The M3 Rock Festival made its triumphant return to Columbia, MD on June 19th and once again featured a great lineup of eighties rock bands. The skies were clear and the temperatures would climb into the nineties by mid-afternoon but the heat could not stop rock n’ roll! For many, the party started as soon as they touched down in the parking lot of Meriweather Post Pavilion. The parking area featured a killer atmosphere reminiscent of something out of the cult favorite rock documentary, ‘Heavy Metal Parking Lot’. A seasoned veteran of the rock n’ roll lifestyle, I have been to many of shows in my time. I can tell you that the atmosphere in the lots across this great land is not what it once was, however, that was not the case with M3. Just like last year, the parking lot was full of life and vast amounts of beer, loud music, classic rock tees and some of the most fantastic hairdos known to man. The impact that the M3 Rock Festival had on music fans in 2009 was evident by the stories being traded back and forth and the anticipation was clearly building even hours before the gates were to open. Shortly after arriving, the car in front of me had Warrant blaring out of a set of partially blown speakers and if I turned in the opposite direction, I could hear Motley Crue’s Dr. Feelgood belting out of a much higher quality sound system. It was like I had gotten transported back to 1989 and I was definitely enjoying it! Of course I had to join in the party, so I cracked a few ice cold Budweiser’s myself.
By 10:30 am there was a large line to enter the venue. Gates for the show opened at 11:00 am, the same time as last year’s event. The layout of the festival was exactly the same as it was in 2009 and proved very navigable. The main stage/pavilion was separated from the second stage and the “freaks” stage by a line of tents that were filled with businesses trying to sell their goods to whoever was interested. There was no lack of vendors selling cold drinks or something to eat, as there was a concession stand every ten feet. This would prove invaluable by mid-afternoon as the need to replenish fluids became a must for many battle worn fans. One noticeable omission from last year was that the Hammerjacks VIP area was not in use. The only reference to the once great rock club was a small booth that was selling shirts and stickers. I was really disappointed that they did away with that, as it added to the show’s nostalgia.
The festival did not open up with a notable band this year. Last year the audience was treated to Gilby Clarke and this year we got Dingleberry Dynasty. Needless to say, they were high on my priority list for the day. One of the returning bands from last years festival, Jetboy, would follow to jumpstart things the main stage. While I hadn’t been a huge fan of Jetboy in the past, they made me a fan of me this time around. They brought a high energy performance that turned a lot of heads. I definitely dig their song “Feel The Shake.” Speaking of which, give me a second to fire up iTunes and pick that one up! Jetboy was followed on the second stage by another band I was not all that familiar with by the name of Z02. While I didn’t catch all of their set, I did like what I heard and they were putting everything they had into it. Next up on the main stage was the forgettable Trixter, followed by the equally forgettable Black Mambooza on the second stage.
By 2:15 pm, myself and many of my rock n’ roll brethren were jonesing for a band to hit the stage that could quench our thirst for rock (and who managed to have more than one hit in their heyday). That thirst was quenched by none other than the epic L.A. Guns. The Phil Lewis fronted version of the band took to the main stage and did not disappoint. Stacey Blades and company ripped through their hits including “Sleazy Come,” “Over the Edge,” and “Rip and Tear.” The band sounded tight and were easily one of my favorite performances of the day. L.A. Guns are is one of the few bands of the hair metal era that still puts it on the line each and every night, playing each show as if it was the last time they would play to a capacity crowd. Next up on the second stage was Mass. I did not get to check out those guys, as I was preparing to shoot pictures of Kip Winger and company on the main stage. Speaking of Winger, his band took to the main stage at 3:30 pm and delivered an absolutely rocking performance. I could not believe what I was hearing. Winger sounded fantastic and treated the fans to a set that included “Seventeen” and “Headed for a Heartbreak.” I am still in amazement that Winger could deliver such a top notch outing. After wrapping that up, I took a trip to check out Bang Tango. This band has been growing on me the past couple of years and their funk driven rock was taken in by a surprising amount of festival goers. Frontman Joe Lesté proved that he still has vocal chops and that he loves his fans as he spent a lot of time wandering the crowd meeting and greeting the fans on the lawn. Next up was Kix to take the main stage at 4:40 pm, so I made my way through the still growing crowd to the pavilion.
Kix took to the main stage right on time and played to a full pavilion. If you grew up, lived in or experienced the late eighties rock scene in Baltimore, Maryland — Kix is in your blood. The love for these hometown hair metal heroes was evidenced by the plethora of vintage Kix tees in the crowd. Kix managed to turn the heads of many concertgoers who were just arriving during their white hot set. I had missed the band’s performance last year and was informed by a reader that by doing so I had missed one of the best performances that the inaugural M3 event had to offer. I wasn’t about to make the same mistake twice, so I hunkered down to soak in the set. I have to admit that I was very impressed and will likely jump at the opportunity to see them again in the future. Kix proved to be one of the more fun bands of the day, mostly due to their charismatic lead singer Steve Whiteman who seem to effortlessly energize the crowd. Highlights of their set included “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” “Cold Shower,” and “Girl Money.” After taking in the spectacle that was Kix, I wanted to head over to the second stage to check out what Guns ‘N Roses keyboardist Dizzy Reed had going on. Unfortunately I had to prepare to go photograph Vince Neil, so I never got a chance. That was the most disappointing part of my day. Well, if you don’t take heat stroke into consideration.
At 6:15 I found a spot directly in front of the stage to take pictures of Vince Neil. Jammed into a small area with a bunch of other photographers is bad enough when it is ninety degrees, but adding a thick layer of artificial fog takes it up a notch. I have never seen so much fog used on stage. I could barely see Vince and I was about three feet from him. I can only imagine what it looked like from the seats. After the customary three songs I got the hell out of there an enjoyed the rest of his set from the lawn. I am a huge fan of Motley Crue and was looking forward to this performance all day. Vince was absolutely amazing and sounded surprisingly good for someone who has delivered less than spectacular performances in the past. Vince’s set featured material from his covers album, ‘Tattoos and Tequila’ that is due in stores this week. The set also included a string of Crue hits including “Live Wire” and “Dr. Feelgood.” Towards the end of Vince’s set I decided to take a trip over to the second stage to check out Nelson.
I have to admit that I was curious about what these two guys would bring to a festival that was full of testosterone driven bands. What I saw shocked me to my core, Nelson wasn’t that bad and they had Mark Slaughter on lead guitar. What was even more shocking was that the band had a large audience and most of them were guys. It was a strange site to behold. Matt and Gunnar Nelson were very gracious performers and sounded fantastic. Mark Slaughter, who has worked with Nelson before in Scrap Metal, is a fine addition to the band and shreds on guitar. Their energetic set included the hits “After the Rain” and “Love and Affection,” but also featured some of their unreleased new material. The twin brothers told the crowd that the material would be featured on their soon to be released album, ‘The Blonde Leading The Blonde’ on Frontier Records. But enough with Nelson, let’s get to the best performance of the night!
The biggest question in my mind going into Cinderella’s set was how Tom Keifer would sound considering he has had problems with his vocal chords in the past. Any doubt I had of Tom Keifer’s ability to front the band vanished when they hit the stage at 7:40 pm. Tom sounded amazing and although the band started off a bit on the sluggish side, they eventually got it together and the crowd ate it up. Their set featured their hits “Don’t Know What You Got (‘Till It’s Gone),” “Push, Push,” Nobody’s Fool,” and “Shake Me.” Cinderella was hands down the best performance of the day and I would highly recommend that you check them out if they are in your neck of the woods. After the spectacle that was Cinderella, I have to admit that I was winding down for the day — a better description may be that my body was shutting down due to heat exhaustion but I soldiered on. I had no interest in seeing Warrant without lead singer Jani Lane, so I skipped their performance in favor of some water. By now, the lawn had completely filled in with fans and everyone in attendance seemed to be looking forward to the upcoming Scorpions set despite a very long day in the heat.
It was worth sticking it out as this we would all be treated to the last look at the band as they plan on calling it a career after their current world tour. Scorpions have never been a band that disappoints in a live setting and their appearance at the M3 Rock Festival would be no exception to that rule. The Scorpions took to the stage about thirty-five minutes late and it was noticeable almost immediately that lead singer Klaus Meine was under the weather. This became more widely known when Klaus took out a bit of frustration on some fans in the front row complaining that he wasn’t loud enough. At this point, the frustrated yet gracious frontman explained he had come down with the flu and that rather than disappoint the masses, the band would push on. The majority of fans that surrounded me let out a huge cheer as the legendary band continued. Even with his vocals not at 100%, Klaus Meine and company still managed to put together a set that would rival any of the bands that had performed earlier in the day. Highlights of their set included “Another Piece of Meat” with Vince Neil, “Wind of Change,” “Big City Nights,” and their encore “Rock You Like a Hurricane.”
Another very cool addition to this years M3 Rock Festival was that availability of a VIP ticket. This gave select concertgoers an opportunity to get special seating and to participate in special meet-and-greets with many of the bands. Obviously this was a great opportunity for fans, but what struck me was how excited the bands were to meet their adoring public. As photos were taken, autographs signed and stories exchanged, I could see this was truly a win-win for both artist and fan. In my opinion, it is providing the public with great experiences both on stage and off, and is one of the major factors that has helped M3 Rock Festival grow exponentially in 2010.
The fans are what is fueling the success of what is becoming one of the premiere concerts on the East Coast. The most noticeable change in the festival was that it was far more structured than last year’s event. Fans were able to check out more bands this year because the set times for the main stage and the second stage didn’t overlap as greatly as they had in 2009. The event organizers would be well served to continue with their current formula going forward. The majority of bands delivered phenomenal performances and I feel you would be hard pressed to find a concertgoer that didn’t feel like they got their fill of the bands they love. The M3 Rock Festival has once again brought awareness to a genre of music that doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Here’s hoping we get a third round of eighties excess and debauchery. Til’ then… Thank you and good night! — Steve Johnson