Stand close to The Police

The Baltimore Sun

When the Virgin Festival returns this August to Pimlico Race Course, it will bring with it the hottest touring act of the year - the Police - along with the highly successful hip-hop group the Beastie Boys and acclaimed alt-rockers Smashing Pumpkins.

The festival, sponsored by Virgin Mobile, comes back to Baltimore Aug. 4-5 with about 35 other indie rock and hip-hop acts and DJs on multiple stages. Tickets will go on sale in about three weeks.

The festival made its Baltimore premiere last September with one day of music that included the Who and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Organizers considered it a promising start in drawing about 45,000 of the festival's 60,000 capacity.

"With Baltimore, the atmosphere was fantastic - very friendly," Virgin Group founder and chairman Richard Branson said by phone yesterday morning from New York.

Branson hopes this year's expanded lineup will attract a larger audience. "I think this year, if we don't sell out the two days, I'd be very surprised. I think we've got a fantastic lineup."

He points to the festival's European equivalent as a blueprint for the event's growth.

"It's building a brand - building a festival brand," Branson said. "It took us 11 years in England to go from 20,000 people in the V-Fest in Europe to 130,000, which it is every year now. It will build."

The Police reunited this year for the group's first tour in more than two decades. The trio of Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland split up in 1984 after releasing a host of hits, including "Every Breath You Take," "Roxanne" and "Don't Stand So Close To Me."

"We'd only book bands that kids today really would like to see and never had the chance," said promoter Seth Hurwitz, the chairman of IMP, which booked the festival. "Kids today have never seen the Police. That's what it's for."

The Police tour had looked at playing M&T; Bank Stadium, but a Ravens pre-season scrimmage conflicted with the available date. It's likely the group will play Aug. 4 at Pimlico.

Branson said he and Summers have a history, and he called in a favor to get the group to play the festival. "It certainly was a coup to get them," Branson said. "We go back a long way. I made a personal call myself to try to persuade [Summers] to come, and it seemed to work, and we're very happy with that."

The festival will be the Smashing Pumpkins' first American performance since the group's hiatus in 2000, and the Beastie Boys' first East Coast show in two years.

Last year, ticket prices were about $100. This year's ticket prices have not been set.

Baltimore will be the only American city to host the festival in the near future, Branson said. The festival goes to Vancouver in May and Toronto in September.

"If it goes as well as we're hoping, we'll keep it in Baltimore, and then maybe in some states on the West Coast as well," he said.

Organizers have booked most of the bands but haven't announced the lineup, past the three headliners. "You really don't have any room for any sort of filler or marginal bands," Hurwitz said. "You only have room for the cream of the crop."

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