No crowd records, no crowd complaints

Virgin Festival promoters are pleased

August 07, 2007|By Sam Sessa ... | Sam Sessa ...,Sun Reporter

When Virgin Group founder and CEO Richard Branson announced this year's Virgin Festival lineup, he had high expectations.

"This year, if we don't sell out the two days, I'd be very surprised," he said in March.

Well, it didn't sell out the 120,000 two-day capacity.

But about 74,000 people turned out for the second year of the festival, which featured The Police, Smashing Pumpkins, the Beastie Boys and nearly 40 other acts at Pimlico Race Course. Promoters and city officials say they are pleased.

"I think this year what we did was really establish the festival as one of the biggest in the U.S.," said festival promoter Seth Hurwitz.

Did it make money?

"It remains to be seen until all the bills are in, but if not, it's close," said Hurwitz, who hopes Branson will bring the festival back for a third time next year. "Success to me was walking around and seeing everyone having so much fun. It will eventually make money if you do that. The first step is to do a great event."

City officials said they hoped the festival would return for many years to come.

Virgin Group representatives did not return calls for comment yesterday.

"We got e-mails from people who were visiting Baltimore from around the country this weekend which said `Please let the Virgin Fest come back again,'" said Anthony McCarthy, a spokesman for Mayor Sheila Dixon.

Hurwitz said the festival ran much smoother than it did last year, when 40,000 fans attended the one-day gathering. Bands mingled backstage, and fans were pleased with the event.

"I have yet to hear one single complaint about traffic or parking," he said. "The only thing people could come up with for a complaint was the heat, and I don't think even Branson could change that."

Compared to the drawing power of other multiday festivals, the Virgin Festival falls somewhere in the middle.

The first Coachella music and arts festival in 1999 drew about 25,000 music fans to Empire Polo Fields in Indio, Calif. By comparison, roughly 70,000 came to the first Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee in 2002.

It takes time to establish a festival, and Virgin will grow in the coming years, Branson said in March. He pointed to the festival's European sister as an example.

"It's building a brand - building a festival brand," he said then. "It took us 11 years in England to go from 20,000 people in the V-Fest in Europe to 130,000, which it is every year now. It will build."

Hurwitz echoed Branson's sentiment.

"If we get people to come check us out, they're going to have a great time and they'll be back every year," he said. "That just takes time."

sam.sessa@baltsun.com

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