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Rockin' with Sony & some bands at Virgin Mobile FreeFest

7:40 PM on 08.31.2009 // Samit Sarkar

I love to get down with great music and videogames, so when Sony offered me (and three Dtoiders) the opportunity to head down to Columbia, MD, and play some PS3 games while taking in some live music at the Virgin Mobile FreeFest, I couldn’t say “yes” quickly enough.

As it turned out, I had an awesome time at the festival itself, even though getting there and back was, well, less fun. Still, I shouldn’t complain -- I saw fantastic live bands like The Hold Steady and Weezer (and other not-so-fantastic live bands like Taking Back Sunday and Blink-182) without paying for anything but beer.

Read on for the details!

[Editor’s note: All photos were taken by yours truly! Hit the gallery for 36 of them. -Samit]


The event began at 11 AM, and though our bus didn’t get to Columbia until around noon, it wasn’t a problem; none of the acts I cared about were to begin playing until almost 3 PM. So I asked a woman in the press tent about the PlayStation setup, and headed over to check out what Sony had in store for festival-goers. A smaller-than-expected white tent greeted me; at the entrance stood ten or fifteen onlookers, while a similar number played the games on offer inside.

This being a music festival, SingStar headlined the gaming area -- it featured a prominent stage for contestants to belt out hits like “Toxic” by Britney Spears (a Nick Chester classic!) and The Cardigans’ “Lovefool” (a Jim Halpert classic). At some of the side kiosks, equally brave singers did their best Freddie Mercury impressions in SingStar Queen. And for those who wanted to test their pop culture intellect, a couple of the stations in the back of the tent let them try out Buzz! Quiz TV.


I figured I’d be singing along to a bunch of the artists slated to play later on, so I decided against going up and melting people’s faces with my voice. You’ll just have to come to Dtoid NY karaoke for that. All in all, though, the tent seemed pretty busy throughout the day, probably since there were some healthy gaps during bands’ sets in the schedule.

But of course, such an event is ostensibly for, well, the music -- and I got started with that when Taking Back Sunday took the main stage at 2:50 PM. I’d seen them before at the Warped Tour back when I was in high school. Their live performance didn’t particularly excite me back then, and while they’ve gotten better instrumentally, lead vocalist Adam Lazzara doesn’t sound all that good outside of a studio. Still, I was happy that they played songs from my favorite album of theirs, Tell All Your Friends (their 2002 debut).

The Hold Steady

Brooklyn-based indie rock band The Hold Steady played the West Stage next, and they put on a great show. I’ve only recently started listening to them, so I wasn’t familiar enough with really any of the songs to sing along. But I did recognize a few songs like “Stuck Between Stations” and “Slapped Actress,” the latter of which they closed with. I’m definitely eager to see them indoors now -- I’m always impressed by a band whose live set sounds as good as, or better than, its studio album.

Once The Hold Steady finished, I returned to the main stage to see Jet. As I observed on Twitter, Jet is a fantastic band to see live. Their music is relatively simple, but it’s the epitome of capital-R “Rock” -- big, crunching guitar riffs combined with sweet solos and screeching vocals enhanced by years of smoking and drinking. They even played “Look What You’ve Done” as a tribute to Oasis, which broke up last week.


But I was the most excited about seeing Weezer, a band that I’ve loved for a while but had never seen in person. And they brought the goods, playing a wide variety of songs from their lengthy discography and focusing on The Blue Album, which I happen to think is just a perfect rock record. They opened with an awesome cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” which, as a classic rock fan, I enjoyed immensely. The massive crowd helped out on the backing vocals in “Island in the Sun” (“hip hip”) and sang along with classics like “Say It Ain’t So” and “Buddy Holly.” The band ended with another cover -- this time of The Clash’s anthemic “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” -- and Keyboard Cat came on the video board to play them off!

Blink-182 headlined FreeFest, and while I haven’t followed them closely since middle school, I must admit that I used to enjoy them quite a bit -- they’re just fun. And I hadn’t previously seen them live, either, though I had an idea of what to expect: dick jokes and screaming young girls. The banter between Mark Hoppus and Tom DeLonge didn’t disappoint on the puerile humor end, while the crowd provided ear-splitting shouts. And just as I assumed, Blink’s live show was more about showmanship than musicianship, though it was cool to hear oldies such as “Carousel.”

Sunset during Weezer

I didn’t get home until after 6 AM today, but hey, who cares? Live music in the summer is impossible to pass up, if you ask me, and it’s even better after you’ve consumed a 24-oz. Belgian-style wheat ale. I’d like to thank Virgin Mobile for putting on such a great show, and Sony for sending me there. I hope they hold another one next year!

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Samit Sarkar,
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