Big band bills up the ante

August 6th, 2007

Whatever happened to 20 bands for $20?

That was the hook when my parents finally let me go to an all-day rock festival.

About 20 bands – including Beck, Blondie, and Echo and the Bunnymen played the 1997 HFStival, my first all-day rock festival. With all the service costs and metro ride, it probably ran about $35.

This summer, if I wanted to spend a day at a rock festival it would cost me nearly $150, which includes a $25 parking fee (not to mention a nearly-double price tag if I wanted to spend the full weekend).

Obviously, a lot has changed in those 10 years – most evident is the fact that for the first time, since 1990, there does not seem to be an HFStival scheduled.

What started as a Fourth of July festival at Lake Fairfax Park soon turned into an annual late-May event. Bands like The Tragically Hip and the Violent Femmes anchored the early concerts. But, by the end of the 20th century, headliners like Green Day and the Red Hot Chili Peppers insured that RFK Stadium sold out in an hour or so.

The festival expanded – 1999 included a “fall edition.” The HFStival ran an entire weekend in 2001 and 2002. It continued past its parent station; WHFS’ format changed in 2005 to Latin music. In 2006 the festival left big stadiums for a weekend at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Despite a solid lineup (Kanye West, Counting Crows), it seems to be the end of the HFStival.
I’m not sad – just the opposite.

As Green Day closed the show in 1998 – “Good Riddance.”
Good riddance to increasingly overpriced tickets. Good riddance to 15-year-old girls flashing the jumbotron. Good riddance to 15-year-old guys copping feels on whichever girl crowd surfs their way. Good riddance to 20-minute sets and 40-minute change- ups. Good riddance to flavor-of-the-week artists getting primetime slots.

Me? I said “good riddance” the moment I graduated high school. Don’t get me wrong – I loved the HFStival. Sure, my friends and I were – how to put this nicely – honors students, but there was something exciting and rebellious about being in a place revved up on loud noise, beer, skin and drugs.

Which was also the freshmen dorms, and why I never went to another HFStival.

Except now there’s the Virgin Festival, replacing the HFStival as the region’s monster rock festival. Bands like The Police, The Smashing Pumpkins and The Beastie Boys take the stage this weekend at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Combined, these are probably the biggest headliners to share a bill in the region since the 1998 Tibetan Freedom Concert.

But Virgin Fest owes more to the megaconcerts across the country like Bonnaroo or Coachella than radio festivals. But, even in later years, HFStival’s ticket prices skyrocketed as well – to the range of $100 a day.

There are, of course, cheaper streamlined festivals featuring a specific kind of music. Projekt Revolution Tour, for example, is heavy on the rock (H.I.M., My Chemical Romance, Linkin Park). But, at $69 (before hidden costs) for the day on Aug. 19 at Nissan Pavilion, it might still be too expensive.

My plan? The non-Police Virgin Fest acts I want to see – LCD Soundsystem, Girl Talk and Fountains of Wayne – will all be back.

It won’t be 20 bands for $20, but I suspect tickets will be somewhere in that range. And I’d rather enjoy a full set than a quick tease of the “hits.”

Staff writer Josh Eiserike can be reached at 703-878-8072.

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