The second annual M3 Festival fell on June 19, 2010 at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, MD and the festival is starting to cement its place as the single-day 80’s hard rock destination of choice. While others on US soil have tried and failed (Rocklahoma & Rock Gone Wild) and yet more are having a go at multiple day festivals (Rock N’ America in OK, etc.), the M3 Festival is coming off as one of the more convenient due to its location and single-day approach.
As mentioned this is the second year M3 has happened and word is they eclipsed last year’s attendance mark by more than several thousand so they must be doing something right. While last year’s festival featured the likes of TWISTED SISTER and RATT this year’s edition had heavy-hitting headline sets from SCORPIONS, CINDERELLA and Vince Neil (of MÖTLEY CRÜE). Overall, the M3 featured a solid lineup with supporting sets from TRIXTER, Winger, LA GUNS and JETBOY on the main Pavilion stage along with WARRANT, NELSON, Dizzy Reed, MASS, ZO2, BANG TANGO and BLACK MAMBOOZA on a second stage.
The weather this year was HOT, HOT and HOT as the show took place about 3 weeks later than last year and right as summer was approaching the Northeast United States. I thought last year was the perfect time of year (end of May) for an outdoor show and maybe (hopefully!) this will be considered for the future.
As is the case with any festival featuring multiple stages it is hard to catch every band and so by the time we got to the Merriweather Post Pavilion and picked up our credentials we were just in time to catch Brooklyn, NY’s own ZO2. The band (who stars in their own highly funny cable TV show “Z Rock” on IFC) was an act I was looking forward to checking out. They have a strong classic rock/retro vibe in their sound yet they match up well with the 80’s hard rock bands of the day. One of last years early-day highlights was STEEL PANTHER on the very same stage and this year it was ZO2. They even pulled off a cover of “Tom Sawyer” from RUSH in their set as sung by bass player Dave Z. The band was also seen for the rest of the day making the rounds all over the festival grounds meeting fans, signing autographs and taking pictures. They’re a hard-working bunch of guys and worth checking out for sure.
Next up it was time for some main stage action as NJ’s own TRIXTER took the Pavilion stage in the early day sun and put on a fun and rocking 40-minute set for the already large and growing crowd. I’ve never seen a lawn section so crowded at an outdoor amphitheater and even though it was HOT everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves and it made for a great atmosphere for the day. TRIXTER has been back together for a couple years now and are celebrating the 20th Anniversary of their debut record. Check out www.trixterrocks.com for future dates all over the country.
After the TRIXTER set we decided to catch a bit of an early breather and headed to the concession area where there were many tents and tables set up from a number of vendors along with plenty of food and drink. And wouldn’t you know it we got to meet up with ZO2 and chat for a bit and take a few pictures! Due to this we were unable to see the next main stage band LA GUNS but we did hear them and Phil Lewis, Steve Riley and company sounded great as always. It’s amazing how many good songs this band has. We also missed Dizzy Reed (formerly of GUNS N’ ROSES) and BANG TANGO on the second stage and hadn’t heard any reports on their sets at press time.
After catching a bit of a break it was non-stop for the rest of the afternoon. It was back to the second stage for a little old school Christian metal with Boston rockers MASS. The band was introduced by their label boss Sam McCaslin of Retrospect Records and singer Louis D’Augusta and company proceeded to rip through a short set of tunes from their catalog of work. We also recently did an interview with D’Augusta and you can check it out right here…
After a short walk back to the Pavilion stage it was time for one of the day’s highlights as Winger took the main stage. The band is touring for their new record “Karma” and has recently returned from a European run and this band was firing on all cylinders. Much has been made of Kip and company over the years but this band is as talented as they come. You’d be hard-pressed to find two better guitarists than Reb Beach & John Roth and the same goes for drummer extraordinaire Rod Morgenstein. Vocally, Kip Winger still has it and he even still shows off a little of the fancy footwork from his ballet-training days! WINGER played a couple tracks from their latest release as well as all the familiar songs from the early days and at times even introduced a heavier sound to the material. Just a great set by these pros!
Following WINGER was local Maryland legends KIX, who were making their return appearance to M3 after a killer set last year. The band started on a bit of shaky ground as the guitars seemed out of tune on the first song but being the pros these guys are they quickly sorted themselves out and went on to a crowd-pleasing set. Even knowing these guys are locals it was unbelievable seeing the reaction from the crowd. I really wonder if they could pull off a headlining show of their own at this very venue! It certainly seemed that way from the crowd reaction. Always been a KIX fan and I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing them become a fixture here at M3.
The main stage was now down to the big three acts and starting it off was MÖTLEY CRÜE front man Vince Neil. Neil is supporting his latest solo release, the aptly named “Tattoos & Tequila” (presumably due to his co-owning of Tequila brand “Tres Rios” and tattoo shops “Vince Neil Ink”). Joining Vince in his solo band were SLAUGHTER cohorts Dana Strum (bass) and Jeff Blando (guitars) while occupying the drum stool was crazy-man Zoltan Chaney. The guy is a show in himself and a must see behind the drum kit. Opening with the CRÜE classic “Livewire” and continuing with all the other MÖTLEY classics you’d expect; for whatever Neil has lost in his vocal range he and his band make up for it in energy and good times. Vince even turned the show over to his band midway through as Jeff Blando took lead on “Communication Breakdown” by LED ZEPPELIN and the BLACK SABBATH classic “Heaven & Hell”, as he paid tribute Ronnie James Dio. Once Neil returned to the stage he partook in the tribute action as he and the band covered another LED ZEP tune with the ultra-classic “Rock And Roll.”
After that it was back to the second stage for NELSON. I have to say I liked this band back in the day but the show on this day didn’t impress me at all. Long gone is the original lineup but joining brothers Matt and Gunnar were none other than Mark Slaughter on rhythm guitar, the great Howie Simon (ex-Jeff Scotto Soto band, ALCATRAZZ) on guitar and drummer Brian Burwell (ex-Neve). I believe I heard this was the bands first show together with this lineup and it seemed to show, as they weren’t as tight as they could have been. If this lineup stays intact maybe they could gel and get tighter. They should have a new record out soon so be on the lookout for that also.
Back to the main stage it was for one of the most anticipated performances of the day as CINDERELLA was making their comeback on the live scene. After years of singer Tom Keifer having vocal chord issues it seems they are finally back on track as they are out on the road opening for the SCORPIONS on the first leg of their tour. If you really studied the band lineups for the day you’d see that only TRIXTER and CINDERELLA feature their original lineups and there is something to be said for that for sure. Keifer was in fine vocal form and seems to be actually singing more now than his old screaming. Hopefully he can stay free from any further vocal issues and the band can get out on the road with some regularity and maybe even record a new (long overdue) record.
One last trip to the second stage to see the headliner of the night, and LA rockers WARRANT was certainly a fine choice for the spot. With the original band intact, except for troubled singer Jani Lane, they sound better than ever. Singer Robert Mason (ex-LYNCH MOB, BIG COCK) has been with then for a couple years now and even though he doesn’t sound like Lane in tone he is one helluva vocalist and front man. He’s all over the stage with every move out of the rock star handbook and his vocal prowess more than back up the moves. I hope the band records a new record with this lineup as it could be something great.
After a long and HOT day it was now down to the headliner back at the main stage and I couldn’t think of a better band for it then the legendary German rockers the SCORPIONS. The band has just released its brand new album “Sting in the Tail” and is just getting underway on it final ever US tour before they retire. I haven’t seen the band in about 10 years and I am so glad I got to see them before they hang it up. On this evening Klaus Meine was feeling a bit under the weather and having some vocal problems but he soldiered on like the pro he is and the rest of the band turned in a flawless performance. Opening with the new track “Sting in the Tail” and running all the way through to encore “Rock You Like A Hurricane” (what else could the encore really be?!?!) the band entertained the faithful at M3. Vince Neil even joined them mid-set for a rendition of “Another Piece of Meat” (which Neil happens to also cover on his new solo record “Tattoos & Tequila”).
All in all it was another enjoyable year at M3 and I think an even stronger lineup this time around. Judging by the size and reaction of the crowd this festival is going in the right direction and I look forward to seeing what next year brings.