Rock & Roll

Love hair metal? You’ll love M3


I love hair metal. Not even ashamed to admit it. (Not really sure what I AM ashamed to admit, but I know it’s not my love for loud guitars played by guys with long locks). And if you love hair metal, the M3 Rock Festival needs to be on your calendar every year. \m/

amyFor three years, my RockBuddie Amy and I have been meeting in April/May near Baltimore for this two-day buffet of the best guitarists and longest hair you can find. The rock is non-stop (two stages, so when one band ends its set, another starts right away), and if you opt for the VIP package, as we have the past two years, you also get the opportunity to meet your rock gods and goddesses in between sets. And even if you don’t, you might score a selfie while hanging around the main hotel, and will certainly be in the presence of hundreds of other headbangers, and nothin’ wrong with that!

Never been? Here’s my quick guide to the stuff Amy and I have learned:


M3 does a lot of things right. One thing it doesn’t is share timely and complete information. So you won’t find anything more than the bare basics on its website or Facebook page, and often you’ll find that information sooner somewhere else. To really be in the know, you’ll need to join the Facebook fan page M3 Rockers. (Warning: These folks are INTENSE! They eat, sleep and breathe hair metal – I only do two of the three). But this is the spot to get your questions answered, rumors floated or quashed or to see how many different people can post “Anyone know when the set times will be released?!?” In. The. Same. DAY! But you’ll no doubt become part of the rock ‘n roll community that’s developed around this festival.



Remember when I said M3 does a lot of things right? Yeah, well this isn’t one of them, either. ūüôā ¬†Traditionally, the lineup has been announced in January with tickets on sale not too much longer after that, but last year both happened in December … no doubt to deprive children of an extra Christmas gift or two so their parents could buy tickets for a concert they won’t be at for another four months. Tickets are sold through an outfit called TicketFly, and the process is pretty much the Russian Roulette of ticket-buying. Spin the chamber, and hope for the best. Amy and I are at the ready when ticket sales start, so we have two chances to get the best seats. (If you’re not picky about where you sit, there’s no need to take a day off work to fight for tix with the rest of your new M3 Rockers family).

You have three options: VIP, Reserved and Lawn.

Reserved is simply a seat in the pavilion, and while no self-respecting rocker ever sits during a hair metal show, it’s nice to have a place to store your stuff. The Lawn is actually an intriguing option for the budget crowd, because the Festival Stage has no seats and they don’t rope off an area for those of us who donated plasma to buy VIP tickets (grumble, grumble), so for half the acts, you can have a VIP vantage point with a steerage-class ticket.

Is VIP worth it? Yes …. if you’re like us and have become accustomed to being right near the stage for any and all concerts … or if you like¬†tchotchke, like the festival T-shirt and poster and other doo-dads that you get. But quite honestly, the rest of the VIP benefits of this festival are vastly overrated. (I promise I’ll get to all those things I think M3 does right):

janet tawny

  • Meet and Greets: For a selfie fanatic like me, this is quite attractive. In practice? Absolutely horrible. The two years we’ve had VIP tix, I’ve “met” a grand total of two people – one was Janet Gardner of Vixen, who pulled me back from the edge of a broken heart when I got to the front of the line and was only then told “no photos,” and the other was Whitesnake Girl Tawny Kitaen … and that wasn’t part of the VIP program … and it cost me an extra 20 bucks. The past two years, I’ve waited in long-ass lines that never move, missing awesome acts on stage, waiting for some humorless 20-something usher to walk by and tell us either that they have cut the line off completely or those of us wanting only a quick photo are SOL because the freaks in front of us brought every single item in their vast collection of rock memorabilia to get signed by the same band.
  • VIP Pre-Show: Two years ago, we missed Jack Russell’s acoustic show while waiting in an inefficient line for our T-shirt. This year, we bee-lined to catch an underwhelming Michael Sweet set.
  • Private bathrooms/bar: These are both more crowded than the GA options literally steps away. And depending upon where your VIP seat is, you might actually have to walk past the GA bathroom and GA bar to get to the VIP equivalents, like we had to two years ago.


Three years, and three different hotels for us.

jackThe Sheraton is the “main” hotel, is the only one walkable to Merriweather Post Pavilion and is a beehive of awesomeness the entire weekend. The problem? This year, they required you to prepay with no refund if you canceled. If you’re going to the show anyhow, why is that a big deal? Because as frenzied as buying tickets is, it looks like a Yanni concert compared to the hunt for hotels. Smart people usually reserve rooms for two or more weekends a year in advance so they’re sure they’ll have a room when M3 finally gets around to announcing the actual weekend (seriously, would it kill you, M3, to at least let us in on the dates before you announce the lineup?). So no more Sheraton for us. And that’s a shame, because that’s where we saw Jack Russell just milling around the hallway. \m/

So if you’re not at the Sheraton, you’re a short Uber ride away from some other comfortable options. The first year we landed at the Residence Inn, which is quite nice, and this year we were a block further at Sonesta Suites, also quite nice. One nice thing about M3 (see! I told you I’d get around to one!) is parking is free. You can save a few bucks by driving to the show and Ubering to your hotel if you drink more than the legal limit of $456 beers at the show.


Merriweather charges for food like the government has re-established World War II rations. I go to a lot of concerts and sporting events, so I understand that part of the deal we make with the venue is that they get to ridiculously overcharge for food and drink, but Merriweather is not content with just doing what every other venue does. It finds sadistic pleasure in outdoing its competition i concession pricing. You can get more than two whole Hot-And-Readys at Little Caesars for what a pepperoni slice will set you back inside the friendly confines of The Post.

So you’ll want to have a hearty meal before you arrive. The Mall in Columbia is walkable to the venue and has tons of decent restaurants (you can also pick up a pair of mittens, or shorts, at the mall since you can never predict what the weather will be like). Unfortunately, most don’t open until Saturday’s acts have started taking the stage, so you’ll have to weigh whether missing some music for a reasonably priced meal is worth it.

A great option before and after the show is Clyde’s, the official unofficial headquarters of the M3 Rockers. Great bar and great food, and you might spot a rocker or two there. If you do this in order – 1. Reserve a hotel room for multiple weekends, 2. Buy tickets the second they go on sale and 3. Make a post-show dinner reservation at Clyde’s well in advance – you’ll be doing M3 right.

Union Jack’s is another walkable, post-show option ¬†… if you’re a horn-dog male intent on annoying the hell out of women. We made the mistake of going there the first year. I left Amy alone for about 7 seconds when I ran to the restroom. That was more than enough time for some future “Dateline: To Catch A Predator” contestant to hit on her.

A more civilized post-show spot, for folks relegated to the Residence Inns and Sonesta Suites of the area, is The Judge’s Bench in Ellicott City. You’ll have to Uber there, and you’re not likely to find any of your fellow rockers, but you’ll get a good drink without the crowds of Clyde’s or Union Jack’s.



This is what you came for!

This year’s show was an anomaly, because the venue was in the middle of renovations, so there was just one, rotating stage (terrific for those of us in the pavilion, because we never had to move; not so wonderful for the cheapies on the lawn who had planned to poach prime spots at the Festival Stage). But based on the two years prior, here are some things I’ve learned about navigating Merriweather Post Pavilion:

Get there early: If you don’t want to miss the early acts, and especially the VIP show on Friday, get there early. WAY early. For some reason, it takes forever for them to check your tickets. A tortoise or two will pass you while you wait to get in. It’s not rocket science. But they seem to be trying to turn it into rocket science.

Don’t miss the VIP show: If you paid for VIP, don’t make the mistake we made the first year we were VIP and head straight to the VIP goodies tent. You’ll miss your newborn’s high school graduation while wasting away in that Model of Inefficiency. Catch the VIP show, and then go get pissed off at the goodies tent.

If you have to eat, try the BBQ: As mentioned, you can buy a new Fiat 500 for less than a grilled cheese sandwich will set you back here. But the BBQ in the back of the venue is tasty, plentiful and can actually almost sorta kinda be considered a “deal.”

The cheap beer is not worth the effort: After seeing the price for beer, you might consider sobriety. But then you’ll hear people talking about this mirage of beer-that-costs-less-than-crude-oil they thought they saw on a hill over yonder. It DOES exist, but after scaling the Mayan Temple-esque hill and acquiring a cold can of Natty Boh, you’ll start to do the math and realize that it costs almost exactly the same per-ounce as the domestic swill available everywhere else in the venue – no mountain sherpa necessary.

You’ll be forced to make difficult decisions: When/if to eat, when/if to pee, and when/no if to get a beer come with the territory at all music festivals. But M3 has its own set of vexing puzzles, including how a cup of coffee can possibly cost $6. If you’re VIP, you’ll have to decide how many acts you’re willing to miss for a not-guaranteed chance to actually meet and greet a band. (In my experiences, getting in line one full hour before a meet-and-greet is scheduled will only end in heartbreak. So you’ll want to get in line even sooner). And if you’re in the pavilion, you’ll have to decide how much of the set of Main Stage performers you’re willing to miss to fight for a primo spot at the Festival Stage for the next set. If you go into the festival fully expecting to miss parts of it, even large parts of it, you likely won’t be too disappointed.

You’ll want to punch an usher. All of them: If you are in the pavilion, here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to rush to return to your seat with a $10 beer in one hand and a $15 slice of pizza in the other. When you get to the front of the pavilion, one of those humorless 20-something ushers will ask you for your ticket, and you’ll have to juggle that $25 “worth” of concession sadness like you’re the post-dinner showroom entertainment on a cruise ship so you dig your ticket out to show her. Then you’ll put your ticket away, pick up your $10 beer and $15 slice of pizza and walk, I kid you not, 12 steps before ANOTHER humorless 20-something usher will ask you for your ticket again. You’ll repeat your Festival of Juggling, put your ticket away, pick up your $10 beer and $15 slice of pizza and, if you’re VIP, walk down 20 steps, where yet another humorless 20-something usher WILL ASK YOU FOR YOUR TICKET AGAIN. You’ll do this 78 times over the two days. Why M3 doesn’t issue pavilion ticket holders color-coded paper bracelets – one color for VIPs and one color for the others – like every other music festival on this planet, other planets and planet that haven’t even been discovered yet do, I can not answer. Maybe Merriweather wants to lock up all the gold stars on the federal government’s Annual Report of Usher Employment.

But despite my snarky comments about the overall experience, the one thing M3 definitely does right is put together the best lineup of hair metal of the year – anywhere. You’ll want to hide the M3 Rockers Facebook page about, oh, 456,298 times a year as people bitch about the lineup, but it is solid. It’s ALWAYS solid. And all the issues aside, it’s two days you’ll look forward to for months, and look back on (mostly) fondly for months after.

Rock on! \m/






Categories: Rock & Roll, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Don’t be afraid to be spontaneous


Two things in life I like as much as I love traveling: hair metal and spontaneity.

And those three things came together in a perfect storm of awesomeness.

Many months prior to this trip, I saw the lineup for Rock the Arena. I saw that it was in Toledo, not far from the Columbus suburb I grew up in and where my brother is raising his awesome family. So I bought the concert ticket, and told myself I’d figure out the rest later. Here was my Facebook post after the trip:


That’s right. That brief moment of spontaneity – and not letting myself worry about the details – ended up producing a trip that was WAYYYYYYY better than simply a killer rock show.

Here’s how it happened, and why you should always stay creative and flexible when traveling – so you don’t miss something awesome:

When I got around to planning the trip, the trouble started early. I had planned to fly into Columbus, where my family lives, and visit with them and then just drive up to Toledo for the show and spend a night. But the Gods of Airfare & Rental Cars were not kind to me.

First, I made the Cardinal Mistake of Travel Planning: I booked a flight before researching rental car rates. This doesn’t seem to be that big of an issue, but it really can be. Why? Rental car rates vary wildly from city to city because of the local taxes assessed on them. So even if the rental car company charges $20 a day for a car in, say, Columbus and Cleveland, local taxes in each of those cities can make for a significant difference in what you end up paying for that $20 rental. It’s for this reason, that I always research rental ¬†care rates before booking airfare. On a number of occasions, I’ve found that the total trip is cheaper if I fly into a more expensive airport with a much cheaper rental car.

And that’s exactly what happened here. The Columbus rental car rates were sky high. Fortunately, I booked on Southwest Airlines and one of the tips in my¬†Fly¬†section is that Southwest doesn’t charge change fees. If your plans change, you can’t get a refund, but you can change your flight and only pay the difference in fare, or cancel it and store what you paid as travel funds that you can use for a future flight. After I finished my researched, I settled on booking a different airline and flying into Detroit, where my rental car would save me literally hundreds of dollars. It was inconvenient, but I decided my time was worth less than my dollars.

Once I got all that worked out, two surprises made it all worth it.

First, Lita Ford, my all-time favorite rocker who was on the Rock the Arena bill, announced a show the night before in Cleveland, just a couple of hours from Columbus AND Toledo. Score! Ticket bought.

And just days before I left on the trip, a ¬†good friend who had bought a six-person tasting menu at a great Cleveland restaurant and was struggling to find a sixth guest, on a lark sent me a message to see whether I’d be in Cleveland on March 17. I hadn’t planned to be there until Lita’s show on the 18th, but when travel opportunity knocks, I open the door.

Doing so meant booking two nights in Cleveland, which wasn’t cheap, being the holiday and all. It meant changing my hotel reservation in Toledo. It had been dirt cheap, but when changing it, it allowed the hotel to charge me the now-jacked-up rate based on new demand, so the detour easily cost me a couple hundred of dollars. But it was worth it. Read on ….



I grew up in Gahanna, one of the northeast suburbs of Ohio’s capital cities. Columbus has changed mightily since I left for college in 1990, and now it would be one of my favorite cities to visit even if it wasn’t my hometown. One thing I had never gotten to do there was see a Columbus Crew soccer match in its new soccer-specific MAPFRE Stadium. It’s a great place to catch a soccer match, and you can even get noodles at the concession stand. The following day, I did something else in my hometown that I hadn’t done before: Visited the Columbus Museum of Art which, like many museums, often offers a free admission day. Worth a visit.



From there, it was on to Cleveland. All the years I lived in Ohio, I had no idea how seriously the folks in Cleveland take St. Patrick’s Day. There’s a massive parade that shuts down much of the city, and plenty of drinking to be had (and an occasional fight, so be careful.)


That night, I met my friend and his posse at Michael Symon’s Lola Bistro, one of the city’s hot dining spots, for that private six-person tasting menu.It was an experience worth every penny of the extra hotels. We had a private table overlooking the kitchen, so we got to see everything prepared and talk with the chefs. I took a look at the menu, and was a little worried that not much on it was in my wheelhouse. And some of it (can you hear my, cauliflower?!?!) is on my choose-death-over-consumption list. But, when in Rome (or Cleveland), I opened my mind – and my taste buds – to all of it. And I loved every single bite. Another reminded to myself to always be open to trying new things.


The following night was my Lita Ford concert, and the surprises kept coming. The venue announced a surprise meet-and-greet opportunity. In all the Lita concerts I’ve gone to, I had never been able to meet here. That would change today. And it happened because I remained flexible with my travel. Had my friend not invited me to dinner, I would have driven up just in time for the show, and missed this incredible opportunity. (By the way, the venue – The Odeon – isn’t going to win any awards, but if you’re looking an intimate venue where you can get close to the stage and not be robbed by the beer vendor, check it out).

From there, it was on to Toledo, for an amazing day of rock, followed by some quick sight-seeing in Detroit before heading home, all the time reveling in the good fortune that came from spontaneity.



Categories: Airlines, Eating, Entertainment, Rental cars, Rock & Roll, Sporting events, Uncategorized | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Trip Report: New Mexico, California, Mexico, Colorado

Follow my travels long enough and you won’t even blink at a headline like that. I like to maximize my travel dollars, so when I have a trip I have to make for business, especially one that takes me to the other coast of America, I’ll take some time seeing if I can extend it a few days to have a little fun or do a little business.

So this trip was for our Ante Up Poker Cruise from Los Angeles to the Mexican Riviera. But I added a day on the front end to meet with our Ante Up Poker Tour partner in Albuquerque, a couple days after that for fun and sight-seeing in Los Angeles and a couple of days on the back end to thank a great supporter of Ante Up in Colorado.



I’ve been to this New Mexico city before, and I always like coming back. I once spent an entire day doing my own “Breaking Bad” self-ie tour, taking photos in front of all of the houses and scenes featured in that great show. (There are organized tours that are easier, but they don’t go to all of the places you want to go. Do a little web research, and you can put together your own tour like I did.

This trip, I only had time for one touristy ¬†thing, so I chose the National Museum of Atomic Science & History, and it was, pardon the pun, a blast. In addition to seeing and learning about old bombs, it features a large outdoor area with planes. And, inside, they have a DeLorean for us children of the ’80s.



Famous homes: Life moves pretty fast, and if you don’t stop to take a selfie outside of Ferris Bueller’s house in Long Beach, you might miss it. I’ve been to L.A. tons of times, so I was looking for something new this time. A quick Roadside America search pointed me in the direction of the iconic house in the iconic skipping-high-school movie. Later, I used the same site to guide me to the Brady Bunch house, which sadly doesn’t look much like the Brady Bunch house these days.



Vixen concert: I’ve seen a show at The House of Blues in Anaheim before, and it’s a great venue to see a band … especially if you spend the minimum amount of money in the restaurant of gift shop prior to the show to get a line pass. I ended up about 9 inches from Janet Gardner of Vixen, which closed out a great show started by Femme Fatale.


Hollywood: I’ve always wanted to hike to the top of the Hollywood sign. But it’s getting harder to do. The folks who own houses on the road that gives the quickest path are tired of the traffic (I don’t blame them), so strict parking restrictions mean you have to get there super easy to hike from there. The other paths are longer. And the real bummer is that even if you do make it to the top, fences keep you from getting that photo that will really impress your friends. So I opted for the more efficient drive up the mountain, where there are couple really nice places to park and see the sign about as close as you can get from the front of it. One even has a nice park to relax in. Here’s a link to how to hike to the top.


Being a movie buff (I’ve seen every Oscar-nominated movie for the past few years), a trip to the Dolby Theater where the Oscars are held was a must. The tour is a real bust, but you do get to get inside the theater for a selfie or two. Depending on the day you are there, the theater might be a work in progress for an upcoming event, as it was for me.



There’s only so much L.A. anyone can take, so a couple hours south is the oasis known as San Diego. The weather there is almost always perfect. This trip was to see another of my infatuations – the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team – play a friendly at the aging and needs-to-be-razed Qualcomm Stadium. But before the match, I stopped by¬†Kansas City Barbecue, where the “Great Balls of Fire” scene from Top Gun was filmed. The bar suffered a fire some years back, so none of the original stuff is there, but they’ve built it back with lots of cool stuff. And the food is amazing.



This is the second time Ante Up Poker Cruises has sailed from Los Angeles to the Mexican Riviera stops of Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta. Our company prefers to use Royal Caribbean for lots of reasons, but it doesn’t sail out of California, so NCL is our back up. The Jewel was our ship this time, and was nicer than our previous vessel. Still, NCL just doesn’t match up well to Royal for me. I admit part of it is my familiarity with Royal, but I also find NCL to be a notch below in almost everything. The one advantage the cruise line does have is its “freestyle” options that allow you to go to many different restaurants, some of them for free. However, it’s sometimes hard to get in the restaurant you want at the time you want, so it can turn into a negative.


If you’re a drinker, you’ll love Cabo. Beach bar after beach bar. Mazatlan? Eh. Just not much to do there, and the city is still fighting a reputation for crime, so much so that ex-pats from a lot of countries who have relocated to the city volunteer to meet cruise ship passengers at the pier to direct them around the city. Puerto Vallarta is a treat, no matter what your interests. This trip, we took an amazing zip-lining tour from Outdoor Adventures. I love zip-lining, but this tour was the best yet. It started with a donkey ride up the mountain (could have done without that), and then the most extensive series of zip lines I’ve ever been on. They even had one that was a surfboard. Not even lying. It was a board just big enough for two people to stand on, and you zipped standing up to the next platform. Wow. And twice during the lines, you got to take a waterslide to cool off.




Let’s start off by saying there’s a reason I moved to Florida from Ohio – snow. (More accurately, cold, but they all work hand in hand). So going from the warm waters of Baja California to a blinding snowstorm in the Rockies was jarring, to say the least.

But I hadn’t been to the old mining-now-gambling town of Cripple Creek, and I owed a visit to a great client, so up the mountain I went. I somehow survived, and am glad I did. Cripple Creek is more accessible Deadwood, with a main drag with little old-timey casinos, gift shops and other merchants. Perfect place to spend a weekend. I stayed at Midnight Rose Hotel & Casino, and highly recommend it. From there , I made a repeat visit to the state’s other gambling town, Black Hawk. Both are great escapes from Denver for gamblers. Just maybe not in January. If you’re from Florida. ūüôā


Categories: Cruises, Drinking, Gambling, Museums, Pop Culture, Rock & Roll, Tourist Locations, Trip Reports | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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