Virgin Festival lineup announced

The Baltimore Sun

Kanye West, the Foo Fighters and the Stone Temple Pilots are among the headliners for this summer's Virgin Mobile Festival, the third annual show in Baltimore.

Held at Pimlico Race Course Aug. 9 and 10, the festival will feature rapper West, who won this year's Grammy for Best Rap Album, Hawaiian singer/songwriter Jack Johnson, industrial rock outfit Nine Inch Nails, and alternative rockers the Foo Fighters and Stone Temple Pilots, organizers announced yesterday.

About 25 bands will play on two stages and several DJs will spin in a dance tent. The rest of the lineup and ticket prices will be announced in the coming weeks.

"It looks like a great lineup," Virgin Group founder and chairman Richard Branson said in a phone interview yesterday. "I very much hope to be there."

In previous years, the festival's headliners were established older groups, such as The Police, paired with successful contemporary bands. The 2008 headliners are all contemporary bands that have earned critical acclaim and sold millions of albums.

West has won 10 Grammy Awards, the Foo Fighters have sold more than 20 million albums worldwide, and the Stone Temple Pilots reunited earlier this year after becoming one of the more influential rock bands of the '90s.

"This year we're trying to spread it out so it's fantastic big bands all day [on both days], instead of just at the end of [each] day," said promoter Seth Hurwitz, the chairman of IMP, which booked the festival. "I think it's going to end up being my favorite lineup."

This year, Hurwitz wanted to bring in two full days' worth of A-list musicians. The success of the past two years gave him extra leverage, he said.

"I have infinitely more bands that want to play this thing than I have room for," Hurwitz said. "I have the luxury of being able to choose the bands I want to play. If they're available, generally speaking, they want to play here. It's come together a lot faster than I dreamt it would."

The festival debuted in September 2006 with one day of music that included The Who and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Organizers considered it a promising start that it drew about 45,000 people to the 60,000-capacity venue.

About 74,000 people turned out for last year's two-day festival, which featured The Police, Smashing Pumpkins, the Beastie Boys and about 35 other acts at Pimlico. The Police's much-anticipated reunion tour was one of last year's hottest tickets. Tickets for both days ranged from $175 for general admission to $450 for VIP, which included extra access to the grandstand and a fenced-in stage area.

"The event has been such a success in such a short period of time," Hurwitz said. "We didn't go through the learning curve of a lot of festivals. We pretty much got it right the first year and improved upon it last year."

From the start, Branson aimed to develop a brand he could take to other cities across the globe. The Australian V Festival was launched last year in Sydney and will expand to two other Australian cities this year. Branson said the company is also eyeing San Francisco and South Africa as potential sites for future Virgin-sponsored festivals. He is pleased with the festival's development in Baltimore, and would ideally like to let concertgoers camp out here overnight. But that plan hasn't panned out yet.

"I love the idea of it becoming a weekend festival where people can tent overnight," he said. "I've been outvoted on that one so far. That's the way we do it in the U.K., and it works. It's fun - people love it."

Baltimore will play host to the festival for years to come, Branson predicts.

"The last two years, we've been really happy there," Branson said. "Let's hope this next thing can be even happier for everybody, and they can have as much fun as they had before."

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