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HFStival is over-the-top cool; Concert: The biggest crowd yet -- nearly 90,000 -- is mostly happy to be at the annual alternative music festival. What rain?


LANDOVER -- "Does the rain feel good?" asked singer Stephan Jenkins of Third Eye Blind, and the HFStival crowd of nearly 90,000 seemed to answer as one: "Yeah!"

It probably helped that it was after 7 p.m. Sunday, and this was the first real rain of the day. Despite steady rainfall elsewhere in the region, it was mostly cool and dry for the annual alternative music festival.

Cool in both senses of the word.

With bands ranging from such established stars as Rage Against the Machine, Stone Temple Pilots, and Third Eye Blind to up-and-comers Godsmack, the Deftones and Vertical Horizon, the festival attracted its largest audience ever, packing the field at the Redskins' FedEx Field and snarling traffic on the Capital Beltway and the Baltimore- Washington Parkway Sunday morning. The traffic situation wasn't helped by a series of minor accidents involving about 20 cars, which delayed some fans' arrival for up to an hour, according to state police.

Not everyone was happy with the size of the crowd, or the increased commercialism. Evie Hutchinson, 21, and Jennifer Hueser, 22, both of Manassas, Va., have been HFStival regulars since 1995, and definitely weren't enjoying the crush.

"I'd rather listen to lesser-known bands and have a smaller crowd," Hueser says. Her friend agrees.

"The HFStival is supposed to plug fledgling bands," Hutchinson says.

Still, as an HFStival veteran, she knows that the concert isn't just about music. "It's about good bands and looking cool," she says.

In her black vinyl pants, Hutchinson was among the cooler-looking there. Then again, with temperatures barely reaching the mid-60s, most fans dressed for warmth, not fashion, in sweatshirts, jeans and workout clothes.

The cool also put a damper on such traditional, skin-oriented midway businesses as body piercing and henna tattooing. "It's a bit slower than usual, " said henna artist Alice McKeon, 17, at Ruby's Henna.

Fortunately, the cold didn't dissuade Ellie Feldman from getting an intricate, jazzy pattern painted on her back by McKeon, who used a small brush with a bulb-like handle.

"I told her to draw something that was abstract and different from everybody else," Feldman says. "I would never get a permanent tattoo, but this is the next best thing."

When McKeon finishes, Feldman uses two mirrors to see what the pattern looks like. "That's awesome!" she says.

For some parents, the thought of their daughter coming home from a concert with a tattoo -- even a temporary one -- is enough to cause conniptions. But Larry Murphy, a pediatrician from Fairfax, Va., who is attending the HFStival with his 15-year-old daughter and three of her friends, thinks the festival is fine for teens.

Well behaved

"I'm impressed," he says. "There's not a lot of misbehavior. I find the kids are pretty controlled. I haven't seen a lot of fights or observed obvious disrespect for other people."

Murphy came prepared. He brought reading material -- a copy of "A Tribe Apart: A Journey into the Troubled Heart of American Adolescence" by Patricia Hersh, which he peruses as Staind thrashes through its set. He also brought a cell phone to keep in touch with his daughter. Plus, they've arranged that she will check in after every other band.

But he doesn't think much of the music. "I was at Woodstock 31 years ago," he says. "I saw Jimi Hendrix, Richie Havens, the Lovin' Spoonful. This is so canned and by-the-clock it's unbelievable." He points to the schedule in the program, which not only lists the bands but gives the start-time for each set. "You didn't have this at Woodstock," he says. "I have the sense this is run by a corporation, not a lot of beatniks."

Still, there are advantages to the commercial approach. After all, Woodstock didn't have a midway with a climbing tower, DJ tent, food booths and a giant, inflatable slide.

Over at the slide, Andrew Kaye, 14, from Baltimore leaps into the air and somersaults his way down, crashing exuberantly into the inflated barrier at the bottom. Kaye has been an "extreme slider" for two years now, and says the sport is dangerous "only if you land on your head." Fortunately, he's only done that once. "I went out for a little while," he says with a shrug. Otherwise, he's never been hurt. "It's fun," he says.

For many, the HFStival is an all-day affair. Alison Graham, 19, of Forest Hill, is curled up on the blacktop, using a semi-deflated beach ball for a pillow, trying to get some sleep. She's been at FedEx Field since 7 a.m. Why did she and her friends arrive so early?

Graham has a good reason. In fact, she has 90,000 good reasons: "So we could park," she says.

Brian Gibson, 22, of Hampstead, is crushed against the barricade at the front of the mosh pit, waiting for Godsmack. Mere feet from the stage, he seems practically wedged into position by his fellow fans. Above his head, crowd-surfers float by, periodically washing up at bulkhead, where yellow-shirted security workers maneuver them to the ground.

Hard work

Gibson, bare-chested and carrying a back-pack, has been at the front of the pit for an hour and a half. He has no intention of moving. "It was very hard getting here," he says. "And it's hard to stay up front." Not that he minds. "It's definitely worth every minute," he says.

Rage Against the Machine and Slipknot were the two bands Gibson came to see. He's disappointed that Slipknot canceled (according to promoters, the band members were suffering from throat problems), but has liked most of the other acts. "The band I've enjoyed most so far is the Deftones," he says.

When Godsmack hits the stage, the mass of fans move as one to the heavy, bass-driven beat. At one point, the bodies surge forward in a wave, bending the metal barricade back. Gibson barely grimaces. And when singer Sully Ema walks over to his side of the stage, Gibson pulls out his camera and clicks a few snapshots.

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