Merriweather’s 50th anniversary show is tomorrow and features Jackson Browne, Willie Nelson, Father John Misty and more. If you’re feeling nostalgic, grab some tickets and help MPP celebrate a very important birthday. -ed.
2017 is Merriweather Post Pavilion’s 50th year. This year’s programming is a healthy mixture of nostalgia and the cutting edge. From hair metal to cartoon bands, there’s something for everyone. We’re grateful it’s still around and expanding. The addition of the Chrysalis, a venue within the venue, and a 40-year extension of IMP booking means the future is bright. But before we look to the future, we’re taking a look back at 10 of the venue’s most interesting years.
Special thanks to the IMP staff for sharing the complete list of lineups with us. Extra special thanks for not booking any more magicians. The venue hosted many magic shows. Magician Doug Henning headlined six nights in 1982. Since IMP took over booking 15-years ago, a magician has not headlined Merriweather.
The concert schedule for the summer of 1969 kicks off with The Who, and a still comparatively fledgling Led Zeppelin. When the shitty opener is Led Zeppelin on opening night, suffice it to say it will be a summer that every dad will recall as the stoniest, bologniest time of his life. It was a summer during which MPP would host a cavalcade of bands that were quite literally on their way to Woodstock: The Four Seasons, Janis Joplin, The Association, Iron Butterfly, Richie Havens, Blood Sweat and Tears, Sergio Mendez, Chicago. Apart from the counter culture groups- MPP had several nights of Marlene Dietrich, Wayne Newton, and Flip Wilson. Oh to be pizza faced and working concessions, or a pony tailed sound guy with a leather vest.
But just two years prior, in 1967, the entire summer lineup is composed of the symphony, the ballet, a Russian music festival, and Ravi Shankar–who may or may not have had quite the same association with the counter-culture prior to his daybreak performance at Woodstock. It is by all accounts a family friendly, even high brow place to be.
Yet sandwiched in the middle, between a sweet and delightful night at the ballet work grandma, and a raucous LSD soaked party (accounts of which describe the noise reaching miles away, and crowds triple the capacity of the venue breaking down fences) lies the transition year: 1968.
The summer of 1968 begins ordinarily enough with weeks upon weeks of symphony and ballet… until a two week stretch in August, that one has to imagine blew the minds right out of the skulls of anyone in attendance. You have to imagine people attended these concerts under the auspices of seeing some varietal of culture, always a treat, and always safe.
So on August 16th 1968, they got Jimi Hendrix and a phat dose of the Star Spangled Banner (legend contends this is the first time he ever did it).
One week later they got Country Joe & the Fish who were one of the most venomous anti-war groups of the entire 1960s, and opening for them was Iron Butterfly who without question played their hit- the egregiously long and challenging In-A-Gadda-da-Vida. How’s that sound grandma? But wait— six days after that: The Doors. Yep. The fucking Doors. Imagine those two weeks, just popping down to where the old farts hang out and seeing this stuff.
Closing out 1968 is once again Ravi Shankar. Maybe it was his constant touring of these cultural centers that were then overrun by hippies that cemented his odd place in psychedelic hipsterdom. Who knows. But as far as best and most influential years of programming I’m going with 1968, for all it’s proper freakishness and scary satanism. -Andrew Bucket
50 years ago, Merriweather Post Pavilion opened its doors as a nearly 20,000 person capacity event venue located 30 miles away from Washington, D.C. in the then sleepy, conservative sububrb of Columbia, MD. Ideally, the venue was meant to be a summer home for the National Symphony Orchestra. Of course, 50 years later, it’s in the midst of being re-transformed into another in a series of premium live event venues in IMP’s now extensive family of venues which they either own or book events. In 2017, it’s to be expected that everything from metal to moshpits and more will be among the many expectations of Merriweather’s events. Amazingly enough, in 1971, such ribald reactions to live events was actually legislated away from the venue. It’s in judging exactly why that occurred and the response to the occurrence — and moreover why that was significant for the time, space and place — wherein we can create a fascinating compare/contrast between the past and present.
Similar to Washington, D.C. in 2017, in 1971, the Nation’s Capital was a city caught in the throes of tremendous turmoil. The anti-war movement was all the rage, as the Weathermen bombed the Capitol Building on March 5, while May 1-3 were highlighted by the 1971 May Day Protests, which are described by Wikipedia as “a series of large-scale civil disobedience actions in Washington, D.C., in protest against the Vietnam War,” in which there were 12,000 arrests and nearly 20,000 security officers from the National Guard, D.C. police and the US Army deployed to maintain public safety.
Insofar as Merriweather Post Pavilion, the era surrounding 1971 was similarly concerned with the violence associated with the music tinged by the progressive public’s discontent due to the Vietnam War. In 1970, the city of Columbia’s city manager, and thus, the venue’s overseer, Richard Anderson stopped the allowance of rock being booked in the city after gate crashing and mayhem during a Steppenwolf concert in the city. Our year in question of 1971 saw The Nederlander Organization assume management duties from planned community developer Rouse & Merriweather. Intriguingly, though only one year separated from the ban of rock from the city, Nederlander pushed forward with a slate of rock events by performers whose shows were not accompanied by a history of violence.
Thus, it can be said that what was being offered 30 miles away from the District was certainly proof of the benefit of distance, curation, and separation in developing a safe, spectacular, and sustainable vibe for the then just under half-decade old venue. Impressively, Merriweather’s 1971 saw 83 shows booked, the most in the venue’s history. The booking of the National Symphony Orchestra continued, plus “less ‘violent'” rock acts like David Cassidy (yes, of The Partridge Family), Elton John, Ike and Tina Turner, Kris Kristofferson and Carly Simon, Ten Years After, and Blood, Sweat, and Tears. Furthermore, other concerts included the truly astounding combinations for the era of comedian Bill Cosby and the iconic Ray Charles, Laura Nyro paired with yes, Stevie Wonder as the opener, as well as Latin pop star Jose Feliciano with African-American soul legend Curtis Mayfield.
Intriguingly, while none of the aforementioned rockers are known for inciting stage charging violence, there is something of a subversive, yet timely air to the bookings of these performers, that’s entirely in line with the era. For instance, at the same time that Washington, D.C. had 70% African-American population and a 200% increase in murders, Curtis Mayfield opened for Jose Feliciano and performing songs likely to include uplifting civil rights anthems like, “People, Get Ready” and “We Got To Have Peace,” while Stevie Wonder’s “Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer” was one of his highlight hits of that year. Those seeing Mayfield and Wonder in 1971 were witnessing them scratching the surface of their brilliance. The former artist was one year away from releasing the epic soundtrack to blaxploitation classic Superfly, while the latter was on the cusp of a decade wherein his accomplishments included five number one albums, 10 number one singles, and three Grammy wins for Album of the Year.
One year after being open 83 times, Merriweather Post Pavilion had 19 events in 1972. This was likely due in part to Howard County Commissioner Charles E. Miller proposing legislation that would ban entertainers with a history of violence from performing in venues with a capacity of 3,000-plus people. Comparatively in the District of Columbia proper, Richard Nixon swept into office for his second term in office, with the support of Maryland and Virginia, but not the District of Columbia.
In Washington, D.C. in 2017, Donald Trump is President of the United States. Of course, in the 2016 election Maryland and Virginia carried Democratic majorities, and reflect a much less conservative outlook than 45 years prior. Similarly to 1971, Merriweather Post has announced a robust schedule 37 shows, and likely will host as many or more dates than it has in 30 years. “Subversive” messages and astounding booking combinations aplenty are more than likely, too.
The more things change (and oh how they’ve changed), the more they stay the same. -Marcus Dowling
The late 1970s were relatively light (by modern standards) in terms of the number of acts coming through MPP, and 1979 was no different. With just 30 shows held at Merriweather during that concert season, you would be excused for overlooking it when ranking the “best” years at the venue. However, what their programming might have lacked for in terms of volume was more than made up by the sheer talent on display.
Journey kicked off that summer concert season, marking a new musical direction for the band after bringing Steve Perry on board as their lead singer – a move which would pay massive dividends for them in terms of commercial and popular success. Still a couple of years removed from releasing “Don’t Stop Believin'” – the single greatest contribution to college campuses around the country – the seeds of change had been sown, and were certainly on display that night at MPP (or so I’d assume; I wasn’t born until 1987). Though Journey is considered kind of cheesy by contemporary listeners, it’s hard to deny their catchy hooks, the spiraling guitar riffs, the luscious hair, and their indubitable staying power.
Beyond America’s favorite prog rockers, the 1979 MPP calendar featured a great deal of artists that influenced and inspired generations that followed. Joan Baez, George Benson, and the Allman Brothers Band all played at the venue, bringing plenty of revolutionary spirit and unorthodox musicianship that continue to reverberate through music today. Add in one night of Debbie Harry, two of peak jazz-era Joni Mitchell, and the original line-up Beach Boys – just before all the infighting and tension bubbled to the surface – land you’ve got as close to a perfect line up as you can hope for during those days (though it would have been nice to see Nile Rodgers and Chic – but what’s done is done). 1979 was awesome. -Jose Lopez-Sanchez
1985 was a pretty good year overall. All sorts of new things happened: Windows 1.0 was released, we had the first artifical heart transplant succeed, people were discovering Back to the Future and video games and, apparently, America was ready to party, and Merriweather Post Pavillion recognized that. The 1985 season kicked off with a Madonna concert. A soon-to-be-signed-to-Def-Jam bunch of kids called Beastie Boys opened. That is Madonna circa Into The Groove / Material Girl, when she looked like this and the Beastie Boys looked like this and you actually, truly, would have wanted to party with them. That in and of itself (can you imagine the bragging rights of saying you saw Beastie Boys pre-Paul’s Boutique rock a venue that size? Or that you were so close to Madonna you could see her garter during Like A Virgin?) should be enough for this to be the best year at Merriweather ever but the hits just kept on coming.
The second show was Iron Maiden.
The fourth show was Tom Petty.
The fifth show was Phil Collins.
The seventh show was Willie Nelson.
The ninth show was Eric Clapton.
I could go on.
Plus the unholy combo of: Heart, The Kinks, REO Speedwagon (With Cheap Trick), New Edition and FREAKIN’ LIZA MINELLI. Also, of course, since it IS Merriweather, some choice easy listening (Air Supply) and a few good shows to smoke to (Grateful Dead, UB40) thrown in for good measure. Sting closed the season. The reason why this year is magic is that if I sent you an email asking you to go to ANY of these acts in 2017, you would have said yes 9 times out of 10. In the summer of 1985, the answer would have been YES 11 times out of 10. Just the outfit watching would have been worth the admission price. The decade that was mostly all about novelty acts and bad hair managed to also squeeze out some long term all stars and Merriweather had the foresight to book them all, which is probably why they’ve stayed alive and kicking this long. I wish I was there, and so do you, don’t even try to pretend. Get into THAT groove… -Svetlana Legetic
I grew up in Ellicott City (which you may know for our fantastic floods and quaint main street), a few minutes away from Columbia, Maryland. My first show was at Merriweather (it was Aaron Carter. You want to know what my second show was? Also Aaron Carter). I spent most of my meager doggy day care funds in high school buying tickets to see shows there. Hell, I even worked there for a few years. I have a lot of fond Merriweather memories. From watching Twin Shadow do hilariously poor yoga in the artist’s woods to going to Warped Tour with my best friends, Merriweather Post Pavilion was a large part of my life growing up. I don’t make my way out there anywhere near as often as I used to, but whenever I do, it still feels like home.
Although, to be fair, it’s probably the reason why I’m alive.
My parents met in 1990 in a bar in Baltimore county. They went to high school together, but didn’t know each other because my dad was a grade ahead. They went on their first date a few weeks later on August 5th. They saw Bonnie Raitt at Merriweather Post Pavilion. The date went well. Two years later, they were married and had a kid. Spoiler alert: the kid was me.
But it’s not interesting to hear me tell it. I wasn’t there. They should tell this story. Which is why I called them in the middle of dinner and made them go into separate rooms to answer these questions.
Who asked who out on this date?
Mom: Your father asked me out on this date.
Dad: I asked your mother.
Do you remember what you wore?
Mom: On the date? [sighs, laughter, a confusing myriad of emotions] Well, it was summer time. So it was probably a pair of shorts and a t-shirt.
Dad: Not specifically. I feel like… it was summer so I was probably wearing shorts. But I really can’t remember.
So you did not dress up is what you’re telling me.
Mom: No, but I’m sure I was still somewhat dressed up. It wouldn’t have been just a pair of tennis shoes and a pair of jean shorts. It was probably casual wear, but not beach wear.
[After the interview my mom and dad will confer and tell me she was probably wearing short denim overalls.]
Did you have anything to eat? Drink?
Mom: Yes… But I don’t know if we went out to eat before the concert or after. And I could absolutely just be making this up completely, but something tells me that we would have went to Clyde’s… and we would have had food and drinks. And we would have had drinks at the venue as well. We would have had beer.
Dad: I think we ate at Clyde’s before the concert… and we probably had a cocktail at the concert.
You would have bought that $50 Bud Lite?
Mom: They’re $10. We were just there last weekend for M3 to see Black Foot, which was outstanding.
Did you have a good time? Don’t just say yes because you’re married and have children.
Mom: Oh absolutely! There wouldn’t have been another date if we didn’t have a good time.
Dad: Oh yeah of course. It was the first time I had ever seen Bonnie Raitt in concert. I’d always liked several of her songs and back then she was in her prime. She was a really really popular female… I guess she was in the genre of rock music but she was always kind of softer, alternative music. But yeah, it was great. We had a good time together.
Do you remember any of the songs Bonnie Raitt played?
Mom: Not one, but I can remember that I was very impressed with her. We’ve seen her a couple of times since that concert due to the fact that I enjoyed her as a female artist so much. Very talented. She played guitar.
Dad: Yes. I do. But I’d have to do a google search to tell you the names of them. I could hum them to myself, but I’m not sure what the names are.
Did you even like her at the time?
Mom: No! I can’t say that I actually… I can’t say I wasn’t aware of Bonnie Raitt but I wouldn’t have been a fan. No. I’m sure I heard her music on the radio. I don’t know what the hit was at the time, which would be interesting. I should google that. I knew of her. I probably wouldn’t have seen her if it wasn’t for your father inviting me. You know, I wouldn’t have bought tickets with girls to see her.
Why did you agree to go on the date?
Mom: Because I thought I would enjoy your father’s company. I had met your father prior and he was an interesting guy. He was interesting and he was attractive. Done deal.
Dad: We had a lot of similar interests. We had a chance to talk the first time we met, and hang out together, and we had a lot of fun together so your mother gave me her home phone number [my dad begins to recite the number and then messes up, so he does it again]. I called her maybe two weeks later… I can’t remember what day the concert was. Probably a Friday night.
You waited two weeks to call her?
Dad: I may have called her in between that and said “there’s a concert coming up, would you be interested in going to it?” So we may have spoken earlier than two weeks, but the concert was not the following week, it was like two weeks later. That’s how I remember it.
Did you kiss?
Mom: [Aggressively] OH YEAH!
Dad: I think your mother tried to kiss me. [Laughter] Your mother is over there laughing. She tried to kiss me but I turned my cheek. [Yelling from the background] We did kiss yeah. I’m sure.
So you went on this date, you had a good time, you aggressively kissed according to the way you answered that question, could you tell on that first date that things were going to get serious?
Mom: No. What I do remember thinking is that this is a guy I can have a lot of fun with. That I knew. No matter what, I would definitely want another date. You’ll have to ask him, but we did seem to get along very well.
Dad: After one date? I would say that would be a stretch to know that after one date. It was 1990, right? So it was a long time ago. 27 years ago. I think I would be embellishing the truth to you if I told you I knew on the first date that we were going to get married and have children. I don’t know if I knew that on the first date.
I have one more question, do you think that Merriweather will be your last date?
[For a good two minutes my mom had no idea what I meant when I asked that question and was not willing to just take it as it was and answer it. She called the question stupid. I tried to explain that time was a flat circle. We went back and forth on it. This is the closest I could get her to an answer. My dad caught on right away. Either way, they should be used to this. They’re the ones who raised me.]
Mom: No. I don’t think it will be Merriweather. We don’t go there enough. I mean, we go out to dinner every weekend! The chances of something like that occurring are absolutely slim to none. I guess unless one of us would have died on Monday.
Dad: [laughter] I hope not! That means something would have to happen to us right?
Everyone dies eventually.
Dad: True… I hope not. Your mother struggled with that question? She says she still doesn’t understand it. We just went to Merriweather on Sunday. We were just there! Aren’t you glad we didn’t have this interview on Sunday? It would be freaking you out! She wouldn’t have went.
1990 may not be the most important year in Merriweather history for anyone else, but for me, it’s the difference between life and non-existence. Also, Bowie played there that year. So that was pretty cool. -Kaylee Dugan
In April of 1994 Kurt Cobain committed suicide. In May of 1994 I got my first period en route to a Taco Bell. In June of 1994 O.J. Simpson murdered Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. It’s safe to say 1994 was a pretty bloody year all around. Merriweather Post Pavilion was deep in its 27th summer by the time O.J. took Los Angeles cops on a slow-speed chase through the streets of the city. While this was happening bands came and went through Merriweather. The O.J. Simpson case absolutely left its mark on these performances.
June 13: The bodies of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman are discovered. The following night Depeche Mode performs at Merriweather Post Pavilion, possibly for their Songs of Faith and Devotion album. If there are ever two reasons to murder your ex, I’d say faith and devotion are up there. O.J. was asking America to try walking in his shoes before condemning him.
June 17: O.J. Simpson is charged with murder then begins that now infamous low-speed pursuit for 60 miles through Los Angeles. Joan Jett performs as part of 98 Rock Livestock the next night. Both Joan and O.J. do not give a damn about their reputations.
July 8: Municipal Judge Kathleen Kennedy-Powell finds sufficient evidence to charge O.J. Simpson with murder. Looks like it was a ladies night because over at Merriweather Melissa Etheridge was begging folks to come to her window…a window O.J. would probably not have for the duration of his trial. She was singing about her “Silent Legacy” while O.J. was already in the process of VERY LOUDLY destroying his own.
July 20: O.J. offers a $500,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the real killers. Over at Merriweather the Spin Doctors were crooning about Two Princes (O.J.? Ron?). The actual murderer putting up money to find the “real” murderers? Talk about a real spin.
July 22: O.J. pleads not guilty while Richard Marx was riding high on his song “Now and Forever” used in the film The Getaway. Look who else was trying to get away with it. (IF HE DID IT)
July 30: Grand Jury transcripts are released, depicting Simpson as a jealous stalker. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band was headlining Festival New Orleans at Merriweather, touring on their album Jelly. It’s not hard to figure out who was really jelly in this scenario.
August 22: DNA tests show Simpson’s blood has similar genetic makeup to samples found from blood trail at crime scene. On August 23 Steely Dan stopped by Merriweather. Steely Dan? You mean Steely DNA. Crazy if true.
September 9: Prosecutors will seek a sentence of life without parole instead of the death penalty for Simpson. A mere 9 days later Dan Fogelberg would sing don’t let the sun go down on me at Merriweather, words O.J. Simpson would probably CLING TO in his waking hours. -Jenn Tisdale
2005 was a great year in general; not only was it the same year that A Haunting premiered on Discovery, but it also saw the demise of Everybody Loves Raymond. Maybe you’re reading this going, “Aren’t we here to talk about music, specifically of the Merriweather Post Pavilion variety, Megan?” and yeah, we are, but one of my favorite shows was born and one of everybody’s ironically least favorite shows died. So we will pause for a moment of silence out of respect.
Okay, now let’s get into MPP territory. 2005 featured twenty shows total at the venue, and really, there was something for everyone. Green Day fan? You got your Billie Joe Armstrong kicks. In favor of Maroon 5 for some reason? Adam Levine serenaded you thanks to the Honda Civic Tour. Fuckin’ love Wilco? You Yankee Hotel Foxtrotted the goddamn night away!
Personally, I was an unapologetic fan of The Killers. I attribute this entirely to the fact that I had decided to hang up my Hot Topic togs in 2003, trading them instantly for popped polos, seersucker skirts and pearl earrings (I genuinely shudder to think how much money I spent at Lacoste and Lilly Pulitzer between the ages of 15 and 20) because I’d gotten tired of being sad and/or in trouble all the time and decided a wardrobe makeover made the most sense. Surprisingly the plan worked, and I temporarily distanced myself from the burnout patio at my high school to focus on improving my grades (which had become abysmal), taking post-class breaks mostly to go shopping or watch The OC. And guess who became very obsessed with the soundtrack to that show, which included “Smile Like You Mean It”? THAT’S RIGHT, THIS GUY!
So in 2005 I decided to live out my fairly recently acquired dreams to go see them live at Merriweather. I went with one of my best friends and her emo boyfriend Nicky T. (who was NOT a Killers fan, but WAS into making out with his girlfriend) who drove us after school from Hillsboro, Virginia, which is about a 140 mile round trip. Maureen (my mom) thought Emily’s mom was driving us, and obviously I didn’t tell her the actual arrangement. (A BOY?! WITH A LIP RING?! DRIVING?! *Insert nuclear fallout here…*)
That said, we didn’t even drink or get stoned or anything like that before or during, because while we hung around with some real burnouts, we were (with the exception of the odd bit of booze at parties and school dances) GOOD LITTLE KIDS WITH STRONG MORAL COMPASSES! (Again, I think Nicky was just putting on a good face for the night.)
And so we got there and waited around for what felt like forever to see the show (Keane opened LOL) and do you know what? I basically don’t remember any of it because I was full of that wonderfully trademarked Catholic guilt that had been indoctrinated in me and was very nervous about having lied to my mom, imagining she would find out the truth at any second and be real pissed, potentially materializing in the row ahead of us to ring my goddamn neck. The in-show worrying was all for naught, though afterwards we were stuck in hella traffic trying to get out of the parking lot, had to stop and get gas as a result, got lost as a result of THAT, and by the time we got back to Emily’s it was like, 2 or 3 in the morning and Maureen was, as predicted, real pissed.
It was too late to go home (and to be honest, I wasn’t too KEANE HAHAHA GET IT on setting foot inside my house until Mo cooled off), so I slept at Emily’s house on a school night and looked super gross the next day. But luckily, as it turned out, I wasn’t actually in that much trouble, so I learned that you can take risks and stuff, which was useful knowledge for senior year. (Example: it was great training for the time my actual burnout friends drove us into D.C. for a Blackalicious and Pigeon John show at 9:30 Club the next year, but that’s another story for another day.)
Moral of the story: thanks, The Killers! Thanks, Merriweather! You weirdly helped shape me into less of a lowlife but also somehow less of a narc! (You can’t see it but I’m SMILING LIKE I MEAN IT!)
We called it “Indie Rock Fest.” For months. It never got old.
“Are you pumped for Indie Rock Fest?”
“Oh, I am so pumped for Indie Rock Fest.”
How could you not joke about it? It seemed like such an oddity, such a blip, such a soon-to-be-discovered mistake.
Belle & Sebastian. Broken Social Scene. Ted Leo. All on one bill. All at fucking Merriwether.
I had gone to college two hours outside of D.C., and my friends and I would routinely – midweek! – drive up and back in one night to the shows that wouldn’t come to Charlottesville. Mostly, that meant the Black Cat, until a band got “big” and played the 9:30 Club.
But Merriweather Post Pavilion? Get the fuck out of here. Not in your dreams would one of “our” acts make it there.
We all know what happened in the mid-2000s: The OC and Garden State and Pitchfork and blah blah blah. Critical darlings with cult audiences found much bigger audiences.
Even then, the idea of an actual indie rock fest (like IRL ones of today) and not our 2006 makeshift Indie Rock Fest would have seemed laughable. Merriweather is where you saw Dave Matthews Band and Radiohead and Ben Harper.
I remember going to Indie Rock Fest. I remember wearing a maroon Dogfish Head t-shirt I thought was very cool. I remember my awful brown Raybans. I remember pre-gaming in the parking lot with friends. It was hot and Ted Leo was hard to hear and I drank too much.
I won’t regale you with details of the show. It doesn’t matter. For me, this was the moment that “indie rock” went the mainest of streams in D.C. It wasn’t a blip. The next year brought The Decemberists, plus the Shins with Spoon (because Spoon’s 9:30 Club show got bumped) (holler if feel me).
Do I wish I didn’t have to go out to Columbia to see these bands now? Yes, of course. I’m no longer 20 and down for hours of driving on a Wednesday. I get crotchety about Ubering 15 extra minutes to Rock & Roll Hotel.
But now acts that I love get to play the area’s biggest venue, and they make more money, and they get to keep making music.
So, 2006 is the year for me. Whoever had the crazy idea to put these three bands on one line-up and then made it happen, I owe you a beer. -Phil Runco
It’s difficult to pick out just one year out of fifty to celebrate Merriweather Post Pavilion’s programming. I went with the year I ended up with fewer clothes on after LCD Soundsystem’s muddy Virgin FreeFest performance than Q-Tip wore during his pantsless Rock the Bells set.
Promoting shows at a mid-Atlantic outdoor venue like Merriweather is a seasonal business for obvious reasons. I can be confident about this in an enormously uninformed manner because Bill Burr said it doesn’t matter what you know about a subject if you have a mic (this case, a keyboard) in front of you. But it does makes sense and, to that end, I respect the agnostic approach to booking that a venue like Merriweather must take to bring in the money. It’s not by cultivating character through indie rock cred or something risky and hip, it’s about putting on shows and mini-fests that 20,000 people will spend money at to help propel the local economy in Colombia. Diversity is key and the lineups from 2010 provided entertainment for everyone from the butt rock loving grits in tight denim coats at Shinedown to the neo-soul evangelists worshipping the book of Badu. In A matter of three weeks, patrons and neighbors were treated to Capital Jazz Fest and a few never-ending ouroboros-style Phish jams with Scorpions in between. An intact Paramore promoted Honda Civics. General admission only Warped Tour provided general pop punk. A pre-retirement LCD Soundsystem toured their new record with a ninety minute disco rock statement that baptized the lawn in a mixture of dust, grass, and beer. RIP to my friend’s back seat on the way back, and many thanks to the drunken baths we all took after. Hell, even the entire Wu Tang Clan minus ODB showed up and on-time at Rock The Bells, more than could be said for an hours late weird jazz set from Lauren Hill. Luckily, a complete ATCQ, Phife included, took her earlier slot and for seemingly no other reason that it was a party, Q-Tip performed pantsless. Whether or not you wanted Fuel or Third Eye Blind to be back, HFStival was bringing them back after a 4-year hiatus and stints at RFK. Maybe they were inspired by Lilith Fair which was also back and at Merriweather after a 10 year break. Did anyone attend both this AND Rob Zombie and Alice Cooper’s Halloween Hootenanny? Doesn’t matter. Just matters that in the fourteen seasons that IMP has booked the venue, they’re providing enough balance and draw to keep everyone coming back for at least a show or two. -Josh Phelps
2011 was the year that everyone realized that Merriweather was prime for smaller scale festivals as well as stacked jammy indie-rock bills. Ok, maybe it wasn’t the year they realized that, but it was definitely the year they began really capitalizing on it. 2011 brought Merriweather’s first Sweetlife Festival, a branded extravaganza that made salad synonymous with youth. The first day-long fest featured headliners The Strokes, preceded by Girl Talk and Lupe Fiasco and a smattering of other non-offensive feel-good indie-poppers and rappers. This was before the “parent pick-up” line stretched for miles and the port-o-potty shortage led to DMV-wide outrage. This was before outrage (or was it?).
This was also when Virgin Mobile’s FreeFest was around. You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone – a free day-long festival where you could spend all the money that you would have spent on a ticket on alcohol so that you were nice and plastered by the time Cee Lo – who, in 2011 was at peak Cee Lo- hit the stage. Freefest being cancelled was a blow to morale everywhere but did beg the question – how did they make enough money on that to cover costs? They didn’t, right?
And though jammy indie-pop/rock remained the strong suit of 2011’s lineup (this was when Mumford and Sons was the hottest ticket around and Death Cab was touring with Frightened Rabbit), there were still a few outliers thrown into the mix – whether they were Merriweather classics (Phish) or hip-hop lineups that I would kill to see five years later (Lupe Fiasco with Wale, Big Sean and Miguel all on one bill). It was a nicely curated lineup that brought in new, younger fans in droves while catering to the sunglasses and lawn chairs verge-of-40 mixed with 60+ base.
Most importantly, however, on July 30th, 2011, The Black Eyed Peas performed at Merriweather Post Pavilion. -Tam Sackman