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Hot August Nights at Merriweather

Aug 01, 2011 07:42PM ● By Anonymous

Music aficionados who listen to “a little bit of everything” will have ample opportunity to enjoy themselves this August at the venerable Walden of music venues, Columbia’s Merriweather Post Pavilion.

This venue-in-the-woods, designed by the legendary post-structural architect Frank Gehry, opened in 1967 and was named for the American Post Foods heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post. Intended to become a summer home for the National Symphony Orchestra, the Pavilion was soon attracting the big-name pop and rock music concerts of the day; its debut pop show was a concert by Herbert Khoury—better known as Tiny Tim.

The long and winding list of acts that have performed at the Pavilion includes one show from 1969 when Led Zeppelin opened for The Who, who played “Tommy” and a smattering of other tunes. Merriweather also hosted Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin around the dawning of the Age of Aquarius; several years later, country rocker Jackson Browne recorded the title track and “The Load-Out” from his classic album Running on Empty at the shed.

While the Pavilion was overlooked by the industry and the source of municipal controversy several years ago, a stroll across the 40-acre site nestled in Columbia’s Town Center reveals the passion, foresight, and the capital investment of promoter Seth Hurwitz of I.M.P., who has worked with management and local officials to bring Merriweather back to its past glories. He and the community are looking forward to the venue’s integration into the Columbia Town Center Master Plan, as well as the redevelopment of adjacent Symphony Woods.

The first act on stage this month will be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famers who have sold 30 million albums worldwide without doing much of the touring thing: Steely Dan. The ’70s FM radio stalwarts will indeed be “Reelin’ in the Years” when they appear at the Pavilion during their Shuffle Diplomacy Twenty Eleven tour on Tuesday, August 2nd. Their highbrow, jazz-rock will feature greatest hits and deep cuts (possibly with online fan input), and perhaps a performance of a classic album.

Death Cab for Cutie visits Merriweather on the heels of the May 31st release of the indie rockers’ seventh studio long player, Codes and Keys. The more stripped-down affair from the maturing group, with more synth sounds than previous efforts, is appropriate for a fan base that’s eyeballing middle age with the band. They can hear all about it on Sunday, August 7th and on the band’s recent VH1 Storytellers episode.

The ever-evolving Return to Forever will reunite at the Pavilion on Tuesday, August 9th. The current edition of what can be called the classic jazz supergroup (formed by keyboardist Chick Corea in 1972) includes Corea, Stanley Clarke (the other consistent member, on bass), Lenny White (drums), Jean-Luc Ponty (violin), and Frank Gambale (guitar). Whatever the lineup, the group pioneered jazz-fusion with a rock accent; and speaking of pioneers, the special guest for this meeting of the musical minds will be Zappa Plays Zappa (featuring Frank’s son, Dweezil).

The weekend starts on Friday, August 12th with the performance of another one-time indie act, My Morning Jacket. With its sixth studio release, Circuital, now available, the country-alt-goneheavy jammers have added new chestnuts to the catalog like “Victory Dance” and the title track. They, too, appeared on a recent VH1 Storytellers. Countrytinged singer-songwriter Neko Case opens.

Of a Revolution—or O.A.R.—revisit Merriweather on Saturday, August 13th, but the (predominantly) Montgomery County natives (check those old Wooten High yearbooks) must have paid to get in a few times, too. Extensive file sharing, playing many gigs, encouraging word-of-mouth, and plenty of live improvisation earned the group a following that recently sold out Madison Square Garden. Its new album, King, hit the shelves/Internet on August 2nd.

Another of this summer’s highlights at Merriweather is the return of the Summer Spirit Festival. This year’s lineup on Sunday, August 14th, features NAS and Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, with The Roots, D.C.’s own Chuck Brown (remember when he used to play at the old Washington Coliseum?), Bilal, The Foreign Exchange, Miguel and King.

From yet another spot on the musical radar is Hillsong United, which returns to the Pavilion on Saturday, August 20th after releasing Aftermath, a collaboration that features worship leaders Joel Houston, Jad Gillies, and J.D., with an evolving collaboration of pastors, worship leaders, musicians, and songwriters that feel it “reflects every season of life” and parallels the highs and lows along the Christian journey.

Rounding out Merriweather’s August offerings is a two-fer on Wednesday, August 24th, with Train, which formed post-grunge, but found more pop/rock success with “Calling All Angels” and “Drops of Jupiter;” and Maroon 5, also old school friends who hit it large in 2002 with Songs About Jane. Singer Adam Levine has hinted that the ensemble may make one more album after 2010’s Hands All Over before disbanding (before an eventual reunion, no doubt). Gavin DeGraw will sing ’n strum for the early birds. Tickets remained for all shows at press time. For more information, visit