Baltimore – If you find yourself surrounded by 40,000 fans, 40 bands, three stages and 85 degrees, you’ve apparently waded chest-deep into the summer concert season.
For years, folks east of the Mississippi have welcomed the start of that season at the HFStival, now staged in Baltimore after thriving for 15 years as a Washington, D.C., staple. Quite a bit’s changed since WHFS-FM started ushering in the arrival of summer – most notably the station itself, which disappeared from the dial earlier this year. It has since resurfaced as an online entity and also takes over Baltimore’s Live 105.7 on nights and weekends.
What hasn’t changed, however, is a beefy lineup – Foo Fighters, Coldplay, Good Charlotte, Billy Idol, Garbage, the Bravery, Sum 41 and others – and a first chance to get a true taste of rock the big stadium way. The summer concert season started early Saturday morning in a parking lot two blocks away from the M&T Bank Stadium but found its motto inside, when New York Dolls guitarist Sylvain Sylvain urged, “If you wanna sing, then sing. If you wanna dance, then dance. If you wanna f–, then f–.” Yes, the signs of summer were everywhere, as you’ll see.
10:35 a.m. – First tailgating of the season: Sure, it’s going to be a long day, but it wouldn’t be summer without making it even longer. Grills were fired up, coolers were fully stocked and car stereos were fully cranked, churning out Foo Fighters, Billy Idol, Good Charlotte and the day’s other big draws.
10:56 a.m. – First awkward sponsorship of the season: Amid gyro vendors and funnel cake booths loomed a 15-foot tall inflatable Marine towering above a recruitment stand. “Well, it was either the Marines or a henna tattoo, so I decided to enlist.”
11:02 a.m. – First “brunch set” of the season: Nothing goes better with bagels than rap-rock, so Baltimore’s own Thirdkind hit the HFS local stage, officially kicking off the show.
12:14 p.m. – First beach ball of the season: The waiting is the hardest part, and as the sun-soaked crowd waited for the Bravery to take the stage, a red beach ball helped fans pass the time. By the time the Bravery launched into “Public Service Announcement,” four of them caromed between hands near the front of the stage and you could actually feel summer fall across the stadium.
12:20 p.m. – First shirtless crowd-surfing of the season: A big summer show just doesn’t seem right without viewing the band through a random tangle of arms and legs jutting upward from the pit in front of the stage. The Bravery provided the soundtrack for the first batch of this summer’s surfers. Granted, the band’s sound made it feel like the summer of ’83, but it was pure summer nonetheless.
12:35 p.m. – First bikini tops of the season: Being a rock star has its advantages, but it comes with a hefty price tag as well. Image is everything, so if you’ve committed to black leather, jeans and black boots Ã la the Bravery’s Sam Endicott, you’re stuck with it no matter how high the mercury climbs. The common folk are not bound by such rules, so as the midday sun soars toward its peak, women stroll across the floor of the stadium in jean shorts and bikini tops.
12:43 p.m. – First heat-induced casualty of the season: Every year, fans are warned to drink plenty of water and pace themselves, and every year hundreds of them wind up being passed – sweaty and limp – from the crowd to security guards who hand them off to paramedics who get them shade and liquids. The first one of this season was treated near the end of the Bravery’s set. By that point, even Endicott had chucked the jacket and stripped down to a polo shirt, sparing him the same fate, presumably.
1:10 p.m. – First round of hacky sack of the season: As Louis XIV wrapped up their tight set of swaggering rawk with the radio hit “Finding Out True Love Is Blind” (which is what you’re supposed to do at a radio festival), four fans near the back of the crowd put foot to footbag (digging the sound, but seemingly oblivious to the band’s ties, vests and revved-up showmanship – “If you don’t sweat, you aren’t earning it,” the band’s Jason Hill would later explain).
3:25 p.m. – First temper tantrum of the season: The archenemy of the big stadium show could easily be the temper tantrum. R. Kelly, Axl Rose, Courtney Love… all have cut shows short for one reason or another, ending the fun and harshing the buzz. This summer’s first such move came early, as Ian McCulloch unceremoniously dropped his mic and led his band, Echo & the Bunnymen, offstage after onstage monitor problems sabotaged their attempts to get through the first song of their set, “Lips Like Sugar,” not once, not twice, but three times.
3:52 p.m. – First unscheduled exit of the season: By late afternoon, the smell of the summer concert season – a heady mix of sweat, smoke and beer – abounds, so it’s no surprise to see two of Baltimore’s finest escorting a shirtless, bleary-eyed fan out of the stadium. He is truly a pioneer, as hundreds more will undoubtedly follow before the summer concert season is over.
4:05 p.m. – First girl on a guy’s shoulders of the season: Every year, hundreds of concertgoers fall victim to the plague of this two-headed beast. He-man decides to give his lady “a hand,” and suddenly the only thing you can see is the business end of a pair of jean shorts instead of the show you paid top dollar to see. This year, the plague arrived during Garbage’s set. As Shirley Manson and company rocked through a thick collection of hits like “Stupid Girl,” “I Think I’m Paranoid” and “Only Happy When It Rains,” these 10-foot tall creatures popped up in front of the stage like sweat-soaked dandelions.
5:57 p.m. – First sunburn of the season: As punk journeyman Mike Ness and Social Distortion delivered the goods, the effects of the all-day affair started to show. Thick bands of white skin could be seen peeking out from under tank top shoulder straps on otherwise red bodies, and one fan boasted a burn so bad you couldn’t tell where his face ended and his Manic Panic hair started.
6:58 p.m. – First big set piece of the summer: You gotta go big for the summer stadium crowd, and hometown boys Good Charlotte delivered. The band shared the stage with gargoyles, tombstones and their now-familiar “Nevermore” arch (all the more appropriate in the land of Edgar Allan Poe). The crowd responded big as well, creating a 40-yard-deep mosh pit by the time the band launched into “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous.”
8:12 p.m. – First public evacuation of the season: The summer concert season and its mix of sun, excitement, chemicals and overcrowding can do strange things to people. Perhaps that’s why that guy was puking into a garbage can about 10 feet from a men’s room.
9:10 p.m. – First weather emergency of the season: The phrase “rain or shine” hangs over the summer concert season like a demented threat, and by the time the sun was preparing to set on Saturday, the “slight” chance of showers finally delivered. While the rain brought a welcome bit of cooling relief during Billy Idol’s set – a high-octane, hit-heavy set that was arguably the high point of the show – M&T Stadium personnel paused the show after lightning began crackling overhead. An announcement urged fans to vacate the stadium floor, and thousands did. The rest, however, waited out the rain delay first by creating long Slip ‘n Slides out of vinyl Miller Lite ads ripped from the now closed beer stand and cheering each other on as they slid through what in about four months will be the Baltimore Ravens’ end zone. After about half an hour of rain-soaked fun, the music resumed.
10:04 p.m. – First cigarette-lighter moment of the season: It’s probably no surprise that Coldplay – purveyors of moody, atmospheric epics – inspired this classic concert behavior, but the surprise may have been how the band got there. Frontman Chris Martin was animated and downright playful during the band’s set, dropping show-specific lyrics into hits like “Politik” (“Give me heart, give me Dave Grohl” he sang before closing the song by plaintively repeating, “It’s a nice day for a white wedding” over and over in a nod to Idol), and acknowledging the band’s last HFStival appearance, a somewhat less-than-stellar set in 2001. Martin even got cheeky when introducing the gentle “Fix You,” saying, “If you feel like moshing, take a drink of water. If you feel like kissing someone, now’s the time,” before rolling out the song that launched a thousand Zippos.
10:35 p.m. – First hometown hero of the season: Yes, there were other D.C./Baltimore-area natives on the bill (Good Charlotte, the Bravery and more), but Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl was the inarguable homecoming king on Saturday. Summer stadium gigs are usually thick with local references (even Spinal Tap ran down Shelbyville when rolling through Springfield), but Grohl went all out, talking about listening to WHFS while growing up and his history with the festival. He even closed out an otherwise blistering set by dedicating the (relatively) lilting “Everlong” to Ocean City, Maryland, telling tales of road trips, beer runs and sun-washed fun. The sun may have gone down long before Grohl’s dedication, but the summer was in full effect.