Merryland Music Festival Review

July 9 & 10, 2016, Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD

Written by Elise Olmstead

Photos by Roger Gupta

I’m a West Virginia girl at heart, but most people don’t know that I’m a Maryland girl by blood.  I was born and part-time bred in the home of the Chesapeake Bay, I’m no stranger to Natty Boh’s, The 8×10, and crackin’ blue crabs full of Old Bay.  All Good presents Merryland Festival that took place at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, MD, on July 9 & 10, 2016, was a wonderful reunion with good friends from that region and a true feast of music most deserving of its own newspaper tablecloth and tiny wooden mallets.

Merriweather Post Pavilion is one of my favorite venues that I’ve experienced from many different perspectives.  There’s the lot where everyone gathers to pre-game, the lawn full of sprawling blankets, or the shady pavilion with massive rotating fans and stadium seating.  Besides lawn and pavilion, Merryland also offered a VIP option which included tickets to the Kick-off concert and Late-night concert, access to the Lucky Cat Lounge, special acoustic set from Yonder Mountain String Band, a Q&A session with members of The String Cheese Incident, a special VIP entrance and exit, private restrooms, and more.  The premium VIP parking was one of my favorite amenities, as I enjoyed the most accessible entrance to Merriweather that I’ve ever experienced.

The Kick-Off Concerts started off the weekend on Friday night with Papadosio and ELM at Ram’s Head in Baltimore, and Soul Rebels w/People’s Blues of Richmond at 9:30 Club in DC.  The main event kicked off Saturday at 1PM at Merriweather, on a sunny Saturday afternoon crowded with avid music fans.  Everyone was getting into their margaritas and hot dogs as they settled into ELM’s hypnotic jamtronica. The venue was transformed into a mini festival, featuring the iconic rainbow colored flags from All Good’s decorations, and a vendor row with artists, food, clothes, and crafts.  Reggae artist Proteje spread summer time good feelings across the sun-kissed crowd, then TAUK played a quick but heated set including “Friction,” and “Mindshift” from their album Collisions.  Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe kept everyone on their feet, followed by beloved bluegrass jam band Yonder Mountain String Band.  A special moment during the weekend was getting a private VIP acoustic set from Yonder Mountain as we sat mere feet away from the band playing “Wait For Me Little Darlin” and “Dancin in the Moonlight” among others.

As the clock neared 6:40 everyone gathered to catch Lotus, and we happily crammed in with lots of friends in the pit.  Lotus did not disappoint their excited crowd.  Maybe I haven’t seen them in a while, but I was blown away by how hard Mike Rempel shreds the guitar, I could hardly take my eyes off of him the whole show.  After a set full of dynamic instrumental jams, we were left with a triumphant “Gilded Age,” the title track of their 2014 album.  I was exhilarated by their set and ready to experience The String Cheese Incident for the first time.  All of my friends go nuts for this crossover bluegrass/jam powerhouse, and I was about to find out why.  The first set showed more of their bluegrass-y side, but they even put a progressive twist on the traditional style, by speeding up the tempo and slowing it down.  They play “Johnny Cash,”  a cover of “Old Time Rock n Roll” and ends the set with “Black Cloud.”  After a brief set break they came back with “Lonesome Fiddle Blues,” then experimented with sounds and color as they simulated electronic music and Kyle Hollingsworth changed the light patterns with his keys.  We were brought out of the groove and into a trance by Michael Kang on violin, captivating us during their performance of “Rivertrance.”  By the end of the evening, I realized that I had been converted to a String Cheese Incident fan.

There was no time to waste in heading to the Late-night concert at Ram’s Head, hosted by Kung Fu and featuring guest appearances from Karl Denson, DJ Williams, Jeremy Schon, and more.  The night was a rotating jam, often led by the quick fingers of Kung Fu keyboardist Beau Sasser, and included lots of solos and plenty of play time for the sultry sounds of Karl D’s saxophone.  In a particularly heated moment, they played Jaco Pastorius’ “Come On, Come Over,” followed by a bongo solo from Congo Sanchez of Thievery Corporation fame.

We woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed the next day, ready for a wholesome lunch at Whole Foods then diving straight into the day, making it in time to catch local blues rock hero Cris Jacobs, formerly of The Bridge, who helped loosen our joints and get us ready to dance.  We were excited to see one of our favorite up and coming funk bands, Turkuaz, who always put on quite the performance, from their rainbow attire including top hats and member’s only jackets, to the choreographed dancing of the singers and how-low-can-you-go limbo of the horn players as they crouch towards the floor in an especially passionate moment.  Pigeons Playing Ping Pong I feel utilized the rotating stage the most this weekend, taking their positions before the stage started to turn, staying stone still until they sprung right into their set as the stage locked into place. We got an order of dumplings and a pretzel from the food vendors and watched them rock from the top of the hill as they played classics like “Walk Outside” and also a brand new song I didn’t catch the title of but talked a lot about “Fun, Fun, Fun,” an uplifting and appropriate theme for the fun-loving band.

After an ever inspiring set by Nahko & Medicine for the People, I was curious to see Langhorne Slim & The Law, another much talked about band that I hadn’t seen before.  As we wait for the performance in the pit, we hear a voice in the stands, it’s Langhorne himself singing playfully in the pavilion seats.  He leads a parade around the floor, interacting with almost every person he walked by.  His songs range from the cheeky “Love Crimes” to a song inspired by a poetry book by James Kavanaugh “There are Men Too Gentle To Live Among Wolves.” Shakey Graves’ knee-slapping bluegrass set led perfectly into Greensky Bluegrass, who I was drawn to like a moth to a flame back down to the front of the stage.  They came out playing on the rotating stage as it was still moving, and wasted no time getting us on our feet with songs like “Road to Nowhere” (Talking Heads cover), “Worried About the Weather,” “Dustbowl Overtures,” and “The Shape I’m in” (The Band cover).  Grace Potter roused the crowd with her signature soulful voice as the sun went down and Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals closed it off for the night.  We didn’t want the night to end as we swayed to “Steal My Kisses,” “Burn One Down” which was led by a bongo solo, and ending with “How Dark is Gone” from the album Call It What It Is.

We wander back out to the VIP as we slowly mosey out, and I get a chance to thank Tim Walther for the weekend.  It was a unique experience that allowed me to focus more on the music than I usually do at other camping festivals.  Every band was so talented and exciting, that I never wanted to leave the stage.  It was a unique change of pace that reminded me how much I love music and discovering new bands to love and follow.  You can always safely know that an All Good presents event will feature only the best bands currently on the scene.  There were nothing but smiles from all I encountered, and it certainly was a merry time in Merryland.