Lots of music, no troubles

Virgin festival runs smoothly

August 10, 2008|By Sam Sessa | Sam Sessa,Sun reporter

Sitting still was not an option.

Thousands of live music lovers were torn between two stages yesterday at the third annual Virgin Mobile Festival at Pimlico Race Course. It was a popularity contest, with some of today's hottest musicians vying for the crowd's attention on two opposing main stages.

The audience made the shape of a dumbbell: Two clusters of people at either end of the infield around the main stages and a stream of foot traffic steadily flowing in between. Some festivalgoers were flustered at having to pick between headliners Jack Johnson and the Foo Fighters.

"Why did they put the same types of groups on at the same time?" asked Meredith Rosen, a 28-year-old from Washington. "Then you have to choose."

The final head count won't be in until later this week, but festival organizers estimated attendance to be roughly the same as last year, when roughly 70,000 turned out over two days. Organizers were pleased with yesterday's turnout and said the day ran smoothly.

Sunny skies, temperatures in the 80s and low humidity meant fewer medical complaints than last year, when temperature reached almost 100 degrees.

Last year, the medical staff treated hundreds of overheated fans, but they said yesterday that "Band-Aids and sunscreen" were the order of the day.

"Last year, the heat was unbearable," said Eric Gilgenast, a nurse from Sinai Hospital. "Today's been a walk in the park. It's been a treat."

Police said there were no arrests. One event staff member was reportedly discovered pilfering T-shirts and wristbands, but police said organizers declined to pursue charges, and the items were recovered.

Fans bounced back and forth across the festival grounds, stopping for snacks at food booths and watching the odd variety of nonmusical performances.

The sideshows that flanked the concert stages provided an eclectic change of pace. Motocross daredevils zoomed in the air, silhouetted against the clear blue sky, and art sculpture sporadically spit fire into the air. At the Bindlestiff Family Circus stage, performers cranked screwdrivers into their noses and teetered on a rope strung high above the audience.

Early in the day, members of the Charm City Rollergirls swirled across a patch of blacktop between the grandstand and track, gearing up for an exhibition match.

At the Dell computer tent, people lined up for airbrushed temporary tattoos of lightning bolts and raised fists. In a tent shaped like a geodesic dome, sponsored by Kyocera, people lounged on blocks of grass while charging their cell phones. Donnie Bull of Salisbury sipped a beer while pedaling a bike that powered the phone chargers.

Some patrons, like Jeff Buttaccio, opted for new hairdos in the Dell tent.

"I want to look like I'm from the '80s," said Buttaccio, as Jade Gorman, a Morgan State University English professor, teased his brown curls and doused them with hair spray.

Beehives were especially popular, but many girls said, "Just make me look pretty," according to Siobhan Lettow, who had hot pink hair.

Cameron Babcock and Tanya White drove down from Ontario, Canada, for this weekend's festival. They went to the Virgin Festival at Toronto Island Park last year and said this one beats it hands down.

"It's set up way better," said White, 25. "It sounds good, and the stages are a lot closer. ... In Toronto, it's on an island. At least here, you can park your car and walk in."

The festival's lineup spans multiple musical genres, including hip-hop, rock and techno. At one point, music group Gogol Bordello churned out high-energy beats on the South Stage, disc jockey Erol Alkan unleashed thumping bass in the dance tent, and soul singer Duffy sashayed across the North Stage.

"It's definitely the most eclectic mix," said Richard Barlow, 37, who lives in Durham, N.C. "I love bands and I love DJs. It's the only festival where I can satisfy both those needs."

Barlow has been to all three Virgin Festivals and said he liked how organizers kept the layout largely the same over the years.

"Once you've done it a year, you know where the important stuff is," he said.

Barlow's biggest challenge will be deciding whom to see tonight, when headliners Nine Inch Nails, Kanye West and Armin van Buuren take different stages at the same time.

"That's a tough one," he said. "All three of them are good artists."

sam.sessa@baltsun.com

Sun reporters Julie Scharper and Justin Fenton contributed to this article.

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