Food & Drink

Notes from FreeFest: Jack White and Skrillex play to two different but enthusiastic scenes

When I talked to Alex Rinkus, a 26-year-old from Washington, for the scene story in today's Sun, he made it a point to emphasize why FreeFest was special compared to other American music festivals: "I just respect that they're trying to put on a good concert."

Pretty simple sentiment, but it rang true. FreeFest garners headlines (some from this writer and paper) for its unique price ("Wait, really, no money at all?" wondered a few lucky thousand with quick-enough mouse-clicking skills) but the FreeFest organizers deserve credit for choosing a wide-range of acts; some already established and some on the come-up. We get Jack White and ZZ Top, but we also get Santigold and local-trio Future Islands.


But another funny thing happened during my talk with Rinkus. When I asked him his age, he hesitated, and considered not telling me. When I told him I needed it, he replied 26 with a hint of embarrassment. A part of him felt too old to be there.

Imagine — 26! Too old for a music festival? Of course not, but as someone of the same age, I, somewhat surprisingly, understood what he meant.


There were plenty of teenagers — mostly inhabiting the Dance Forest (which could get its own 20,000-word essay) — wearing outfits that made me laugh (who knew Kanye shutter shades would survive this long?) and some that had me wondering how they hid them from their parents. I watched two girls, in their underwear, get heckled by an older crowd as they walked by concession stands. The pair didn't hear the remarks or happily chose to ignore them.

Dish Baltimore

Dish Baltimore


Get the scoop on that new restaurant, learn about chef changes and discover your favorite new recipe. All your Baltimore food news is here.

To state the obvious: the kids (and adults) love dance music right now — the loud, constantly pulsating, lose-your-mind-when-the-breakdown-drops kind. It was an obvious trend (which feels too weak of a description) throughout FreeFest.

So it was fitting the final performance of the night was left to Skrillex at the West stage. The former mall-emo frontman (Google "From First to Last") is now the poster boy for an entirely thriving movement called dubstep. As a timer counted down his arrival on the big screens, droves of tank-topped teens rushed to the grounds, looking for a prime spot not to see the artist, but to headbang and generally freak-out. It's an inspired scene, something difficult to explain unless you're there, seeing the extremely visceral (and pretty silly) reactions.

Musically, Skrillex's incessant bass wobbling dominated the set. It never stopped; it was only modified and tweaked. He was a showman, encouraging the crowd to get loud in a surprisingly shrill tone. The interesting thing about a Skrillex set that makes it worth experiencing once is its complete package: the surreal, purposely trippy video clips (anime, a stomach-churning "Thriller" knockoff, "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" theme) are nightmare-inducing, the laser show looked expensive and there was that wobble, like constant banging on a door. It's disorienting.

On the main stage, something more traditional — but equally commanding — was happening at its close. Jack White, the man of many acclaimed bands, ripped through a set of muscular blues rock. He made a loud arrival, violently strumming his guitar in time with the drums.

But it was the quieter moments that stood out. He shared a sensual moment with his tambourine player as they both sang into his microphone. The hoedown of "Hotel Yorba" from the White Stripes' "White Blood Cells" album got the crowd involved, clapping on the down-beats and finishing White's lyrics.

But things ended on a joyously loud note. In a moment that felt appropriate given the timing and atmosphere, White closed his set with "Seven Nation Army." Since its release in 2003, that song's hummable guitar riff has morphed into rallying cry at sporting events. Last night, it felt like a preview of the electric scene that could occur at Camden Yards only hours later.