All photos by Paul B Jones (firstname.lastname@example.org / www.paulbjones.com / email@example.com)
It was a perfect October day for a near-perfect festival. And much as the sun shone brightly before storm clouds threatened (but in the end only brought relief and an autumn crisp), the difference between a good set and a great one was, more often than not, a mere matter of luck: getting a good spot, being at the right place at the right time, finding warmth amid the chill, knowing some limits, and holding onto the light, lest ALL be swallowed by darkness!
Pulling up to Columbia MD’s tailgate-friendly Merriweather Post Pavilion is generally fine times and smooth sailing, and on this beautiful day, parking was no exception. Despite tens of thousands of concertgoers filing in for Saturday’s all-day 2012 Virgin Mobile FreeFest -- over 30,000 officially reported, though some suspect well over last year’s 50,000 mark -- all went without hiccups. Overflow traffic was directed clearly from the main lot (South Entrance) to a free North Entrance garage, and wouldn’t you know, the detours and concrete enclosures didn’t appear to deter the tailgaters’ pregaming in the slightest?
Just beyond the North Entrance was the eternal boom of the Dance Forest. Lucky last-minute addition, D.C. hometown boys VOLTA BUREAU, were warming up the festival crowd with some serious dance tunes. U Street Music Hall co-founder and longtime pillar and champion of the District’s dance music community, Will Eastman, and his Volta Bureau bandmate, vocalist/DJ/producer Bernard Farley, a.k.a. Outputmessage, were both on the decks, spreading good vibes with great sound; crowds of gathering revelers shook it among the stately trees, and with plenty of space to spare. Between one another, Eastman and Farley toggled mixer channels; disco house, breakbeats and progressive; and DJing skills with a side of audience interaction -- most notably in the form of a smiling Eastman batting beach balls into the crowd, dousing dancers with water, sharing stickers, singing, clapping, and showing love for D.C. and FreeFest, all while Farley deftly manned the mix. In a day chock full of talent, such exchanges were the key to crafting a memorable performance; Volta Bureau closed their set with chart-topping 2011 favorite “Alley Cat” and should be credited for nothing short of saving the day after DAS RACIST’s strep-induced last-second cancellation.