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September 17, 2010

HFStival hosted Coldplay, Red Hot Chili Peppers in its heyday; this weekend its Billy Idol and Third Eye Blind

HFStival is returning this week after a four-year absence. The granddaddy of East coast music festivals was the live music arm of seminal, shuttered radio station WHFS-FM, and through most of the '90s and the first half of the '00s, it drew massive crowds.

In 2007, it was suspended, and the version that returns this year is something of a zombie HFStival, with prehistoric headliners like Billy Idol, Third Eye Blind, and Everclear.

In our photo gallery, witness the festival over the years.

In this oral history, attendees recall the festival's heyday:

Jon Bailey of Baltimore-based Jon Bailey Band: WHFS was a station that kind of defined our times in high school.
It was on all the time, from when I got home came from school to when I went to bed. The first time I
listened to Radiohead was on there. First time I heard Beck.

Mike Hall of the Baltimore rock group Sick Sick Birds: I loved the station. I was a teen in the late 80s and I loved what they played then. It was WHFS and the Towson radio station pretty exclusively.

Bryan Burkert
, owner of Fells Point record store Sound Garden: The festival was one of the first in the region.
Back when it used to be popular, it was one of the ways to be played on the station. They were always
right on the cusp.

Bailey: I went to the very first HSF. This was in the mid-90s. I was in high school. I went with a couple
of high school buddies. None of us had been to concerts before that. We had a lot of fun. I don’t even
remember who played.

Burkert: When I HFS was in its heyday they had all the alternative music that was breaking. Some of the
great alternative acts. Beastie Boys playing with the Foo Fighters. You could get a lot of really good bands
playing in one day. It was a party. Sound Garden did a lot with them. We would always sell for every HFStival
artist. We had campaigns around it. It was really an event back in the day.

After the station changed to a talk radio format in 2007, the festival was suspended. For attendees, it was already getting too mainstream.

Hall: I haven't gone since the mid-90s. What I remember was sitting on a blanket on a nice day with friends and seeing They Might be Giants. I don't even know where it is this year. It's probably not unlike every other giant, Lollapalooza-style festival. They all seem kind of the same to me.

Bailey: HFS summarized high school for us. It encompassed the over-all experience of growing up in the 90s.

Burkert: I saw the ad but haven't really looked into it. Without a radio station there’s not much driving it. Also we’ve all gotten a little older.

Photo: Michael Lutzky / Baltimore Sun

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Posted by Erik Maza at 7:30 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: News


My first concert was HFestival in 99 which RHCP headlined. It was the first of many shows for me, and served as a catapult for my love of live music. Obviously any first show could be that, but mine happened to be at M&T Bank Stadium. Or was is PSINet?

I am a 90's child, but I have no interest in saturday's Festival.

Worst time machine ever.

I know that "haters gonna hate," but there are lots of folks who are super excited about this line-up, and the great weather that seems to be on tap for tomorrow.

If this line up doesn't interest you, then don't go. Duh. But there's no need to be all insulting and condescending to those of us who are planning to attend and have a great time.

The Virgin Fest holds nothing of interest for me, but I am happy for those folks who are excited about it.

We are fortunate to live in a part of the country that offers a diverse mixture of cultural events for all tastes.

The HFStival survived longer than it probably had a right to. The last one was a scaled-down version at Merriweather where The Strokes headlined. But nothing beats the hoards of people crowd surfing up the front in the rain during a Foo Fighters set at night. It was a thing of beauty.

We are using the word "shuttered" a lot these days on this blog...

Radiohead never played the HFStival

That Radiohead set was awesome. What? Radiohead never actually played HFStival? You mean, if Erik had visited Wikipedia or called someone with some history on music in the region, that would have been known?

The best HFStival was when the Rolling Stones and Zepplin played. That was AWESOME!!!!

BTW -'re really off to a great start here. Can't wait to read about your Fell's Point Festival preview. That's happening in Federal HIll, right?

the headline was misleading; radiohead didn't play the festival, it was just featured on the station. It's been changed

Coldplay never played HFStival in the 90's either lol

Glad some folks are happy with this. I loved the HFStivals and going to them in the mid-90s was a highlight of my high school years. It was a huge part of my introduction to the wide variety of "alt rock" that was around at a time when I had only been exposed to the more sanitized and homogenized rock bands being played on the radio. This lineup reminds me too much of the days after the station had been bought out and had joined the corporate bandwagon where generic frat rock was lumped in as "alternative" since it was new. The bands at this reunion were supposedly a shout-out to the folks who were kids and fans during those first 5-6 years of festivals but the lineup reads more like a list of the also-rans you skipped in order to hit the food tent or take a breather while waiting for Primus or Beck or Violent Femmes or Rollins or the Ramones or TMBG...real original stuff that you were blown away by and who defined the boom of alternative rock. Not the bands that made the rounds of the local Clear Channel stations at the same time. Where are the bands that are still remembered to this day for their unique sound and mark on the musical landscape? You could throw a party with Everclear/Lit/Third Eye bands and unless someone makes an announcement you would never even realize when one has left the stage and the next one has started.

So yeah, I'm being a hater. It's fine and I'm not losing any sleep. These guys obviously have their fans and I'm not the target audience. Thankfully there are plenty of places in the city to see music I prefer. I just wish they could have given me an excuse to hit the 'festival just one more time for old time's sake.

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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