COLUMBIA, Md. -- Two of the biggest acts in music headlined the 2012 edition of the Virgin FreeFest at Merriweather Post Pavilion this weekend. One person went through a large, critically acclaimed catalogue surrounded by women in white. The other headliner was in a spaceship.
From reunion acts like Ben Folds Five to up-and-coming roots rockers Alabama Shakes, the "free" Saturday in the park gave 50,000 a sampling of popular music. Club fans had a dedicated dance stage, hip-hop heads got Nas, rock-and-roll purists enjoyed Texas trio ZZ Top and Coldplay fans got a better version of Coldplay with M83.
The highlight of the day may have been the 9:30 Club staff. Gigantic concerts tend to be dominated by staffs of faceless, nameless workers who could care less about the sound. Having one of D.C.'s best clubs usher fans in and out of the pavilion area made for a pleasant vibe. Jack White devotees didn't have to sit through sets from ZZ Top, Alabama Shakes or Ben Folds Five. The 9:30 staff cleared the standing room only pit between each act, creating a democratic process for fans of each act.
The musical discovery that made the drive to Columbia from D.C. worth it was Jack White's drummer, Carla Azar.
Azar has been behind the kit for L.A. post-rock act Autolux for more than 10 years. Her role in one of White's touring bands -- he tours with two bands, one male, one female, deciding on which act to play with the day of the show -- has fleshed out his songs and pushed him to musical boundaries no contributor has been able to do, at least live.
Good weather, a diverse lineup of quality popular performers and the festival being sort-of, kind-of free made for a nice last gasp of outdoor concerts for 2012.
Scroll down for our tweets and Instagram instant reviews from Saturday. Check out the slideshow. It corresponds with the tweets.
4:34 p.m. Perfect weather at #freefest. It helps explain a two and a half hour car ride from DCA to @merriweather
4:40 p.m. The DJ in this tent is remixing Girl Talk. Why?
4:45 p.m. The kids like Nervo.
5:05 p.m. The Ferris Wheel is popular.
5:10 p.m. Some guy is on top of this.
5:15 p.m. That guy is Richard Branson.
5:20 p.m. Shoe uniform.
5:22 p.m. ATTN guitarists: you don't need big amps for a big sound.
5:23 p.m. Every musician needs duct tape.
5:35 p.m. The Alabama Shakes sound great live. The hipster backlash is dumb.
5:45 p.m. It'll be exciting to see A.S. in 15 years.
6:10 p.m. It's 10-15 degrees cooler at the West Stage. The air is 10-15% heavier with weed.
6:25 p.m. Hip-hop show.
6:35 p.m. This is Nas' DJ. He's killing time for Nas. Nas is late.
6:43 p.m. Nas doesn't need a band. Just a DJ. And one mic. All he needs is one mic.
6:50 p.m. A decent mix of young and old waiting for ZZ Top.
7:05 p.m. Matching instruments, sun glasses, beards. This is great.
7:09 p.m. ZZ Top have films behind them. They're not bad.
7:10 p.m. And they still have a few choreographed steps.
7:13 p.m. It's weird when bands shout out the city. It's weirder when they shout out the name of a fest named after a cell phone provider.
7:47 p.m. My fiancé just said, "If we get separated, meet me at Skrillex. By the Ferris wheel." We are both sober.
7:55 p.m. M83 are not afraid of seizures.
7:56 p.m. They like strobe lights.
8:08 p.m. What comes first for M83, the music, lyrics or light show?
8:12 p.m. M83 is cool, but ZZ Top is playing the hits, so ZZ Top wins.
8:13 p.m. ZZ Top has a guy whose sole job is to light their cigars.
8:15 p.m. ZZ Top just took a bow with their dog.
8:16 p.m. ZZ Top's film has credits. They thank their bus and truck divers. The dogs name is Gizmo.
8:37 p.m. Bros like Jack White.
8:40 p.m. Pitchfork, Lollapalooza, #freefest, etc., when it's finally dark everywhere but the stages, they all look like The Gathering.
8:59 p.m. Jack White's drummer is not fucking around.
9:02 p.m. Why is Mr. White wearing a wedding ring?
9:09 p.m. It seems like a safe bet Jack White is in a relationship with all of his band members.
9:20 p.m. No decent Skrillex photos. Skrillex has fireworks. The fire Marshall says no good photos. Octopus.
9:21 p.m. Leaving Jack White was a bad decision.
9:25 p.m. This is the exact opposite of Jack White. Leaving Jack White was a bad decision.
9:27 p.m. The crowd really loved when he hit the button.
9:28 p.m. Oh my god! This is hilarious!
9:29 p.m. No one else is laughing
9:30 p.m. All the Winamp backdrops have exploded on Skrillex's screens.
9:31 p.m. The photographers don't know what to shoot.
9:39 p.m. Jack White is performing a Dead Weather song. Deep catalogue = good set.10:19 p.m. "Seven Nation Army" is now a soccer stadium style sing-along.