Every year the 1980’s come alive in Columbia, Maryland for the annual M3 Rock Festival. The festival, which has hosted some of the biggest acts from the genre, just put on their 11th year at the Merriweather Post Pavilion; exciting metal fans that travel all across the country, and even the globe for this fest. Entering the venue during this extremely anticipated weekend of the year is similar to stepping into a time machine back to the year 1985; where the hair is big and attendees are decked out in vintage tees, fishnets, and leather. This year’s festival was the first to be expanded to three days of heavy rock and roll (instead of the regular two day fest and one Southern rock day) and brought in genre heavy hitters along the likes of Whitesnake, Skid Row, KIX, Warrant, Dokken, and many more.
The festival kicked off on Friday, May 3rd with a special acoustic performance by Kip Winger for VIP attendees; although I was let in during this performance with my normal lawn ticket. I was lucky enough to catch a pretty good amount of this set. Kip played his biggest hits including ‘Headed For A Heartbreak‘, ‘Madeleine‘, and of course, ‘Seventeen’ and overall just put the festival grounds into the ‘eighties vibe.’
Kicking off the fest for all attendees was Black ‘N’ Blue, Enuff Z’Nuff, and of course hometown heroes, KIX. KIX, Maryland natives, have been a part of this fest from the very beginning and it’s tradition (with exception of a few years here and there) for the band to ‘KIX‘ off the fest with a headlining performance. It’s definitely a major highlight of the weekend for all concert-goers and it was a blast seeing everyone adorned in their KIX t-shirts on Friday night. The band that has been rockin’ for over thirty years still absolutely kills it. Their set included their biggest hits of course like ‘Don’t Close Your Eyes‘ and ‘Cold Blood‘, but also included tracks like ‘Love Me With Your Top Down‘ and ‘Same Jane.‘ Frontman Steve Whiteman always proves to be one of the most high energy performers and as always, KIX‘s performance definitely started the weekend out on a great note. Luckily the rain that was in the forecast for days prior held off until KIX was just about to close out the night which I’m sure everyone was thankful for. Soon after M3 2019 Day 1 was over, everyone migrated to the infamous Sheraton Hotel for some post-night-one jams from Tora Tora and Black ‘N’ Blue who busted out some Cheap Trick and other fun covers. Although all the late night fun made it hard for all of us to get up for the opening performances of the next day, it was so worth it.
Saturday was the first full day of M3 2019 starting at noon with Tora Tora, another crowd favorite that many wish had a longer set. The rest of Saturday’s line-up included Autograph and Kingdom Come- who are currently celebrating the band’s 30th anniversary. The band includes all original members with the exception of vocalist Keith St. John who is known for his time in Montrose and Burning Rain. Kingdom Come was then followed by Danger Danger, LA Guns (the ‘Steve Riley‘ version as some attendees argued), Steven Adler (of Guns N’ Roses) and Firehouse. The ever so wonderful Warrant (you can check out my interview with Robert Mason and Jerry Dixon HERE) who always put on a fun, killer set, and then lastly finishing out the night, Whitesnake.
At this festival, there is something special in the air where frankly no one puts on a bad performance. The only issues of the day was a little bit of a static and audio trouble through the mains during the beginning of Danger Danger‘s set, but it was quickly resolved and the rest of their performance went on happily. A Saturday highlight that I absolutely must mention was Steven Adler‘s set. Ari Kamin, rather new to Steven Adler‘s group brought his INSANE vocals to the stage. The band came on just as I was on my way to an interview, and for a split second I thought they were using Axl Rose studio recordings. To my surprise, it was Ari, who was quite frankly doing Axl Rose‘s vocals better than Axl. They performed all of the GNR hits from ‘Patience‘ to ‘Sweet Child ‘O Mine‘ and everything in between. So this is me telling you that if you haven’t seen Steven Adler live yet- put it on your list because it’s a must.
Warrant, M3 Rock Festival veterans were direct support for Whitesnake on Day 2. The band has now been fronted by Robert Mason (Lynch Mob, The End: Machine) for over ten years—even prior to the tragic passing of Jani Lane. With Joey Allen and Erik Turner on guitar, Jerry Dixon on bass, and Steven Sweet on drums, the group does an absolutely stellar job with every performance. May 4th was no different! They included the big Warrant tracks like ‘Heaven‘, ‘Down Boys‘, ‘Cherry Pie‘, and one of my personal favorites, ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin.‘ But they also included some tunes from their most recent record Louder Harder Faster (2017) such as the title track and ‘Only Broken Heart‘ which was a nice change of pace from the hits.
One of the ultimate highlights of Saturday night and, quite frankly the entire weekend, for me was of course Whitesnake. Having seen them before, I knew exactly what type of show they were going to bring to the table, and they did not disappoint. Their setlist included a great mix of the Whitesnake hits you know and love including ‘Bad Boys‘, ‘Slide It In‘, ‘Is This Love?‘, ‘Here I Go Again‘, and more as well as songs from their latest record that hit shelves this past Friday, Flesh & Blood including ‘Shut Up And Kiss Me‘, ‘Gonna Be Alright‘, ‘Trouble Is Your Middle Name‘, and more. David Coverdale‘s vocals have aged like fine wine and with Joel Hoekstra, Reb Beach, and Whitesnake veteran Tommy Aldridge, they put on a performance that very seldom can be beat.
Before we knew it, Saturday was over, and we were on to the third and final day of M3 2019. Kicking off Day 3 we got one of the best performances of the weekend from VAIN. VAIN is, in my opinion, an extremely underrated band from this time period and they absolutely killed it. A lot of vocalists from this particular 1980’s hard rock era have at this point lost some of their vocal range. Which of course is only natural. I wouldn’t expect any singer to sound like they did on the record then, let alone thirty years later after three decades of singing. But going into the first performance of Day 3, Davy Vain blew me away. I can honestly say that Davy’s vocals have hardly changed since the band’s hay day in 1989. With the lovely Dylana Nova Scott on lead guitar, the band was the perfect high energy performance the audience needed to get kickin’ for the final day. They performed some classics off their biggest record No Respect including, ‘Who’s Watching You‘, ‘1000 Degrees‘, and my personal favorite, ‘Beat The Bullet.‘ I would absolutely love to see these guys again sometime soon because they knocked it out of the park and they definitely deserve all therespect- pun intended.
The rest of Sunday included performances from XYZ, Bang Tango, Vixen, Quiet Riot, Skid Row, Extreme, Vince Neil and, closing out the entire festival weekend: Dokken. Some other standout performances of the day for me definitely included Vixen who is now fronted by Femme Fatale‘s Lorraine Lewis. When I first heard about Janet Gardner‘s departure and that Vixen would continue on, I was curious as to who would take her place. I can honestly say that they could’ve picked no one better than Lorraine. Not only does she do Vixen’s classic tunes justice, but I was pleasantly surprised when they threw some of my favorite Femme Fatale songs into the set. Overall, their performance was so high energy and really just brought a lot of life into Sunday despite the rain that was currently flooding the Merriweather Post Pavilion lawn.
Extreme, featuring Gary Cherone and of course Nuno Bettencourt was probably the crowd favorite of M3 2019 Day 3 from everyone I’ve talked to, many arguing that they should’ve been the headlining set. Despite the gloomy and rainy day taking over Columbia, MD that seemed to have no end, the fest all came together to ‘get the funk out’ and relish in Extreme’s set which of course featured the band’s biggest hits (including ‘More Than Words‘ of COURSE) and a special acoustic shred session from Nuno himself. With the crazy positive reception of Extreme this year, I’m curious to see if the fest will bring them back next year for possibly a headlining set. We shall see!
Vince Neil, who has spent the last almost four years since Mötley Crüe‘s final show touring the country as a solo act was the second to last performance on the MPP stage during M3 2019. Neil, joined by Slaughter‘s Dana Strum and Zoltan Chaney as well as Jeff Blando on guitar, played an array of Crüe hits all the way from ‘Looks That Kill‘ to ‘Kickstart My Heart‘ and everything in between. Although Vince has been getting a ton of flack in the media recently, it is still obvious that he has a ton of fun performing. Honestly in a community where a majority of us stayed up until midnight on March 22nd to watch The Dirt on Netflix; who doesn’t want to jam out to some Crüe songs?
Lastly, the final performance of this year’s M3 Rock Festival was the mighty Dokken. When the band’s performance was announced, original guitarist George Lynch was set to make an appearance, making Dokken’s M3 closing out performance 3/4th’s of the band’s original line-up. Being an insanely big Dokken fan who has never seen George perform with the band, I was incredibly excited for this. The only recent shows where this very rare spectacle has occurred is in the midwest; specifically South Dakota and Minnesota, and of course during the band’s reunion shows in 2016 which also featured the wonderful Jeff Pilson. Sadly, due to a severe case of pneumonia, George Lynch was forced to back out of the performance which also caused him to cancel future Lynch Mob dates as well. Although this definitely proved to be a bummer for other fans and myself, Dokken stated the show must go on and brought in the band’s current guitarist Jon Levin. Upon performance time, it was also stated that Wild Mick Brown, original and current Dokken drummer would not be performing. Later stated by his Facebook page that Mick is “taking a break.” Many fans were not happy about this. I know I may be bias due to my unwavering love for Dokken but despite the odds stacked up against the original draw, the band still put on a stellar performance.
Jon Levin; law attorney during the day and shredder at night saved the day. I really do believe that Jon does Dokken justice and the ever present smile on his face during his performance also just shows that he loves what he does. BJ Zampa, drummer of the band House of Lords, filled in for the night and it looks like he’ll be playing shows with Dokken for the time being. I’m not very familiar with Zampa and his work, but for the performance, he did a fine job and fit in alongside with the band.
With the last note of ‘In My Dreams‘ and one last after party at the Sheraton where we all said our farewells, M3 2019 came to a close. As always, it was a weekend filled with great friends, great drinks, and good old rock and roll. Shortly after the fest was over, there were already talks of next year’s rock and roll weekend and the excitement to come. As long as there’s rock fans, I have full confidence that this 80’s rock-filled weekend will continue for many years to come. I’m excited to see what M3 will bring to the table next year—I know it won’t be anything less than amazing!
If you’re curious as to the exact setlists of every band who performed at this years M3 Rock Festival, you can check it out by clicking HERE.
Big thank you to the talented Shane Gardner, house photographer for Merriweather Post Pavilion, for allowing me to use his wonderful photographs.
Until next time M3, and we all know there will be a next time!