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/
For 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. 🙂 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):
- 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.
The 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.
BEFORE/AFTER 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.
AT THE SHOW
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/