A look back on the Merriweather Post Pavilion’s 50-year history

The legendary Baltimore area concert venue will celebrate its birthday with a star-studded July 15 show

A look back on the Merriweather Post Pavilion’s 50-year history

Pictured: Jackson Browne recording “Running On Empty” at Merriweather in 1977, Willie Nelson with President Jimmy Carter on stage at Merriweather in 1980, Father John Misty opening for The Decemberists at Merriweather in 2015, and Grace Potter performing at the Merryland Festival at Merriweather in 2016. Photos courtesy of Merriweather Post Pavilion, Dave Barnhouser 13th Hour Photography and Richie Downs. Grace Potter’s Photo by Richie Downs, and Father John Misty’s Photo by Dave Barnhouser 13th Hour Photography.

Correction appended.

Merriweather Post Pavilion’s 50th anniversary concert is slated to feature Willie Nelson, Jackson Browne, Father John Misty and special guest host Grace Potter. Nelson, who played during the 40th anniversary year, first debuted at the Columbia, Maryland venue back in 1978, appearing with then President Jimmy Carter.

Originally designed by award-winning architect Frank Gehry, the iconic venue has borne witness to countless legendary acts at the height of their fame, from the Beach Boys to Cher. Singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett, known for his hit song “Margaritaville,” has performed at the venue more than any other act, appearing a staggering 47 times, according to the Pavilion.

Baltimore psych-rock band Animal Collective named their critically acclaimed 2009 album after the venue, a true testament to the power the Pavilion holds in the music industry, and in the Baltimore region.

The amphitheater isn’t limping into their 50th year, however. It has undergone extensive renovations in recent years and continues to improve the attendee experience by offering world class lineups and revamped concessions.

As a Maryland native for nearly 17 years, the venue holds a special place in my heart. I have seen some of my favorite acts there: Kendrick Lamar, Queens of the Stone Age, Tame Impala and Jack White, and continue to be a firm believer of the magic that happens on venue grounds.

While the Pavilion has a lot to look forward to, here’s a look back at some of the great all time acts that have graced the stage across the decades:

  • In 1968 Jimi Hendrix, who tragically died two years later, is rumored to have performed his legendary rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” for the first time. On tour for his final studio album as “The Jimi Hendrix Experience,” Hendrix delivered an electrifying performance, playing hits like “Hey Joe” and the technical masterpiece that is “Fire.”
  • Pink Floyd’s legendary “Dark Side of the Moon” Tour stopped twice at the Pavilion, making it the only North American venue the avant-garde group stopped at twice during their 1973 leg of dates. Widely regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time, the setlist featured such timeless songs as “Echoes” and “Obscured by Clouds.”
  • In 1985, Madonna, at the top of the pop world, along with Prince, Michael Jackson and Phil Collins, brought a relatively unknown group of kids from New York, the Beastie Boys, to open up for her “The Virgin” tour. In a 2015 interview with Jimmy Fallon, Beastie Boys member Adam Horowitz told Fallon that "we played the first couple shows and they hated us," adding that Madonna fought to keep the Beastie Boys on the bill. "She realized that [the audience] hated us so much, that by the time she got on stage, it was the greatest thing ever," Horowitz said.
  • Believe it or not, Radiohead was actually an opener at one point. In 1996, the band opened up for Alanis Morissette. They toured behind their last “traditional” rock album while workshopping their classic-in-the-making “Ok Computer,” an album no one in the music industry was quite ready for.
  • A decade ago, Bob Dylan, a Nobel laureate, brought along another all-timer in Elvis Costello to do a show in Columbia, Maryland. Both men are known for their unique, iconic voices, remarkably clever and catchy songs and poignant looks at society, which in 2007, was facing a crisis involving political and economic issues, something Dylan surely made note of during the show.
  • Guitar gods Carlos Santana and the Allman Brothers graced the stage in 2012 playing a plethora of their soulful, melodic hits to the crowd. These acts were as can’t miss in 1980 as they were in 2012. Santana will return for a show at MPP in August.

Tickets for the July 15 show are available here. Doors are at 4:30 p.m. and the show starts at 6:00 p.m.


Correction appended: The original story stated that artist Willie Nelson "was a headliner at the 40th anniversary show" for the Merriweather Post Pavilion. It has been updated to say Nelson "played during the 40th anniversary year."

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