After months of speculation about the fate of the 2009 Virgin Mobile Festival, organizers have made an announcement that should please music fans who've felt the economic pinch of the recession: this year's event is free.
With headliners Weezer and Blink-182, organizers say 35,000 free tickets will be given away to the newly branded Virgin Mobile FreeFest, to be held Aug. 30 at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md.
Other acts scheduled to perform on the festival's two main stages and dance tent include Franz Ferdinand, Public Enemy, Jet, the National, Girl Talk, the Bravery, the Hold Steady, St. Vincent, Wale, Taking Back Sunday, Holy F*ck, Pete Tong, Danny Howells and Lee Burridge.
"The idea was to do something that nobody else is doing," Seth Hurwitz, chairman of independent concert promoter I.M.P., tells Billboard.com. "It really comes from a sincere desire to make people happy."
Tickets to the 2009 Virgin Mobile FreeFest will be available to the public on June 27 through ticketmaster.com. Virgin Mobile customers and previous ticket-buyers to Virgin Mobile Festivals will be sent an e-mail that gives them the first crack at obtaining free tickets from June 25-26. Organizers declined to say how many of the festival's tickets will be set aside for those people.
Ticketmaster has also agreed to waive its convenience fees for concertgoers who pick up their tickets at the Merriweather Post Pavilion or the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. Fans will also have the option to pay Ticketmaster to deliver their tickets. In light of recent controversies surrounding ticketing fees, Hurwitz, whose company will promote and produce the event, is curious to see what choice fans will make.
"I'm pretty excited about seeing how many people really prefer to pay Ticketmaster to deliver their ticket," he says. "Convenience charges originated with people having the option to pay to have tickets brought to them, instead of them having to go to the ticket. So we wanted to get back to basics on that."
The concept of hosting a free festival came from executives at Virgin Mobile USA. Virgin Mobile USA senior director of brand marketing and innovation Ron Faris says "all the bad news about the economy and the layoffs" was the main reason behind the company's decision to help cover costs of the festival.
"We wanted to put something out there that would put a smile on people's faces," Faris tells Billboard.com. "That was the genesis around why we did this." He declined to reveal financial deals about the company's involvement in the festival.
Kyocera Communications is another major sponsor of the event, with additional company sponsors to be announced in the coming weeks.
Although tickets are free, organizers will encourage Virgin Mobile FreeFest attendees to make a donation of $5 to help youth homeless shelters by texting "FREEFEST" to 20222. The event will also feature a VIP section for people who complete 13 hours of community service at designated homeless youth shelters around the nation.
Last year's third annual Virgin Mobile Festival was held at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore on Aug. 9-10. The non-free event -- which attracted approximately 60,000 fans over two days -- featured headliners Foo Fighters, Jack Johnson, Kanye West, Nine Inch Nails and Stone Temple Pilots, among other acts.