Merriweather Post Pavilion At 50

Merriweather Post Pavilion
Danielle Lavis Photography
– Merriweather Post Pavilion

As impressive as the changes are, they are not the only ones in the offing for either MPP or Hurwitz and his company,

The backstage overhaul and anniversary celebration was followed by the grand opening of

The 7,000-capacity Chrysalis opened for music with Greensky Bluegrass July 27 and, in evidence of the venue’s versatility, will host the OPUS 1 art and technology fest Oct. 7.

In the meantime, construction continues on

But with Merriweather’s season winding down, Hurwitz is able to take a quick breather with Pollstar, look back on the year and take stock of the efforts at making a special place even more special.

The renovations at the 18,000-capacity Merriweather, in the third of a five-year, $55 million project, completely erase the old backstage, green rooms and catering area and replace them with a new stagehouse, 10 artist dressing rooms (that can be converted into 20 for festivals), two massage cabanas, a new artist catering/dining area, multipurpose room, and VIP patio, bar and visiting area.

The stagehouse makes Merriweather Post Pavilion even more competitive when it comes to booking the largest productions. And the backstage – with its resort-like accoutrements – creates another attraction for artists considering performances there.

The stagehouse, at 82 by 60 feet wide in floor area and 60 feet high, “is giant,” Hurwitz told Pollstar. “It was designed so we wouldn’t ever lose a show because the production didn’t fit. So many times, we got to the finish line and we actually had acts that wanted to play Merriweather but just couldn’t fit the production, or could fit a fraction, in and just weren’t happy. That’s no longer an issue.”

Once they are in the building, artists need just follow the arrow-shaped backstage marquee for a respite from the road like that at no other amphitheatre.

“Our goal was to get people off the buses and hanging out backstage; to make Merriweather a memory of a place they enjoyed being at, like a resort,” Hurwitz said. “So when they think of Merriweather, it’s as a place they want to be and have fun. We have people lounging and hanging out after their show and it’s exactly the vibe we were going for. There have been acts that have actually inquired if they could stay here [overnight].”

The artist rooms come with the amenities one might expect from a hotel, including plush furniture, bathrooms with showers and lounging space. An artists’ common area with a patio balcony overlooks the stage, and the complex borders the private, family-friendly swimming pool and deck.

Merriweather Pool
Danielle Lavis Photography
– Merriweather Pool

Hurwitz and I.M.P. have always been an independent force to be reckoned with in a region stretching from Washington to Baltimore, and the upgrades at Merriweather in combination with the addition of The Chrysalis and coming debut of The Anthem give notice that neither is resting on their laurels, but finding new ways to compete for talent and audiences with larger promoters.

With The Chrysalis, “the goal was to do something unique, and people say they’ve never seen anything like it,” Hurwitz said. “It’s a really cool setting and great production.”

The venues fit into a regional booking portfolio that also includes the 1,200-capacity

“If you don’t have the best venue, at any level, you have to compete in a third-party venue with other promoters,” he explained. “And if they have a tour deal, you are probably going to lose.

“We very seldom lose acts on a head-to-head basis when it’s not up against a tour deal, but hopefully this will motivate people to carve us out of tour deals, which can be done if people have the desire to,” Hurwitz added.

The Merriweather backstage space is already generating word of mouth from artists, Hurwitz said.

“What [agents and managers] need to hear comes from the acts, and what’s been great is that it’s what I’m hearing. Acts are posting this stuff on their Instagram and Facebook. I’m hearing from agents that artists are calling them that day from the venue saying, ‘This is insane.’

“Artists are certainly capable of putting their foot down and if they want to, they will, and they make it happen because we do get carved out. It’s a matter of artists and their representatives realizing they are capable of doing that. But really good agents have never not been able to figure that out.”

Merriweather Post Pavilion celebrated its birthday July 15 with a daylong show with Jackson Browne, Willie Nelson, Father John Misty and emceed by Grace Potter. Jackson and Nelson have been part of the venue’s vaunted history – Browne recorded “The Loadout” there, and Nelson dueted with President Jimmy Carter there, too.

“It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been great for me, because a lot of the focus was on the venue,” Hurwitz said of the birthday celebration. “The really cool thing about that night was, before Jackson came out, we had Willie Nelson. It was two major concerts in one night. It’s always a serious pinch-me moment when you get to promote Willie.”

Merriweather Deck
Danielle Lavis Photography
– Merriweather Deck

So, was Hurwitz able to entice Willie off his famous tour bus to check out the backstage digs?

“When we talk about getting people off the bus, the true challenge was getting Willie off the bus. We failed that one. He went from the bus to the stage like he always does. But I did tell him about [the upgraded backstage].

“He seemed intrigued, like he might even check it out next time. We did get his sister Bobbie, who plays piano in his family band, but she’s an old friend from Austin, so that was cheating,” Hurwitz said, chuckling.

Better luck next time. But if Willie is the only holdout, that’s an achievement. 

“Merriweather is a wonderful place to start with; it’s fun to re-do, but you don’t want to mess with the magic,” Hurwitz said.