Merriweather Post Pavilion
Jim James performing at the Merriweather Post Pavilion on August 12, 2011
|Address||10475 Little Patuxent Parkway|
|Location||Columbia, Howard County, Maryland|
|Public transit||RTA 406 (Central Library stop)
RTA 501 , RTA 503, MTA 315 (Broken Land/Hickory Ridge)
|Owner||The Howard Hughes Corporation|
|Seating type||lawn, stadium|
|Architect||Gehry, Walsh, & O'Malley|
Merriweather Post Pavilion is an outdoor concert venue located within Symphony Woods, a 40-acre (162,000-m²) lot of preserved land in the heart of the planned community of Columbia, Maryland. In 2010, Merriweather was named the second best amphitheater in the United States by Billboard magazine. The venue was also ranked as the fourth best amphitheater in the United States by Rolling Stone in 2013. It was again ranked by Consequence of Sound at number 29 of all music venues in the nation out of 100 in 2016.
Merriweather Post Pavilion was commissioned by the Rouse Company for its Howard County development project Columbia. The first design was rejected and the theatre was redesigned by award-winning architect Frank Gehry and N. David O'Malley with the firm of Gehry, Walsh and O'Malley. It opened in 1967 on the former grounds of the Oakland Manor slave plantation. It is named for the American Post Foods heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post who promised and withdrew donations to Rouse for the facility. The theatre was originally intended to be a summer home for the National Symphony Orchestra. It later became a venue for popular music concerts, including performances by Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, The Grateful Dead, and The Who.
A grand opening gala was held on July 14, 1967, and Vice President Hubert Humphrey attended a presentation of "Columbia: Broadsides for Orchestra" in a driving rainstorm that flooded the orchestra to its knees. The Orchestra went bankrupt the next year. In the 1968 season, controversial presidential candidate George Wallace held a 7500-person rally on June 27, 1968, followed shortly after by candidate Eugene McCarthy.
On May 25, 1969, The Who and Led Zeppelin shared a stage for the first and only time, playing to a crowd of 20,000. Led Zeppelin performed "Whole Lotta Love" live for just the second time ever, and allegedly ran long in their opening slot, resulting in their plug being pulled by The Who’s production crew.
In 1970, Columbia's manager Richard Anderson dropped bookings of rock venues after gate crashing and disturbances at a Steppenwolf concert. The Nederlander Organization began managing the venue in 1971. By 1972, the music shifted from Rouse & Merriweather's vision of symphonies to rock venues, and Charles E. Miller proposed bills that would disallow performances of entertainers with a history of violence in venues with a capacity of 3,000 or more. In the summer of 1974, Howard Research and Development manager Micheal Spear banned rock music after incidents, listing Alice Cooper, Grateful Dead, and Edgar Winter as artists that were unacceptable.
In 1977, Jimmy Buffett performed at Merriweather for the first time. He has since played a total of 42 times, the most by any act.
In 2003, development by General Growth Properties threatened to shutter the pavilion, firing up two Columbia kids and former bandmates Ian Kennedy and Justin Carlson who launched and sustained a grassroots "Save Merriweather" campaign to keep the concert venue open. As part of the fight, Kennedy vowed not to shave his beard until the future of Merriweather was secure.
As "Save Merriweather" began to pick up steam, General Growth Properties offered to sell Merriweather to Howard County on condition that the pavilion be converted into a much smaller, enclosed theater. Shortly thereafter, 9:30 Club owner Seth Hurwitz's I.M.P. was chosen as Merriweather's new promoter amidst the claim by GGP's General Manager that trying to make Merriweather Post Pavilion profitable was like "trying to sell ice cubes in the middle of winter."
In 2005, Howard County held a charrette to discuss redevelopment of the Rouse Planned community beyond its initial 100,000 population design. In 2010, The Downtown Columbia Plan passed, requiring the developer General Growth Properties, (Now The Howard Hughes Corporation) to renovate Merriweather before additional development could occur in Columbia. In 2014, County Executive Ken Ulman proposed a bill to relieve Howard Hughes of the renovation expense including a $10 million grant. The final plan which only granted $9.5 million to the developer was announced at a Jack Johnson concert on June 5, 2014, removing a major development restriction.
Virgin Mobile's FreeFest was hosted at Merriweather Post Pavilion for five years, from 2009 to 2013. Each festival was free to attend contingent on attendees completing charitable tasks in their community. VIP tickets were also available to purchase, with proceeds donated to the RE*Generation House homeless youth shelter in Washington, D.C. An estimated 50,000 people attended each year, which included guest appearances by Virgin's CEO, Sir Richard Branson, and such acts as Jack White, LCD Soundystem, Pavement, The Black Keys, Vampire Weekend, M83, TV on the Radio, MGMT, and St. Vincent.
In 2013, former Rouse employee Michael McCall proposed county executive-backed plans to convert the wooded land called Symphony Woods surrounding the pavilion. McCall's company, Strategic Leisure, first proposed a $50 million publicly funded six-story parking garage at the Toby's Dinner Theatre location; later proposals included a 39-acre arts park with features such as an outdoor amphitheater called the Chrysalis, a 300-foot-long floating picnic table, and an 800-foot-long tube called the Caterpillar. The new project was named the "Inner Arbor", a spin on another Rouse development, Baltimore's "Inner Harbor". Artist William Cochran, son of former County Executive Edward L. Cochran, and brother of Councilwoman Courtney Watson, was commissioned for artwork that includes horns up to 28 feet tall.
The majority of the wooded and open field land surrounding Symphony Woods and Merriweather served as a park, festival site, event parking, and site of yearly Symphony of Lights Christmas light displays. As part of the redevelopment initiative, the owner Howard Hughes Corp rezoned the land for a project called the "Crescent", which would relocate the Banneker fire department, redevelop the area into 2,100 homes and 1,125,000 square feet of general and medical office space, in 20-story-high buildings. The Crescent project gets its name from the shape of the work area surrounding the pavilion, as well as Rouse's (Howard Hughes') partnership with Crescent Real Estate Equities on its Woodlands development.
In August 2014, the site made national news when 2 patrons died and 20 others were hospitalized from drug overdoses after a Mad Decent concert. Venues across the country implemented stricter drug enforcement controls after the incident.
Merriweather Post draws a regional traffic base with 90% of concert attendees travelling from outside of Howard County.
In 2015, the Howard County Planning Board approved a submission by Brian Spencer, a registered lobbyist and project manager by Howard Hughes. The $8.4 million design by Jamie Pett (JP2 architects) includes renovation with new concession stands around the 9:32 club and replacement of the condemned restrooms.
On November 30, 2016 The Howard Hughes Corporation transferred ownership of Merriweather Post Pavilion and Symphony Woods to the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission, a nonprofit organization helmed by “Save Merriweather” co-founder Ian Kennedy. At the official ceremony, Kennedy shaved the beard he had been growing for 13 years, since the beginning of the campaign in 2003.
2017 marked Merriweather Post Pavilion’s 50th season, celebrated in part by I.M.P.'s signing of a new 40-Year lease to continue operating Merriweather through 2057. The celebration continued with the completion of $55 Million of renovations creating 15,000 square feet of dressing rooms and backstage areas including a swimming pool and dining room. The renovations also include the expansion of the stage house in preparation for raising the pavilion’s famed roof, the installation of a turntable inset in the stage, and new bathrooms and concessions for patrons, as well as a new VIP rooftop bar.
In honor of its illustrious history, legendary artists from Paul Simon and Sarah McLachlan to Santana returned to the Merriweather stage in 2017, including an Anniversary show featuring Jackson Browne, Willie Nelson, Father John Misty, and Grace Potter.
In popular culture
- Three tracks from Jackson Browne's Running on Empty were recorded at the pavilion on August 27, 1977.
- Animal Collective's critically acclaimed 2009 album Merriweather Post Pavilion is named in tribute to the pavilion, though the band did not actually perform there until 2011.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Merriweather Post Pavilion.|
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