Merriweather… Post… Pavilion… It’s one of those venues that all bands aspire to play, and fans across the country tell stories of the epic concerts that have filled its historic halls. Located in Columbia, MD, the legendary amphitheater opened in 1967, playing host to some of the world’s greatest rock bands. The pavilion echoes with the sounds of the ‘60s; Led Zeppelin, The Who, Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix and more have all graced the stage, laying the groundwork for what has now become a massive resume of concerts.
All… Good… Presents… One of the most storied promoters in jamband festival history, All Good Presents has held up its middle finger to the mainstream festival scene and continued to provide us with its own version of the festival experience. The All Good Music Festival has continually hosted some of the best festival lineups in the country over the better part of the last two decades. In 2016, the All Good Music Festival was retired, but All Good Presents had something else up their sleeves for us: Merryland Music Festival, hosted at the legendary Merriweather Post Pavilion.
Before descending upon the grounds of Merriweather, All Good Presents hosted a Kickoff Concert at Ram’s Head Live! on Friday, July 8, featuring Papadosio and ELM (Electric Love Machine). ELM, based in Baltimore, started off the evening with a mixture of old and new tunes, making absolutely sure that every single person in the crowd was on their feet and ready to rage.
The excitement in the air was palpable as old friends reconnected and new bonds of friendship were forged in anticipation for the weekend ahead. Papadosio took the stage to a thunderous roar and proceeded to lay down two straight hours of pure bliss.
The Merriweather Lot opened at 11:00 am. It was sunny and clear on Saturday, July 9, 2016, as music lovers from all over the country filtered in. The regular festival sights were present: hula hoops, pins, poi, canopy tents, music ringing out from car stereos all across the Lot. The air was abuzz with stories of origins, miles driven and past shows and festivals. The gates to the venue opened at noon. I felt a familiar tingle surge up and down my body as I prepared myself for some of the greatest bands on the planet.
Finally, 1:00 on the dot. Baltimore’s ELM took the stage for the second time that weekend and played their hearts out. The quartet played a beautiful set, ending with one of their most popular tunes “Binary Soul,” and left the early crowd reeling and ready for more. Protoje took over next, bringing out the reggae vibes to warm up for the reggae legend that would come later on in the evening. TAUK, the sensational instrumental rock powerhouse, took a firm hold on the stage and really got the crowd moving. These boys never disappoint, and this time was no different.
And then, the Lord said, “Let there be funk!” Karl Denson’s Tiny Universebrought out the classic funk experience, as Pit, Pavilion and Lawn alike danced the afternoon away. Yonder Mountain String Band fittingly began the bluegrass portion of the weekend, working through an incredible set, most notably featuring an epic cover of America’s “Sister Golden Hair Surprise” that had everyone singing along and dancing like mad.
The inimitable Stephen Marley followed up, providing an uplifting journey through reggae music, as well as an incredible tribute to his father, one of the most legendary musicians of all time. As the sun made its way further down, Lotus took the stage to a fierce applause from the crowd.
The Pit was abuzz as the jamtronica giants led us into the ether. With a brand new album on the verge of release, Lotus came ready to rage, and the crowd blissfully responded in kind.
Finally, the coupe d’grace of Day 1, two full sets of the String Cheese Incident. Headlining Merryland was quite an exceptional experience for the Colorado-based sextet, as it was a bit of a hometown show for keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth. Hollingsworth was born and raised in Maryland and attended Towson University in Baltimore. He began the night by addressing the crowd and telling stories of seeing some of his musical heroes playing on the very stage on which he was standing. They fittingly began with an uplifting Kyle song, “Let’s Go Outside,” setting the tone for a heater of a show to come.
The first set blared on, leading up to “Rhythm of the Road” and “Black Clouds” heading into set break. As hot as this band has been lately, it was hard to believe that they could take it even further, but man was I wrong! Set 2 took all of us in attendance into another world, a single unit guiding us on a journey of higher consciousness. Particularly noticeable was Michael Kang on lead guitar who seemed like he could do no wrong. Raging solos peaked over euphoric build-ups, and the receptive audience danced the night away into a swarm of blissful ecstasy. “Jellyfish” spilled into “Close Your Eyes,” ending a spectacular second set. Finally, the band came out for “Desert Dawn” and “Bollymunster” for the encore.
Saturday, however, did not end there. All Good Presents provided a funky finale to the night with Kung Fu at Ram’s Head Live! A decent crowd made their way into town for the late night festivities, and the band was joined by the one and only Karl Denson for a solid amount of their set. We were also treated to a few local sit-ins as DJ Williams, Jon Brady from ELM and Jeremy Schon from Pigeons Playing Ping Pong all took turns on stage with the baddest funk band in the land.
As the early crowd filtered in to ring in our Sunday Funday, familiar and unfamiliar faces alike avidly discussed who they were most excited to see that day, or who played the best show the day before, or who they were most devastated that they had to miss the day before. All Good veteran and local favorite Cris Jacobs happily took the first opening slot of the day with his solo band.
They really dug deep and got the crowd rockin’ with his moving voice, incredible songwriting and just a rock solid cast of musicians bringin’ the heat. Turkuaz kicked off the real funk party, however, getting the crowd up and moving with their usual high-energy show. Local jam heroes Pigeons Playing Ping Pong took the stage next and turned the heat up a few notches, creating an all-out dance party.
The Baltimore quartet is extremely hot right now, and they absolutely rocked it, leaving the crowd in a whirlwind.
Nahko & Medicine For The People graced the stage next with their signature message calling us all to action. This was my first experience with Nahko, and I was a bit surprised at how hard they rocked! The lyrics seemed to seep into everyone in the crowd, leaving us all enlightened and awakened. Langhorne Slim & The Law was my number one surprise set of the weekend. I had no prior experience with this band, but boy did they put on a great show! Langhorne Slim is a natural born showman, and an extremely passionate songwriter, and he let both of those qualities shine through at Merryland Festival. As the sun began to sink on another hot day, Shakey Graves elevated the energy to get us all pumped for an epic string of headliners.
Greensky Bluegrass, what a treat it has been to watch them grow! The jamgrass giants took Merryland by storm, wasting no time in blowing our minds. The beautiful Grace Potter, our generation’s Goddess of Rock, burst forth onto the stage and completely took command of the crowd.
Grace Potter led us into the night and left our minds reeling. Finally, to cap off an extremely stimulating, ambitious weekend of music, Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals received a huge roar from the crowd as they led us through to the end.
Maryland Music Festival brought together two of my favorite things in the world: great music and great people. The storied promoter has been consistently providing this same type of atmosphere for almost two decades now, and Merryland Music Festival represents a new chapter in the All Good world. Pigeons Playing Ping Pong’s Greg Ormont told me, “All Good Presents is the pulse of the Mid-Atlantic jam scene” (see full Interview on GM You-Tube Cannel) Most bands in the Mid-Atlantic grew up going to their events and hoping beyond hope that one day they would be on one of the All Good stages. All Good Presentscontinues to provide some of the most consistent and powerful lineups in the festival scene, creating an atmosphere that inspires both its artists and patrons. Thank you All Good Presents, and here’s to many more! Stay tuned for three great interviews Randy got at the festival.