FreeFest Lineup Announced

The free festival benefiting homeless youth charities returns for a second year with a lineup featuring M.I.A., LCD Soundsystem, Pavement, T.I., Ludacris, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts and more. Sept. 25 is the date, Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md., the place.

Of course, something this big involving Virgin Mobile can’t possibly take place without Virgin Group Chairman Sir Richard Branson at the helm. Branson announced FreeFest details this morning on Virgin Mobile Live, the company’s new Internet music stream available on the FreeFest website as well as all Virgin Mobile websites.

Presented by Kyocera, this year’s Virgin Mobile FreeFest includes bands and artists representing a wide cross section of genres. Along with M.I.A., T.I., Ludacris and Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, the lineup includes Thievery Corporation, Matt and Kim, Jimmy Eat World, The Temper Trap, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros and Yeasayer.

But that’s just for the two main stages. The Dance Forest will feature Chromeo, Sleigh Bells, Die Antwoord, Modeselektor and Neon Indian.

There will also be a touch of New Orleans with Trombone Shorty leading a special line march from stage to stage.

“This is the pinnacle of joy as a promoter if you truly enjoy seeing people have a great time at your shows,” I.M.P. chairman and Virgin Mobile FreeFest concert producer Seth Hurwitz told Pollstar. “It’s free and we’re able to turn people on to a lot of music they might not have heard before. We truly hope to present what we feel are the best and coolest bands out there right now. It’s just fun to be able to do that. Because it’s free we have that luxury of honestly curating a show for the sake of the music.”

Hurwitz said the festival “got away from the sort of People magazine-type bands,” and that a big expensive headliner would impact the festival’s somewhat limited budget and “kill the rest of the lineup.”

“So we spread it out over the whole day this time,” Hurwitz said. “And got great bands from start to finish.”

At the center of the Virgin Mobile FreeFest universe is charitable giving and the opportunity to make a difference through cash contributions, volunteerism and raising the public’s awareness of youth homelessness.

“Last year’s free festival was all about giving back to fans in the wake of a horrible economy,” Virgin Mobile USA director of brand experiences Ron Faris said. “This year’s festival will focus even more on charitable giving. It’s a reminder to let people know that even as things are improving, there’s always someone out there less fortunate than you. Last year, we raised over $80,000 and generated 30,000 hours of volunteerism for youth homelessness. This year, together with the fans, we hope to do even better.”

Last year’s inaugural Virgin Mobile FreeFest wasn’t just an experience for fans, but for artists as well. During the months following last year’s event, Hurwitz said artists contacted him saying they wanted to be involved with this year’s FreeFest.

“It’s not hard for a band to understand that playing a free show in front of 35,000 people that are in a great mood because they’re in a wonderful venue and they didn’t have to pay to get in is a real reward,” Hurwitz said. “It’s a very desirable gig. A lot bands wanted to play but are not on the lineup.

“If a band doesn’t understand why you would want to play a show like this, then I can’t explain it to them. But anyone who was there can see it’s everything that’s right about the music business.”

Hurwitz said his company began working on FreeFest early this year, and noted the event has an advantage over other festivals when it comes to booking the acts.

“We can wait as long as possible to see who else pops up that’s interesting,” Hurwitz said. “Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros is a somewhat late addition. There started to be this huge buzz about them being a great live act. We can wait a long time to release the lineup, because we don’t have to sell tickets and have it on sale as long as possible. We can wait and really pick up on more current stories in music rather than just booking everything that was available six months ago. We kept a lot of slots open while we waited to see which cream would rise to the top.”

Although the Virgin Mobile FreeFest is, well, free, you still need a ticket to enter the Merriweather Pavilion Sept. 25. Tickets will be made available to the public through Saturday, July 24 at 10 a.m. EDT. Virgin Mobile customers and previous Virgin Mobile Festival ticket holders from the past four years will receive invitations via text and e-mail to join a private “free sale” Friday, July 23.

And free means just that – free. Ticketfly is forgoing all service charges when fans pick up their tickets at the Pavilion or at I.M.P.’s 9:30 club in Washington, D.C. The same goes for opting to print the tickets on your home printer.

But there is one thing different about the ticket distribution versus last year. This year fans have the option to buy a premium ticket that includes pavilion seating with a portion of the sale going to support homeless youth charities.

And how involved is Sir Richard Branson? Hurwitz described the industrialist / philanthropist as “more of a spiritual guide.”

“It’s his money and it’s his show and you just follow his sensibility and taste,” Hurwitz said. “A lot of the bands are suggested to him and we get reactions on who he likes. Some bands get the nod because it came back that Richard really likes them. Some bands got axed because Richard hates them. He’s the king. It’s his deal. We try to follow his lead. Of course, he’s not going to get involved with technical and negotiating details. But we certainly get his opinion on the show.

“He comes to the show and spends all day. Being the kind of guy he is, always giving away things, enjoys being the host, he loves seeing people smile all day and having a great time.”