B’more Storm: Armin van Buuren Plays Preakness

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Baltimore, Md. – So, what happens when you mix the “Sport of Kings” with one of the titans of the global-DJ scene? As DJ Times found out this past weekend, you get a smashing success—even if you do get a little soggy. 

Still, with a forbidding weather forecast, we ventured down to Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course for the 140th Preakness Stakes and its “People’s Party”—a massive InfieldFest that included a 90-minute pre-race set from one of the world’s biggest DJ/producers, Armin van Buuren.


The B’more equine/trance combo may seem a bit odd at first, but there was nothing strange about the result: A record-setting Preakness crowd at Pimlico saw American Pharaoh take the second leg of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown, while van Buuren fans enjoyed a day-long party in a special setting.

(Indeed, it seems to be in keeping with other mega-events that are looking for attendance boosts by booking top EDM jocks. On May 24 at the Indianapolis 500 auto race, for example, its Snake Pit fest will feature Kaskade, Steve Aoki, A-Trak and Caked Up.)

Yes, nearly 132,000 fans packed the 145-year-old race track, including nearly 70,000 filling the infield. With many showing up as early as 8 a.m., the InfieldFest saw legions of gals with natty hats and guys with fratty shorts. By the time the Dutch DJ arrived on-site, most of the Infielders were feeling no pain. Still, it was a far cry from the typical EDM-fest. Fans who bought $70 InfieldFest tickets were given a commemorative Preakness beer mug and most seemed filled more with suds than anything else. Though the infield got plenty raucous, it was certainly a different kind of mid-day delirium from what many EDM fans experience.

National TV: Armin with Carolyn Manno of NBC Sports.

National TV: Armin with Carolyn Manno of NBC Sports.

The night before the race, van Buuren played at new Las Vegas mega-club Omnia, where he recently launched a residency. After playing his last track, he left the DJ booth, went straight to the airport with his tech crew and took a private jet to BWI airport. After landing in the noon hour, he and his crew were given a police escort directly to Pimlico. And it was definitely needed, as all the main arteries leading to the track began to clog by mid-day.

When he and crew arrived, he was met by his U.S. publicist, the Pimlico media coordinator and a venue-security crew, which was under the capable supervision of Major Mike Singletary. (Good name for a Head of Security, huh?) After quickly settling into the artist trailer, the crew connected with the on-site techs to coordinate the stage’s audio and video considerations.

Meanwhile, van Buuren was taken to the Pimlico stables for a rare, up-close view of the Preakness horses, the very thoroughbreds due to hit the track in a few hours. He met with Bodhisattva owner/trainer Jose Corrales and his family, then took some photos with them and the horse. Even though Bodhisattva was considered a longshot for the race—indeed, the 20-1 horse didn’t end up in the money—he was an amazing physical specimen to behold. 

In the stable next to Bodhisattva, however, stood Divining Rod, a 12-1 horse that would later stride through the slop for a surprising third-place finish. (Good thing one of our “smarter” wagers had him to show.) When van Buuren, whose wife does dressage competitions back in Holland, eased up to Divining Rod to stroke his mane for a moment, the Bodhisattva owners protested mildly. Of course, he stopped, not wanting any conflict. But we’d like to think van Buuren touched him with a dollop of luck.

After returning to the trailer, van Buuren did a meet-and-greet session with fans. Then, he did television interviews with Lowell Melser from WBAL, the local NBC affiliate, and then with NBC Sports’ Carolyn Manno, who did some quick homework on EDM, including the differences between subgenres. So by the time she was on-air with van Buuren, she confidently introduced him to the national television audience thusly: “We are backstage with world-renowned trance DJ and producer Armin van Buuren…” Good job, Ms. Manno.

Showtime: At 3:45, van Buuren hit the stage before a massive and appreciative audience. Just like any club or festival scene, the Armin/Armada/State of Trance fans were out en masse. You could see people hanging on the restraining fence clad in various t-shirts celebrating the DJ, the label or the radio show, respectively. There were official “Armin Intense” banners flying, plus plenty of homemade signs. Right off the bat, it looked like Preakness made the right call with this booking, which was done through Glow, a longtime D.C. area promoter.

After spinning crowd-favorites like his own “Ping Pong,” his new single “Another You” featuring Mr. Probz, plus remixes for Faithless’ “Insomnia” and Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence,” van Buuren finished with his Grammy-nominated hit, “This Is What It Feels Like.” NBC-TV caught the finale and showed a vast infield audience having the time of its life.

Still enjoying the post-gig afterglow, van Buuren and crew returned to the trailer and enjoyed a drink with Glow principals and their friends, which included a pair of American sportsmen – Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson and former NFL All-Pro linebacker Shawne Merriman, both big fans of dance-music.

Longshot: Armin in the stables with Bodhisattva.

Longshot: Armin in the stables with Bodhisattva.

Soon everyone was summoned to a special place to view the race on the infield side of the finish line. All the horses were paraded in front of us, but we could all see the dark clouds looming. Before the horses made it to the starting posts, the skies opened and sheets of rain began to fall. Not a word was said before everyone in the crew began sprinting to the nearest tent. We all arrived huffing and puffing, soaked to the bone, before someone realized that the artist tent was just another short sprint away. So off we went, again…

With everyone finally under shelter and a decent-sized flatscreen before us all, we watched the messy race, which bore these results:

Win: American Pharaoh. The 4-5 favorite will now go to the Belmont Stakes on June 6 with a chance to be the first Triple Crown winner since 1978.

Place: Tale of Verve, a 30-1 shot that closed impressively and made some bettors very happy.

Show: Divining Rod, the 12-1 horse also paid off some exotics as well (including ours). 

Dortmund, the horse that anchored many of our exotic bets, finished a disappointing fourth. Nonetheless, it was a memorable day that many of us won’t soon forget. And, of course, it served as another reminder of the impressive reach that the DJ culture has achieved in the United States.

Before the Throngs: “Thank you & good night!”

Before the Throngs: “Thank you & good night!”

Before heading back to BWI for his flight back to Europe, van Buuren was asked about his impressions of the day: “It was better than I expected because I thought it would be more of a general crowd, one that didn’t know who I was,” he said from a van surrounded by the exiting legions. “But I was very pleased to see that there were a lot of fans. And thank goodness it waited to rain until after the gig! It was a very memorable experience and now I can say I’ve done Preakness.”

Big thanks go out to all at Pimlico, the Preakness staff and, as always, Armin’s team.