Here's a question: How do you scale back one of the region's biggest music festivals and keep it from being a disappointment?

The answer? You make it free.

That's what Virgin Mobile did with this year's Virgin Festival, renamed the Virgin Mobile FreeFest.


The headliners, Blink-182, Weezer, Franz Ferdinand and Public Enemy don't have the star power of previous acts such as the Who, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kanye West and the Police. It's only one day: Aug. 30. And the venue, Merriweather Post Pavilion, holds about half as many people as the infield at Pimlico Race Course.

But all 35,000 tickets for this year's festival will be given away for free. (You can find my piece about the fest, with more details and ticketing info, here) ...

"I suppose people will thing that there must be a catch, but there really isn't," said festival producer Seth Hurwitz. "We just wanted to put on a show that would make people happy."

All I can say is, wow.

Everybody was ready to bash this year's festival. The announcement didn't come until really late in the festival season, after all of the big festival lineups were out. Bloggers and music fans wondered if it was even coming back at all. And the lineup, long rumored to be Blink-182 and Weezer, was less impressive than previous years.

But in previous years, the festival cost nearly $100 a day. This year, it's free. Sir Richard Branson, a brilliant marketer, strikes again!

"In a time of economic challenges and daily sacrifices, we wanted to throw a fantastic party so people could let loose and have a great time - on us," Branson, founder and president of Virgin Group, said in a statement.

Merriweather is being outfitted with multiple stages and a dance tent, and expanded to hold nearly 35,000. If they were charging money for the festival, I doubt they would get 35,000 people. With the festival being free, that won't be a problem at all.

I'm still marveling at the move. A free Virgin Festival? What an awesome idea.

(Sun photo by Patrick Smith)