When crafting the lineup for Preakness InfieldFest each year, Seth Hurwitz is always trying to stay ahead of the curve. The chairman of I.M.P. Productions—which books big-name shows at Merriweather Post Pavilion, 9:30 Club, and The Anthem—has served as the producer of the infield concert since its inception in 2009.
“Our strategy has always been to find each year’s most cutting-edge story just as it’s breaking big,” Hurwitz says, mentioning previous Preakness headliners like Bruno Mars, Pitbull, Lorde, The Chainsmokers, Zac Brown Band, and Maroon 5. “Believe it or not, all the times those acts played, they were just starting to become big stars. And yet, we’ve never been wrong.”
InfieldFest provides the soundtrack for Maryland horse racing's marquee event, which returns to Pimlico Race Course with a modernized layout and bigger stage this Saturday, May 19. Hurwitz says that he wants attendees to walk away from the event having seen some of the most of-the-moment performers.
“We want people to think of Preakness as where you are going to see the next big thing,” he says. “And have a blast, because that’s the whole other thing—we only pick the fun ones.”
There will certainly be plenty of good times in store for revelers this year as the Infield welcomes rappers Post Malone and 21 Savage, and electronic duo ODESZA—whose latest album A Moment Apart earned the musicians two Grammy nominations last year.
Though ODESZA’s Clayton Knight and Harrison Mills haven’t spent much time in Baltimore in the past, they’re looking forward to being in town for one of the city’s most iconic events.
“The only time we’ve been to Baltimore was in February 2014, when we opened for another artist at Baltimore Soundstage and we were just here for the day,” Mills recalls. “We didn’t get to explore much of the city, which is pretty common on tour, but I remember the audience being really receptive to us. Unfortunately, we won’t have much down time on this visit either, but at least we get to watch the Preakness right after our show.”
The guys recently performed a captivating Sunday-night set at Coachella, and will go on to play other big-name festivals including Lollapalooza, Firefly, and Austin City Limits this summer. But they admit that their Preakness gig will stand out from the rest.
“This was the first time we’d heard of concerts happening in the infield before a race,” Mills says. “We were familiar with Preakness and the Triple Crown, but neither of us have any ties to horse racing, so that world is pretty foreign to us.”
ODESZA’s first Preakness performance comes at a transformative time for the concert, which has downsized this year from two stages to one massive “mega-stage” that measures 120-feet wide and 60-feet tall. The platform will be situated just off of the InfieldFest entrance tunnel and make it so that attendees will have clear views of the races happening around the track.
“We want to ensure that our concert goers can also experience the race,” says Tiffani Steer, vice president of communications and events for The Stronach Group, which owns Pimlico. “We have cleaned up the views to the racetrack, and there are now more designated viewing areas so that you can not only enjoy the concert, but also be connected to the horseracing.”
Additionally, organizers have repositioned the concession stands along the outer edges of the Infield and moved the rows of Porta-Potties that previously blocked sights of the races. There will also be more accessible betting stations scattered throughout the grounds for concert-goers interested in wagering on the thoroughbreds.
“In order to be able to start to connect a new generation to the sport, and continue to modernize and thrive, we have to provide opportunities for people to have fun with great food and beverage and entertainment all day,” Steer says. “That’s really what’s going to round out an ultimate day at the races now.”
Aside from getting a front row seat to the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, ODESZA is most excited about reconnecting with Baltimore crowds.
“Neither of us have been to a horse race, let alone a Triple Crown race, and we’ve only seen the big races on TV,” Knight says. “So that will be a highlight. But we’re most looking forward to performing for our fans in Baltimore—it’s been so long since we’ve played here.”