean Parker, general manager of Merriweather.

This took the 39-year-old Merriweather's capacity from its normal 19,000 to 27,000. Parker estimated that this year's festival attracted 40,000 people, making it one of the largest events in the pavilion's history. Last year's festival, held at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, drew 46,000 people, according to WHFS-FM program director Mike Murphy.

Among the 60 acts performing this year were Kanye West, Cypress Hill, Counting Crows, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Rise Against, The Strokes, Panic! At the Disco, the Misfits, Coheed and Cambria, Jimmie's Chicken Shack and Matchbook Romance.

The musical lineup was so unorthodox that it even included an Orthodox Jew, the reggae singer Matisyahu; incidentally, the show's organizers explained that Matisyahu had to perform after sundown Saturday for religious reasons.

Although the crowd was a demographic mix, it veered toward the young. One of the first-timers for an HFStival, Brooke Wilson, 17, of Silver Spring, said: "I wanted to see Dashboard Confessional," a California-based band that performs a song she likes, "Screaming Infidelities."

Wilson's friend, George Moomau, 17, of Kensington, added: "I came to find out about new bands."

"My parents were skeptical when I went to it last year, but I came back and told them that the festival has a party scene you can do or not do," said a second-timer, Jeremy Olsen, 18, of Arnold and a senior at Broadneck Senior High School.

Olsen was sitting quietly on the lawn with his friend, Daniel Helm, 19, of Annapolis, whose carefully planned outfit of short black pants, white shirt and black-and-white-checked tie was inspired by the musical style ska.

Hardly in need of parental approval was Keith Praybe, 50, of Severna Park, whose long white beard made him look like a rock patriarch. Attending his 10th HFStival, he wasn't bothered by the generation gap: "If the music is good, age doesn't matter," he said.

Praybe also said he liked the venue change for the event that for six years was held at RFK Stadium in Washington. "It's nice and open here," he said while standing in a field and gesturing toward the trees.

Another festival veteran was Steve Gehring, a 31-year-old Denton resident, who said he has come to the past 10 HFStivals with his sister, Amy, 33, of Crofton. "It's become a family tradition," Gehring said.

Among the musical acts that brought so many people to Merriweather, one of the best-known was Kanye West. Performing Saturday night with a seven-member string orchestra, two backup singers and loads of stage presence, he showed why he is a multi-award-winning musician.

During his hour-long set, West took an estimated 20,000 screaming people on a mini-discography that encompassed his career as a producer and rapper.

He kept the crowd pumped with favorites such as "Gold Digger" and "Diamonds," and he had grown men in tank tops singing the hook to the vocally charged hit "All Falls Down."

Another popular draw Saturday was Cypress Hill, the venerable hip-hop and rock group from South Central Los Angeles, which showed it could still keep up with any new kids on the block or in the hood.

"Our music has evolved," said B-Real, Cypress Hill's lead rapper, during an interview. "We listen to the youngsters. There are so many new artists."

The most memorable moment in the group's performance came when a gigantic 20-foot tall golden Buddha holding a marijuana leaf was inflated on stage.

"The crowd was very energetic," B-Real said. "They were having a blast. It inspired us to do more. We try to give it our all. There is no high like that."

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