Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sounds: Virgin Mobile FreeFest 2012 @Merriweather Post Pavilion

This past Saturday was the Virgin Mobile FreeFest at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland. This annual concert is put on by British billionaire Richard Branson (who was at the concert, I spotted him twice) via his Virgin Mobile business and Virgin United, the philanthropic arm of his empire. A majority of the tickets to the concert were free and another group of tickets could be bought with proceeds going to the Virgin Mobile RE*Generation House, a homeless youth shelter here in Washington DC, that was actually built with donations from last year's concert.

Successfully attending a music festival is all about strategy and endurance. I try to tell myself that I can/should only attend one festival/day long concert a year, because I am old and tickets to these hootenannies aren't cheap. But I always break this rule. There is always that one headliner that gets me, that one band that only tours on the festival circuit. This year, as soon as the saw the two words, Jack White, I knew I would be getting my old bones to the show. (I very willingly purchased a ticket, during  my punk rock days I meet a lot of amazing kids who happen to be homeless, and have no problem donating towards such a worthy cause.)

Festivals tend to have very eclectic line ups to draw the most people possible, usually thousands. And with bands performing on more than one stage at the same time, there is no way that you can see and enjoy every band, so you need to make choices. I usually determine what bands I NEED to see and which bands it would just be nice to see, and when the official schedule is released, usually a few days before the festival,  I can plan my day from there.

90% of the bands I wanted to see at this festival happened to be playing the same stage, so I parked myself there most of the day. This was my first time attending this particular festival, so I don't know if they do this every year, but after each band they cleared the standing area, "the pit" by the stage. So if you wanted to be up front at the stage, you could only do this once, for one band, since there was always a large group of people waiting in line to get in the up close rotation.  I decided to just take a seat in the seated section (second row, center!) and found myself in the midst of a group of music lovers and fans and genuinely nice people, people there 100% for the music and not so much the scene, or to be seen, etc.  It was honestly, one of the best crowds I have been part of in a while. I did however, learn not to get involved in the White Stripes vs Black Keys debate. Don't do it. Trust me. 

Lately, a debate about taking pictures at concerts has emerged. I don't do it (take pictures) professionally, just selfishly. I have mentioned before that concerts and live music shows are where I feel I am  my most authentic self. I feel peace and calm and strong and just, well, at home. The more things in my life change and feel a little off balance, the more I seek out live music. For those few hours (or all day!), I  can feel that I am exactly where I am suppose to be at that moment in time and space. So when I take pictures at shows, it really is just to hold on to those little moments.  But I also know that when I am at a show, I am there for the music, not  to just take pictures, so I do limit myself. I never, ever, use a flash.  I never take pictures when the musician/band is playing my favorite song because I am probably singing with my eyes closed. And when I want to clap and wave my hands in the air like I just don't care, the camera just gets in the way. 

The pictures I look yesterday are not magazine layout quality, but I love them all the same in their out of focus, from a distance (I couldn't bring Clive), blurry beauty, for it's really about the moments that they will remind me of, tomorrow and years from now. 
I always like to get a "before" picture of the stage before a show.

 Trampled by Turtles
If you are keeping track, yes, this is the third time I have seen this fine band from Minnesota this year. They should really start having punch cards, because I would be on my way towards a free sandwich by now. They released a new album this year, thus promoting that record has led them to tour the country, including the DC/VA/MD area a lot, so if I had to defend seeing them  three times in one year, there you go.  And oh, they're good too.
The below picture is actually my favorite one from their set. Technically it's off, the fiddler is blurry, the microphone stand is blocking the banjo player, but it's really all about the guitar player turning towards his band mates. The chemistry between these 5 fellows is a huge part of why the band and their music just works.

 Ben Folds Five
I remember laying on the floor in my bedroom in high school waiting and hoping that the radio would play the song, "Underground," so I could tape it on my classy radio/tape player combo. Ben Folds Five played, "Underground," on Saturday and it was everything I wanted it to be.

 Alabama Shakes
If you aren't hip to Alabama Shakes, what are you waiting for, get in the canoe! I love their album, Boys & Girls, easily one of my most played this year, but seeing them live, brought it all to a whole new level.  The soul, man, the soul of their music, how do they even do it?  You must, must, must,  see them live. Brittany, the singer, will become your new hero. Promise.
 In the above picture take special notice of the keys player there on your left. Also notice the huge space between him and the rest of the band. This means he won't be in any more of the pictures. But he's still there. 

 Bona fide. 
ZZ Top
I had no point of reference for ZZ Top. I know them via pop culture and their beards and such, but honestly before last night I couldn't name you a single song of theirs. And maybe I still can't, but they sure were entertaining. There was a lot going on through. Behind them they had screens not only showing them playing live, but also clips of their music videos, and some sort of the story line about a girl that I felt was unresolved. At the end of the set, I really kinda wanted to know, so what happened to girl?

 Jack White
First, I have to mention Jack White's roadies, the guys that set up the stage. All of them were is suits. We are talking, ties, suspenders, jackets and hats. Setting up and sounding checking in fedoras. That is worth a mention.
You know that moment right before the band comes out where the air is just so heavy with anticipation that you think your heart is going to burst, but you will be OK as along as the band would just come stage? And then they come on stage and strike that first note and you feel that the world just exploded and it was beautiful. Yeah, so that happened.
Blurry on purpose. It's like mood lighting.

Jack White and the Peacocks (all female backing band) were on fire.  My mind exploded, my face melted, my socks were knocked off, and every other cliche ever known to man. Easily one of the best live performances I have witnessed before my little eyes. I've been trying to explain the show to people today and all I end up saying is, "It was just so good. Just so good."

He is just so big of a star, I was wondering how Jack would interact with the audience. I had pictured him in the Bob Dylan camp. Don't get me wrong, I love Bob Dylan, but Mr. Dylan does not talk to the audience, he comes on, he plays his songs, and then leaves, and well, he's Bob Dylan. But Jack White did interact, he talked a little here and there, but not too much, and smiled when the audience sang along. I am pretty sure angels get their wings when Jack White smiles. 

I got pretty obsessed with the all the lines that the lights made. 

After leaving the stage,"casual" Jack, sans jacket, came back for a couple additional songs, including a version of "Seven Nation Army" that is still blissfully echoing in my  head.
This is what I am talking about when I say capturing "moments." His guitar slung behind his back, the hands on the belt, just singing, like that is only thing in the world to do.
And he plays piano too. Even you don't like his  music, which I don't even want to understand people who don't, you have to appreciate his musical talent. I don't like to throw around terms like "musical genius," because who really can define such things. But since this is my little blog, I am defining Jack White as a musical genius.

Just so good.

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