The A to Z of bands rocking Pimlico Race Course

The Baltimore Sun

It's good to have options.

At this weekend's Virgin Mobile Festival, more than 40 performers will be vying for your attention on two main stages and in a dance tent. One of the biggest challenges is deciding whom to watch.

Would you rather catch classic performers like Bob Dylan and Chuck Berry or hot hip-hop acts like Lil' Wayne? Before you pick and choose, it's good to know a little bit about each act.

Here's the skinny on all the bands at this year's festival.

The Black Keys

Essentials: On its latest album, Attack & Release, the Keys went into the studio with producer Danger Mouse and came out with a new sound, complete with keyboards and high-end production. Guitarist Dan Auerbach howls with his voice and guitar, with the fuzzy, distorted crunch of a six-string and drummer Patrick Carney's foot-stomping beats.

What to expect: Auerbach will sit before the black and white keys if the songs calls for it, but the majority of the band's set will be strictly guitar and drums, pounding through the blues-inspired tunes.

When and where: South Stage, 5:15 p.m.-6:15 p.m. Sunday

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Essentials: Based in Los Angeles, the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club specializes in high-energy rock 'n' roll. The band has continued to please fans with its sometimes sentimental, sometimes politically charged lyrics.

What to expect: Drummer Leah Shapiro demands attention while Peter Hayes and Robert Levon Been contribute vocals, melodic guitar riffs and strong bass lines.

When and where: North Stage, noon-12:45 p.m. Sunday

Bloc Party

Essentials: Bloc Party has released only two studio albums, but the indie rock quartet is regarded as a Brit band with some staying power. Each record has made big waves in Britain and also has won over some American critics.

What to expect: Kele Okereke's smooth but powerful vocals, Matt Tong's show-stealing drums, Gordon Moakes' intertwining bass riffs and Russell Lissack's guitar make for a powerful live performance. Many of the most popular singles have danceable beats and introspective lyrics.

When and where: South Stage, 3:45 p.m.-4:35 p.m. Saturday

Cat Power

Essentials: Cat Power's haunting vocals have enchanted fans since she emerged on the singer-songwriter scene more than a decade ago. Her strengths lie in her minimalist instrumentation and breathy, emotional delivery.

What to expect: Once synonymous with substance-induced emotional breakdowns, Cat Power has cleaned up in the past few years and has emerged as a critical darling of the New York music scene.

When and where: North stage, noon-12:50 p.m. Saturday

Chuck Berry and The Silver Beats

Essentials: A rock 'n' roll pioneer, Berry introduced some of the earliest attention-getting guitar riffs that floored fans. He's still acknowledged as a talented, hard-working rock-and-roller 50 years after his musical debut.

What to expect: At 81, he's no acrobat. But Berry's guitar work is still on point.

When and where: South Stage, 6:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. Saturday

Citizen Cope

Essentials: Citizen Cope's music blends hip-hop, R&B; and soul. He's based in New York, but the D.C. native frequently performs in and around Baltimore, garnering him a strong local following.

What to expect: Citizen Cope is as versatile on stage as he has been in his three albums. He can play guitar and keyboards, but his talents are his soulful voice and heartfelt lyrics.

When and where: North Stage, 5:45 p.m.-6:35 p.m. Saturday

Duffy

Essentials: A blond beauty from northern Wales, Duffy evokes uptown '60s pop-soul on Rockferry, her critically lauded debut. She croons and belts songs of heartache and newfound love backed by swelling strings and strutting vintage rhythms.

What to expect: Though it's unlikely that she will be backed by strings and horns, the singer-songwriter works hard with a full road band to replicate the polished sound of Rockferry.

When and where: North Stage, 1:10 p.m.-1:55 p.m. Saturday

Foo Fighters

Essentials: The hard rock band was the brainchild of Dave Grohl, former drummer for the celebrated '90s grunge group Nirvana. The Foos peaked in the mid '90s with a riotous but strongly melodic sound.

What to expect: Although on the latest Foo Fighters albums Grohl counterbalances the thrashing rock tunes with lean, acoustic pop songs, he and the band still rock hard on stage - screaming vocals matching screaming guitars.

When and where: South Stage, 8:15 p.m.-10 p.m. Saturday

Gogol Bordello

Essentials: Accordion, saxophone, string instruments and electronica blended together equals Gogol Bordello. Each of the eight band members plays at least one instrument, and most help with vocals, which makes for one wild mix.

What to expect: Gogol Bordello shows are usually characterized by the band's crazy costumes and dance moves, which often leads to the audience disintegrating into one giant dance party.

When and Where: South Stage, 1:20 p.m.-2:10 p.m. Saturday

The Go! Team

Essentials: While The Go! Team incorporates the banjo and electric guitar, the six-piece British group's roots are in hip-hop. Two drummers provide heavy beats, and most of the vocals are rapped. However, its music also incorporates bits and pieces of sampled movie soundtracks (along with other sound bites) and a '70s funk vibe.

What to expect: The six members of The Go! Team bring a lot of energy to live shows. Their unique mix of instruments, rap, heavy bass lines and upbeat drums melds together into one cohesively entertaining show for rock and hip-hop fans alike.

When and where: South Stage, 12:20 p.m.- 1:05 p.m. Sunday

KT Tunstall

Essentials: The Scottish singer-songwriter garnered critical kudos in 2005 with her charming debut, Eye to the Telescope. Though her vocal approach is slightly similar to that of fellow alt-pop singer Dido, Tunstall has established her own style with impressionistic, tightly crafted songs.

What to expect: The singer engages with thoughtful, compelling songs that come off better onstage sans the typically antiseptic production of her albums.

When and where: South Stage, 12:15 p.m.-1 p.m. Saturday

Lil' Wayne

Essentials: This New Orleans rapper has a wheezing, idiosyncratic flow and clever, subtle lyrics. He's made cameos on more than 70 songs within the past year and released several mixes before Tha Carter III, the summer's hottest album.

What to expect: Not much. Lil' Wayne rolls deep, usually bringing a large entourage on stage, and darts from song to song.

When and where: South Stage, 3:50 p.m.-4:50 p.m. Sunday

Lupe Fiasco

Essentials: A geeky rapper made good, Fiasco has dazzled critics with his dense, smart verses. Fiasco burst onto the scene with his appearance on Kanye West's "Touch the Sky" and quickly made a name for himself with his first hit single, the skateboard anthem "Kick, Push."

What to expect: More an energetic performer than a dazzling showman, Fiasco skateboards and runs across the stage while rapping.

When and where: South Stage, 2:30 p.m.-3:25 p.m. Saturday

Nine Inch Nails

Essentials: Front man and sole official member Trent Reznor has embraced the Internet, releasing the past two Nine Inch Nails albums (T he Slip and the instrumental four-disc Ghosts I-IV) for little to nothing exclusively online. Since getting clean in recent years, Reznor has traded the dark soundscapes of earlier albums for more political themes, as evident on 2007's Year Zero.

What to expect: Reznor's performance relies on visual wizardry, like lights and smoke machines, but his live version of "Hurt" on piano is said to be stirring.

When and where: North Stage, 8:05 p.m.-10 p.m. Sunday

The Offspring

Essentials: The So Cal punk band went quiet after its 2003 release and commercial dud, Splinter. Returning this year with Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace, the boys responsible for the late '90s novelty hits "Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)" and "Why Don't You Get A Job" attempt to rock hard and remain relevant.

What to expect: When touring in 2004, after the release of Splinter, it seemed The Offspring knew its album was not a big hit. Shows lacked spontaneity and excitement. Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace, however, is a return to the band's punk roots and has been well received by critics and fans. Perhaps The Offspring's high-energy, mosh-susceptible performances will return, as well.

When and where: South Stage, 5 p.m.-6 p.m. Saturday

Paramore

Essentials: Last summer's smash hit "Misery Business" put the pop-punk band Paramore on the map, not to mention the U.S. Billboard charts. Some critics have even compared the female-fueled vocals to '90s power-group No Doubt.

What to expect: A mix of onstage charisma, energy and good old-fashioned angst makes Paramore perfect for preteens and 20-somethings alike. Its more mature lyrics combined with a younger generation's version of rock 'n' roll sound appeals to a wide audience.

When and where: North Stage, 2:15 p.m.-3:05 p.m. Sunday

Rodrigo y Gabriela

Essentials: A guy, a girl and two guitars. Sounds like a bad sitcom. But the acoustic duo of Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero is a hybrid that meshes a traditional Latin sound with heavy metal. Whatever you do, don't call them flamenco.

What to expect: Though their furious plucking and strumming can be captivating, their biggest challenge will be commanding the large festival crowd by themselves.

When and where: North Stage, 4:35 p.m.-5:25 p.m. Saturday

She & Him

Essentials: The "him" is indie darling M. Ward, and the "she" is Hollywood actress Zooey Deschanel. Their wistful sound, with Deschanel handling lead vocals and song-writing duties and Ward providing the music and backing vocals, harks back to the '70s.

What to expect: With only one album to their name, their performance should be short. But the mellow sound will be a welcome reprieve from the festival's rock-heavy lineup.

When and where: South Stage, 2:35 p.m.-3:25 p.m. Sunday

Shudder to Think

Essentials: Abrasive guitars and dark lyrics help shape Shudder to Think's sound. The post-hardcore band formed in Washington in the mid-'80s and was signed to renowned punk label Dischord Records before jumping to Epic Records and disbanding in the late 1990s. It recently reformed and scheduled festival and club dates.

What to expect: An early-afternoon wake-up call. If you're anywhere near the North Stage, you'll hear it.

When and where: North Stage, 1:05 p.m.-1:55 p.m. Sunday

Stone Temple Pilots

Essentials: Stone Temple Pilots formed in the late 1980s and lasted through its 2003 hiatus. Lead singer Scott Weiland worked with former Guns N' Roses members as a part of Velvet Revolver in the meantime until all four of the Stone Temple Pilots members joined forces again this year. Fans of the Grammy Award winners couldn't be happier.

What to expect: Crunchy guitars and loud drums. It's not uncommon for Weiland's rough voice to be drowned out by hard-core fans.

When and where: North Stage, 6:20 p.m.- 7:35 p.m. Sunday

The Swell Season

Essentials: The duo of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova burst onto the scene last summer with Once, a indie movie that became a critical sensation. The on- and off-screen couple went on to win an Oscar for the song "Falling Slowly" from the soundtrack, and their chemistry is easy to see when they're up on stage.

What to expect: Intensely emotional, Hansard brings plenty of passion to his music. Members of his band The Frames round out the touring ensemble.

When and where: North Stage, 2:15 p.m.-3:05 p.m. Saturday

Taking Back Sunday

Essentials: Unabashedly emo in its sound, Taking Back Sunday has gone through some pretty dramatic stuff in real life as well. With countless lineup changes since the band's formation in 1999, the group has still managed to find commercial success.

What to expect: Though the band has been around longer than similar bands, Taking Back Sunday's music is still aimed toward the younger crowd. Extremely commercial, upbeat and characteristically whiny, the guys consistently keep audiences entertained and jazzed up enough to jump up and down through the entire set.

When and where: North Stage, 3:30 p.m.- 4:20 p.m. Sunday

Wilco

Essentials: Formed with members of '90s alternative-country group Uncle Tupelo, Wilco has crafted a poignant, inventive sound all its own. Many musicians have come and gone since the band's 1995 debut, but Jeff Tweedy and John Stirratt have folded in more melodic pop and pastel shades into the music while keeping the intimate feel of the group's early work.

What to expect: Wilco has been nominated for a variety of Grammy Awards for folk, alternative and rock music. Most noticeably, it delivers upbeat rock songs with a twinge of country woven throughout.

When and where: North Stage, 7 p.m.-8:15 p.m. Saturday

Sam Sessa, Alex Plimack, Courtney Pomeroy and Rashod D. Ollison

Saturday

North Stage

Noon-12:50 p.m.: Cat Power

1:10 p.m -1:55 p.m.: Duffy

2:15 p.m.-3:05 p.m.: The Swell Season

3:25 p.m.-4:15 p.m.: Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings

4:35 p.m.-5:25 p.m.: Rodrigo y Gabriela

5:45 p.m.-6:35 p.m.: Citizen Cope

7 p.m.-8:15 p.m.: Wilco

8:45 p.m.-10 p.m.: Jack Johnson

South Stage

12:15 p.m.-1 p.m.: KT Tunstall

1:20 p.m.-2:10 p.m.: Gogol Bordello

2:30 p.m.-3:25 p.m.: Lupe Fiasco

3:45 p.m.-4:35 p.m.: Bloc Party

5 p.m.-6 p.m.: The Offspring

6:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m.: Chuck Berry and The Silver Beats

8:15 p.m.-10 p.m.: Foo Fighters

Dance Tent

Noon-12:30 p.m.: JDH & Dave P

12:30 p.m.-1:45 p.m.: Erol Alkan

1:45 p.m.-3:15 p.m.: DJ Dan & Donald Glaude

3:35 p.m.-4:35 p.m.: Soulwax

4:45 p.m.-6:10 p.m.: Steve Lawler

6:10 p.m.-7:40 p.m.: Ferry Corsten

8 p.m.-10 p.m.: Underworld

Sunday

North Stage

Noon-12:45 p.m.: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

1:05 p.m.-1:55 p.m.: Shudder to Think

2:15 p.m.-3:05 p.m.: Paramore

3:30 p.m.-4:20 p.m.: Taking Back Sunday

4:50 p.m.-5:50 p.m.: Iggy and The Stooges

6:20 p.m.-7:35 p.m.: Stone Temple Pilots

8:05 p.m.-10 p.m.: Nine Inch Nails

South Stage

11:30 a.m.-noon: Hollywood Undead (Book the Band winner)

12:20 p.m.-1:05 p.m.: The Go! Team

1:25 p.m.-2:10 p.m.: Andrew Bird

2:35 p.m.-3:25 p.m.: She & Him

3:50 p.m.-4:50 p.m.: Lil' Wayne

5:15 p.m. -6:15 p.m.: The Black Keys

6:45 p.m.-8 p.m.: Bob Dylan

8:30 p.m.-10 p.m.: Kanye West

Dance Tent

12:30 p.m.-1:30 p.m.: Chromeo

1:50 p.m.-3:20 p.m.: Rabbit in the Moon

3:30 p.m.-5 p.m.: Deadmau

5 p.m.-6:30 p.m.: Richie Hawtin

6:30 p.m.-8 p.m.: Moby (DJ Set)

8 p.m.-10 p.m.: Armin van Buuren

*Note: Gates open at 10 a.m.

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