When the Preakness established the InfieldFest in 2010 — as a response to it ending its infamous bring-your-own-alcohol policy a year earlier — it aimed to create a mini music festival.
Judging from this year's lineup, which featured country star Sam Hunt and the electronic dance music hit-maker Zedd as headliners, Preakness has achieved this, for better or worse.
America — especially its millennials — is obsessed with wide-appealing music festivals, where attendance seems more motivated by the party than the music. Saturday's InfieldFest reflected this reality, providing a recognizable soundtrack and pleasant enough atmosphere but creating very few actual music moments.
The directive, it seemed, for each performer was: Don't let the party die on your watch. The crowd — many of whom had the clear, unlimited-beer Mug Club cups in hand — was in such a happy drink-assisted mood that it would have been tough to quell the atmosphere.
The day's best performance came from Hunt, whose hard-to-classify country — a charming mix of country-pop and alternative '90s rock, with touches of Drake-like rap and R&B — won the main stage crowd over by the end of the first song, "Leave the Night On." He balances a penchant for memorable hooks with details that bring depth and storytelling to his songs, like "Saturday Night" and "Raised on It." Dressed in all black, Hunt proved Saturday that he's a good bet to be one of the main faces of country's future as it continues to blend with other Top 40-friendly genres.
Zedd, the EDM producer and DJ, was the main stage's letdown. A DJ set in the middle of the afternoon is already an uphill battle, but Zedd did himself few favors with his set of uninspired choices — including Icona Pop's "I Love It," Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and "Billie Jean," and the Chainsmokers' "Closer." It was like he put the songs in an inefficient blender, but no one seemed to mind. Zedd appeared to make a stellar mix for the crowd to stick their tongues out to while they Snapchatted those friends who were missing out.
At the second stage, the stakes felt lower, which meant pleasant surprises and middle-of-the-road performances. The former came from Good Charlotte — pop-punk veterans led by Waldorf natives Joel and Benji Madden — whose aging brattiness and nostalgia-inducing singles ("Girls & Boys," "The Motivation Proclamation") energized the crowd.
Earlier, the country-pop acts LoCash (featuring Towson native Chris Lucas) and High Valley were effective enough to get a party at least started in the right direction, though their sets were weighed down with awkward banter and general cheesiness. They fit comfortably on a bill that seemed determined not to take the type of bold lineup choices that had paid off in previous years (think past headliners Lorde and Childish Gambino).
Yet the InfieldFest, like plenty of other music festivals all over the country, seems uninterested in chasing transcendent music experiences. No, this is a messy, alcohol-fueled party first, as evidenced by the constant presence of big-name booze brands strategically placed all around the infield. As the day crept closer to Hunt's 4:30 p.m. performance, mud-stained trash on the ground became unavoidable and plenty of attendees' balance worsened.
"Drunk, drunk / Lay in the sand and get stuck, stuck / A bunch of rum 'til we're numb, numb / Come on and get you some," sang LoCash vocalists Lucas and Preston Brust, not long after one of them raised a glass and yelled, "Let's take a shot!" to the crowd.
At InfieldFest, music may seem like the point, but it's not.