If you’ve ventured to the woods in Columbia for a concert recently, you probably noticed Merriweather Post Pavilion’s makeover—from sparkling new seats and restrooms to an expanded stage and more concession stands.
Now, even more improvements have arrived as the venue celebrates its 50th anniversary, including a new box office, a stage expansion—including a spinning turntable insert that enables five-minute set changes—and a re-vamped, motel-inspired backstage with two pools, (yes, two pools) so touring artists can relax before show time.
"We're jumping from the 1960s to the 2020s," said Brad Canfield, vice president of operations. "The building is 50 years old, so we didn't want to make it feel too new. A lot of the venues now are just made of big cinder blocks, so we wanted Merriweather to be welcoming, and make it feel like home."
The new exterior of the backstage. -Courtesy of I.M.P.
I.M.P., the Bethesda-based company that owns the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., and operates Merriweather, is three years into a five-year, $55-million renovation, and just signed a 40-year lease with Merriweather’s new owners, the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission. Concert-goers will also notice nine new food options—from General Tso's pork pops to sweet potato waffle fries—as well as new restrooms and stage lighting.
"The renovation was really necessary, as the infrastructure was literally falling apart," Canfield said. "Our updates include energy efficient materials and new technology, like LED lighting and devices on the dressing room doors that alert us when a performer has left."
Merriweather has planned quite the season to celebrate its 50th birthday. Kicking off this weekend, it includes Ryan Adams and Jenny Lewis, Bon Iver, Paul Simon, and John Legend. And, on July 15, the amphitheater will showcase a special 50th birthday concert featuring Jackson Browne (who recorded his famous Running on Empty album live at Merriweather), Willie Nelson, and Rockville native Father John Misty, hosted by Grace Potter.
"When people think of Merriweather's history, Jackson Browne is right at the top. And Willie Nelson has played here quite a bit over the years," Canfield said. "It seemed like a natural fit."