Ode To Billie Joe

When Merriweather Post Pavilion promoter Seth Hurwitz learned that Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong wouldn’t play any venue this summer that didn’t have a proper mosh pit — which ruled out most amphitheatres — he took it as a dare.

With about six weeks before the shed’s opening night April 15th with Maroon 5, Hurwitz built Armstrong a $100,000 mosh pit — and in the process booked a Green Day show August 30th.

“I get a call from CAA saying Green Day isn’t playing Merriweather. ‘No,’ to me, means I have to try harder,” Hurwitz told Pollstar. “At first I thought the agent was just doing his agent thing, so I just listened and then called (Green Day manager) Pat Magnarella and asked, ‘What’s going on here?’ And Pat said, ‘Billie Joe will not play anywhere without a mosh pit. … He said we just can’t fudge it. It has to be a genuine, big mosh pit.’

“I said, ‘All right, how about if I rip a thousand seats out?’ And Pat said, ‘Works for me.’ So I said OK and fired up my jackhammer.”

So Merriweather Post now has a mosh pit, which doubles nicely as a railed-off, golden circle space.

Hurwitz said he’s had difficulty explaining the mosh pit to skeptical booking agents. But it’s just one of several enhancements to the grounds he hopes will transform the amphitheatre experience.

“Green Day isn’t playing very many sheds,” he pointed out. “We’ve had years of the 9:30 Club being the only club a band is playing on what supposedly is a theatre tour. We want the same thing with Merriweather. We want it to be the one amphitheatre that bands who won’t play amphitheatres play at.”

With the open-air theatre now safe from the wrecking ball thanks to an agreement from owner General Growth Properties, Hurwitz is free to give the Merriweather Post a makeover to distinguish it from other sheds.

Among the changes are the Backyard Bar, a lounge area in the rear berm area of the property that, when completed, is intended to transport those in need of a tall cold one to a tongue-in-cheek version of a Texas roadhouse, according to Hurwitz.

“What we’ve done is this whole white trash kind of trailer park thing back there. We bought an Airstream trailer and turned it into a bar,” Hurwitz explained. “It’s true. It was $1,200 for the Airstream on eBay. It is kind of a nod to some of the Austin, Texas, kind of places.”

Hurwitz also installed a sculpture garden on the grounds and a re-creation of his Washington, D.C., club — calling it the 9:32 Club. To get concert-goers to check out the new stuff, he’s incorporating promotions that get people to mosey around the grounds, including scavenger hunts that pay off in free lawn tickets.

“The challenge this year is to constantly make it better and cooler and different than any other amphitheatre,” Hurwitz said. “It’s really hard; the backlash against amphitheatres this year is, people don’t want to play sheds. I think I don’t really blame them, based on what ‘shed’ means. I don’t blame people not wanting to play them based on the normal shed experience.”

It’s a tall order, on top of rebranding the Merriweather Post in the minds of locals as the cool, hip place to see a concert — and enjoy it.

“When people tell me, ‘We’re not playing sheds,’ our goal is to be the exception on those tours,” Hurwitz said.”We’ve given it a direction, a flavor.

“We don’t wait for failure to make improvements.”

– Deborah Speer