Muddy conditions overshadow new Preakness megastage

Mudfest at Preakness 2018. (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun video)

Standing in the back of the new concert area in the middle of Saturday’s Preakness InfieldFest, Andrew Tyner was impressed by the massive new stage and the general reconfiguration of one of Maryland’s most anticipated events.

But his thoughts quickly moved to the real talker of the day: the weather.


“With mud everywhere, it’s hard to judge,” said Tyner, 29 of Baltimore.

For its 10-year anniversary, InfieldFest was publicized by organizers as a refreshed event with a smarter layout to promote watching and betting on races, and a “megastage” to serve as a focal point. The execution, which made the party feel smaller and more centralized, was overshadowed by conditions that left no attendee’s shoes — at the least — safe from the wet, sloppy mud.


The Infield crowd quickly embraced the conditions, with some diving head first into large puddles and others using the mud to decorate their faces. By the time electronic music duo Odesza took the stage at 2 p.m., much of the mood had shifted from annoyance to open-armed acceptance.

If the organizers’ goal was to facilitate a fun, carefree atmosphere, driven by unlimited beer and contemporary music, then it was largely a success, despite long waits to enter. If the goal was to then convert many of them into horseracing fans, then the Preakness has some room for improvement.

In recent years, the Preakness Infield has felt like a standalone concert and all-day drinking party for millennials, curiously placed next to one of the biggest horse races in the world. But on Saturday, InfieldFest will see major changes designed to bridge that generational gap.

While Tiffani Steer of the Stronach Group, which owns Pimlico Race Course, told The Baltimore Sun, “You’ll be able to see the horses while you’re partying,” that felt more true in theory than practice. To see the horses racing required Infielders to leave the stage area — where there was no clear vantage point of the races — to the outskirts of the Infield. Keeping one eye on headlining rapper Post Malone and another on a race was not possible.

A small fraction of attendees, most of whom appeared older than the millennial crowd, set up chairs along the outer fence of the Infield to take advantage of the reconfigured layout, which provided clear views of the races, as the Stronach Group intended. But the number of people who cared about the races was eclipsed by the partiers, who seemed content to not lose their spots by the stage.

Organizers also attempted to make horserace betting more accessible to the Infield’s young crowd, in the hopes of minimizing the intimidation that can come up with placing a bet. This year, the Infield betting areas — which saw a steady stream of visitors all day — were clearly labeled so, instead of as “mutuel windows,” an old horseracing term. Betting ambassadors were on hand to answer questions about how to place bets. Xpressbet, a wagering service owned by the Stronach Group, set up a Betting 101 explanation tent, and handed out coupons for a free $10 bet voucher to as people entered the Infield.

Mike Morris of New Jersey said he placed his first bet on a race at the Kentucky Derby earlier this month. He enjoyed it enough to make the trip to Pimlico, where he turned a $1 bet into $10, though he cared more about the win than the profit.

“Hey, I’ll take it,” Morris said. “It’s the exhilaration, right?”

While the Infield’s physical changes were effective — the centralized position of the single stage, instead of two stages at opposite ends, made the “megastage” the Infield hub — not everyone approved.

Hundreds of Preakness goers traversed through mudpits and large puddles of water, with their shoes and legs covered in brown sludge. Others got strategic — or gave up — and braved it all barefoot. 

Elisabeth Brosnan, in town from Orlando, Fla., for her fourth Preakness, called the new layout “absolutely awful,” regardless of the muddy conditions. She said she preferred two stages of music, and wished there were country bands on the bill.

”It doesn’t work out well,” Brosnan said. “Now you’re trying to pack everyone into one area.”

She planned to return but with grandstand tickets next time.

”We’re not doing this again. We’re getting fancy next year,” she said.


The draw of the event, though, was Post Malone, the rapper whose album “Beerbongs & Bentleys” is projected to sit atop the Billboard 200 album chart for the third straight week.

“Thank for coming out in the mud,” Post Malone said. “I got my Crocs on."

From the moment he opened the set with “Too Young,” the crowd was fully on board, jumping and fist-pumping in unison.

In the past two years, Post Malone’s star has risen at an accelerated pace — he’s remarkably adept at crafting melodic, melancholic songs with earworm hooks, like “Psycho” and “White Iverson.” Lyrically, they don’t say much of anything beyond very basic ideas, a fact Post did not shy away from when he introduced the each track. His hit single “Rockstar” — which features 21 Savage, who performed earlier in the day but did not return for his guest verse — was about “breaking s---.” “Go Flex” was about “going out with your friends and being cooler than everyone else.” “Psycho” was “about having a cool watch.”

As a performer, he demonstrated a commanding stage presence that has grown since he last performed in the area (he opened for the rapper Future at Royal Farms Arena in August). A known fan of roc ’n’ roll from the ’70s and ’80s, Post Malone channels his idea of a what a rock star should be — raspy-voiced and full-throated, holding two hands on the microphone.

Tess Butler and Dixie Shahan drove four and a half hours from West Virginia to see him. They said they’re not the biggest rap fans, but Post Malone is an exception because they find his lyrics more relatable than those of other rap artists.

”It’s not all the really vulgar stuff that you don’t want to listen to around your parents,” Shahan, 21, said. “I listen to Post Malone with my mom.”

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