This past Saturday, I attended the Virgin Mobile Freefest 2010 at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, MD. Based on my personal experience, it seems like it was much better-organized and planned than last year – or that they at least learned from what happened last year – so I give them kudos. Of course, just because I had a better experience doesn’t mean it was actually better, but hey – I’m happy.

Like last year, I arrived in the mid-to-late afternoon. While there probably could’ve been more signs explaining where to park for newbies, I’m glad that the area wasn’t as clogged as last year. Last time, there were actually people out there directing traffic and where to go, and this actually made things worse and more congested. This time around, people just followed the signs and knew that the lot was full and to park at Howard Community College. Last year, there was a sign saying there was a shuttle bus from the college to the concert, but it never came, and everyone said that it basically stopped hours before. The walk was about 2 miles each way, which is a lot when you consider all the walking you’ll do at the actual festival (and it was 90+ degrees this year). School buses took us to and from the concert this year. The bus drivers I had were courteous. There was a nice attendant in the lot explaining where to wait for the bus.

On top of that, it seems like walking to and from each stage was much less of a headache. I don’t know if this was due to the layout and planning, or if it just happened. There was still crowdedness right before and after a band got off stage, but that’s to be expected. Last year, it was a pain to get from stage to stage no matter what, where, or when.

On the West Stage, there was a ferris wheel, which was fun times. It cost $5 per gondola, which I don’t think was a bad price. On top of that, they gave you a card to download the music from, so that was nice. AND on top of that even more, they said that the money all went to charity, so that’s super cool in my book. I think the Virgin Freefest is an example that big businesses and business owners can, in fact, be charitable and care deeply about issues. In the case of Virgin, it was about homeless youth.

The only complaint I have about the festival was the fire display near the West Stage. The smell was strong and could be felt from far away. My chest and sinuses became filled with ash and I felt sick, even the next day. I was bad, but it wasn’t totally unbearable for me. However, some people I know actually left early because they were so sick from that thing. It was loud and obnoxious. It didn’t even look that cool. I don’t think I heard one person say they liked it. I really hope they don’t bring that back next year.

There were some great acts there, but I will focus on CHROMEO, since they were definitely the main reason why I wanted to attend. I’m normally not too comfortable in a big, tight crowd, and festivals are usually even worse because you have a mix of people who may not normally see the artist you’re watching. I wasn’t too far from the front and toward the center, which is usually very uncomfortable. This wasn’t the case with Chromeo’s crowd. The people there were positive. No one pushed or shoved. I didn’t feel at all panicked, even as the crowd got larger and closer together. The audience danced and swayed but still respected other people’s space. My friend Amy, who was there with me, even commented that she’d been to countless shows but was surprised at how comfortable she was with that audience. The photo below will give you an idea of the crowd.

Chromeo played an enjoyable one-hour set at the Dance Forest that was fantastic – technically, creatively, and energy-wise. They pretty much did a perfect mix of songs new and old. I’m a huge fan of theirs and couldn’t see them the other times they came to the Baltimore area, so I was definitely pumped to finally see them after being a fan for a few years. They definitely did not disappoint. They will do a full North American tour around February and if they come to Baltimore, I am so there.

Just their performance alone was reason enough to love watching them, but I was also situated right next to a really good dancer in the crowd. I took some video, which doesn’t even come close to doing him justice. If you imagine him dancing like Michael Jackson (I’m not exaggerating) and making even more intense faces, that’s how he was the entire set, except when he appropriately toned it down during “Momma’s Boy”.

I thought the line-up this year was a nice and different mix. The festival this year seemed to promote more bands with a dedicated, yet less-mainstream audience. I think that was just the right thing for them to do. It brought a lot of the more “indie” crowd out, and I bet it also introduced these artists to the people who went there for the well-known acts. The time slots also did not seem to be based on album sales, which is conventionally the way most concerts and festivals order the schedule.

I’m looking forward to finding out who plays the festival next year, and if I like the acts, I will most likely be there. Great job, Virgin.