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M3 Rock Festival

Hair metal lives on at M3

By Jerry Beach

No genre of music was discarded as fast as hair metal, which was a staple of MTV and radio in the mid-to-late '80s and early '90s before it perished nearly overnight once Nirvana exploded on to the scene in late 1991. Hair metal's rapid demise made the death of disco look slow and graceful as the music disappeared from playlists and the majority of fans cut their hair and traded jean jackets and good-time party anthems for flannel and introspection.

But as uncool and unhip as hair metal became, the hardcore fans never wavered in their devotion, and two decades later, fans and bands alike get their days in the sun — perhaps literally — with the M3 Rock Festival at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, MD.

The fourth annual show takes place Friday, May 11 and Saturday May 12 and features two stages filled with more than a dozen hard rock acts from yesteryear, including Night Ranger and Maryland's own Kix (each of whom open the festival Friday) as well as Saturday's headliners Queensryche and Ratt.

Other acts performing this weekend that will be familiar to the "Headbanger's Ball" generation include Skid Row, Warrant, Lynch Mob, Dokken, L.A. Guns, Great White, Bang Tango, Enuff Z'Nuff, Stryper, Loudness, XYZ, and Quiet Riot. None of the performances will overlap, which allows fans to travel between each stage and catch every band's set.

While the 15,000-capacity Pavilion, which includes 5,000 reserved seats, isn't expected to be filled to capacity, show organizers believe they will draw a bigger crowd than last year — just as the previous three editions all set attendance records — from all around the country and the globe.

"I haven't checked on Alaska yet," Audrey Schaefer, the spokesperson for I.M.P., the promoter and producer of M3, told TicketNews with a laugh.

Added Schaefer: "I think that there are people who absolutely adored metal back when it was [popular]. And when the grunge scene hit, they didn't stop loving their genre. They continued to love their genre and they continued to support acts that would tour. The people who loved it then, they're as excited about it now as they were in the 1980s."

M3 is notable not only for tapping into a long-overlooked demographic but for a throwback ticket price. A lawn ticket good for both days can be had for $50, while reserved seating goes for $75 and $100, and a VIP package including a T-shirt and poster as well as access to a food tent goes for $190.

In comparison, tickets to the Memorial Day weekend festival Rocklahoma — which began as a tribute to hair metal late last decade before morphing into a festival for heavier and more modern acts such as Megadeth, Rob Zombie, Chickenfoot and Theory of a Deadman — range from $150 to $350, not counting service fees.

"It's a smorgasbord of metal you're not going to get anywhere else," Schaefer said. "We try to keep the price affordable so it [ensures] people who like his genre don't have to think too hard about it. It's like 'I could go either to two shows in a club or I could go to this all-day fest for metal.'"

The timing of the concerts — two weeks before Memorial Day weekend and the unofficial start to summer — allows M3 to further distinguish itself from the ever-growing lineup of festivals and package tours while also ensuring the show can draw as many bands as possible.

"It's not in the heavy touring summer time, so we could get the bands to come out because they're not otherwise engaged in different places," Schaefer said. "they want to play M3. It would be like an independent band getting to play Coachella."

Schaefer said a sense of community has grown over the past four years between concertgoers as well as the bands and their fans. For every Def Leppard and Poison (touring together this summer) and Motley Crue and Kiss, there are numerous bands who dented the charts a generation ago and retain a loyal core of fans but lack the following and the funding to head out on their own each summer. M3 provides these bands an increasingly rare chance to play full sets in front of audiences who know all their hits, and then some.

"It's an incredibly welcoming and gracious group of artists — they love to play and everybody wants to get in front of their real fans and have that chance to do what they've built their life around," Schaefer said. "They appreciate it. And the love that you see going back and forth between the stage and the audience — it's tangible."

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