Friday, October 1, 2010

Volunteership and how Joan Jett played in a dusty field in Maryland and Virgin Mobile paid for me to go and party...

 Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros playing at VirginMobile FreeFest, Saturday September 25, 2010

It was a swelteringly dusty day at Merriweather Post Pavilion this past Saturday where Joan Jett performed in Columbia, Maryland, to a sold out crowd of fans from the DC and Baltimore area.  Fresh off of her tour with her latest backing band, the Blackhearts, Jett performed with vigor that most other 52-year-old women might not manage. 

Aging with grace for her rocker lifestyle, Jett’s black eyeliner and mascara and lipstick were impeccably placed for the entirety of the performance, her ripped arms strumming her electric guitar in a thin black tank top and tight black jeans (not so far from her 2008 CBGB performance in a bikini top).  Madonna and Debbie Harry might just barely hold up to Joan—together that is.

Her set list included classics like I Hate Myself for Loving You, I Love Rock and Roll, Deadbeat Summer, and Naked (some off her album Sinner), singing the songs with a Runaways esque attitude, chomping on a piece of gum all the while.

The crowd adored her, young and old, even after her tangential side notes, including about how Naked was really about seeing through yourself, psychologically that is, and trying to figure out who you are and why you are such a way (in which she acknowledged that she probably just confused the entire crowd and apologized for it).  Jett got meta…

Other acts included Pavement (who after a week of shows in New York played a fair set at Merriweather), a far too intoxicated to even nail her own songs MIA, Ludacris (where said writer discovered that a live Luda show meant he sang over other people’s songs he had produced), and really strong sets by Sleigh Bells, Chromeo, Yeasayer, Thievery Corporation, Neon Indian, Jimmy Eat World (who shared the words Crimson and Clover, Over and Over with Jett on the same stage earlier that day), Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and closing out with an epic performance by none other than LCD Soundsystem.

All in all, for a free festival (Virgin Mobile sponsored it in partnership with other corporates like Kyocera and Toyota), it was an exciting day full of good music, corporate branding and advertising opportunities, sweaty masses, and lots of fluorescent green bandanas, to which were tied to the festival goers mouths and faces in order to avoid dust inhalation.

Rather than joining in and perceptively shielding my lungs, I confusedly navigated the green kerchiefed crowds only to 8 hours later understand one of the wiser (albeit unattractive) choices music lovers have made at a festival in years.

Sorry lungs, but it was worth it.

Now, onto why this concert and how I got there is even more relevant...

How did I end up there you might ask?  Well, VirginMobile sponsors this festival every year (at least for the last three) and they give out tickets for free.  Did I receive said billets gratis?  Nope.  My internet failed me and they "free'd out."
So I put my brainpower to work, and decided to apply for a press pass.  I pulled up the site, got my boss to write a letter of "sponsorship" i.e. proof that I'm an editor...and promptly missed the application date.  Typical (kind of).  Let's just say I had lots of other things on my mind and plate.

So I was perusing the VirginMobile FreeFest website sadly a few days later when all of a sudden...a streaming sentence popped up: Win tickets to FreeFest through Free IP!

But what was Free IP?  Well--it turned out to be yet another incredible example of the Virgin companies doing their part in trying to make the world a better place, locally, and from the ground up, through empowerment and fun activities.  Basically--they are one of the only large companies that "get it."

Free IP is a program launched a few years ago to combat youth homelessness and to empower high risk youth to take charge of their lives.  In Brooklyn specifically, they work with the East New York Adolescent and Youth Employment and Education Center.  In order to receive my free tickets (yes, they provided me with two), all I had to do was give school supplies, a backpack, and help rejuvenate the center by painting a room for 4 hours with 6 other awesome people.  Really?  I almost felt as though I was scamming them.

But you know what?  Incentives are the key to "kickstarting" people and volunteership (I think I just made up that word, but I like it, stewardship and volunteer combined) and community service projects.

Ever since I graduated, I have not been super involved in on-the-ground community service, which I spent at least 5 hours/week doing at USC.  I've been focused on other things, including finding jobs to support myself, and working on social innovation concepts with other awesome do gooders here in New York.  But participating in Free IP made me realize not only how awesome volunteering can be, but also how much I missed seeing a difference being made--in person, on the ground.

So, not only did I get free tix--they also curated the entire weekend for us...meaning they rented a MegaBus, had a dinner party before the bus trip, had games and music and food on the bus, gave us 2 free nights in fancy-ish hotels, drove us to and from the concert, and bussed us home on Sunday--all for volunteering our time and donating school supplies.

I was pretty speechless after the whole experience, after making some incredible new friends, having a wonderful and exciting weekend, and even after understanding that we were their material for the branding of the Free IP experience (loads of photos and videos were shot all weekend).  Moreover, their partnership with AfroPunk, a very cool art/music collective based in NYC that's been around for the last two decades, introduced me to a whole different scene in my city.

Needless to say, although most volunteers don't receive such a substantial incentive and experience out of their service--I have to give my hats off to Virgin for reinvigorating my community orientation and for proving that a company can not only make a difference (regardless of brand related intentions), but also inspire others through service, music, friendship, and programming.

In essence--they are improving our environments (local communities in this example) through promoting volunteership and music.

Yay, Virgin--Yay.  My love for Richard Branson and his triple bottom line and global impact continues to grow.



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