- The Washington Times - Monday, May 16, 2005

Like all major rock events, Saturday’s HFStival was about more than music.

Sure, the daylong concert, sponsored by alternative rock station WHFS and held at Baltimore’s M&T; Bank Stadium, had some real star power, but the crowd — estimated at 55,000 — was also ecstatic that the festival was happening at all.

When WHFS (formerly 99.1 FM) abruptly switched to an all-Spanish rock format in January, fans of the longtime free-form rock radio station wondered if the 16-year-old HFStival would disappear as well.

To their relief, the station quickly returned (it is now based in Towson, Md.) and along with it, the nation’s largest rock show.

This year, as usual, the roster was jam-packed with rock ‘n’ roll superstars, many spanning the history of modern rock and WHFS itself.

The main-stage acts started before noon with the station’s “Big Break” contest winners, the Annapolis-based Gold Mind Squad, followed by New York City’s the Bravery and California newcomer Louis XIV.

With all the festival had to offer — two outdoor side stages, a DJ tent and plenty of food and T-shirt stands, both indoor and out — the mostly teenaged crowd took its time entering the cavernous stadium and may have missed out on these up-and-comers.

The majority of festival-goers finally made their way to the main stage when Garbage came on just after 4 p.m. Camera-ready frontwoman and Scotland native Shirley Manson — the only female to grace the main stage all day — was a red-hot fireball. She came at the crowd so hard she had to change into more comfortable shoes midset.

Seminal punk rockers Social Distortion and the New York Dolls followed, and though the bands — especially the Dolls, who rose to fame in the 1970s — may have peaked before the young crowd’s time, you never would have guessed it by the glorious crowd-surfing and hands-up-in-the-air dancing.

Rain started to fall just as pop-punkers (and Waldorf, Md., natives) Good Charlotte took the stage, but kids will be kids, and the shower just made for better and more slippery moshing.

Billy Idol was the surprise festival show-stealer. At 50, he was one of the event’s oldest performers, but he executed his set, including many of his 1980s hits, with more energy (and bulging biceps) than those half his age.

A brief but strong bout of lightning delayed the final acts, but by 9:30 p.m., when Coldplay — perhaps the biggest British rock export since the Beatles — appeared, it was a perfect post-storm indulgence.

The quartet treated the crowd to sneak peeks from their new album, “X&Y;,” set for release June 7, as well as hits such as “Yellow” and “In My Place.” Singer Chris Martin’s soaring voice has rarely been more pristine, and the quartet’s shimmering performance — one of just two before its worldwide tour — was seamless.

“If you feel like moshing, take a break and have some water,” Mr. Martin told the crowd. His advice was taken to heart because soon the once-boisterous fans — many of whom had been slip-sliding across the stadium floor just moments before — were swaying in the night air, many holding lighters above their heads. The daylong festivities were topped off by an hourlong set by the Foo Fighters. Led by ex-Nirvana drummer and alternative rock god Dave Grohl, their juiced-up set was the perfect end to a day that neither rain nor a rock-radio shake-up could have dampened.

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