May 9, 2016 M3 Festival Day 1 Heats Up Merriweather Post Pavilion Columbia, MD 4-29-16
It has become a springtime tradition in the Maryland area, and one Rock fans travel from miles around to attend. That tradition was the return of M3 Festival to Columbia, Maryland at the Merriweather Post Pavilion. Going eight years strong now, M3 Festival showcases some of the best ’80s Rock and Metal bands along with new acts that are keeping the genre alive and well. This year, the familiar two-day format began on Friday, April 29th, and wrapped up on the night of the Sunday the 30th.
As far as Merriweather Post Pavilion, the venue has recently upgraded a few features, such as new bathrooms, more modern stages, a new sound system, among other things. It is widely regarded as one of the best outdoor concert venues in the country. Decorated with abstract sculptures and old vehicles, the venue was clean and had the feeling of being fresh. Mature trees created a natural barrier between vendors and the lawn area. In addition, the amphitheater and the land surrounding possess a very colorful past and incredible musical biography. A little known fact, President Jimmy Carter once attended a Willie Nelson concert and even performed a duet for the song “Georgia On My Mind.” With all that in mind, Merriweather Post Pavilion has seen many incredible artists grace its stages, and this year’s M3 Festival saw many more greats. Day 1 was kicked off with 86 Bullets, then Gabbie Rae, Enuff Z’Nuff, Britny Fox, Vince Neil, Lynch Mob, and Kix to close the day out. By the time the gates opened at 10:30 AM, fans were raring to go and ready for the day of Rock -n- Roll ahead, despite the cold weather.
With booming sound, 86 Bullets was the first to rock across the stage. A local band from the Maryland area, 86 Bullets is also known for their stance against animal exploitation and abuse. In fact, they took their name from a horrifying 1994 incident in which a circus elephant named Tyke was shot 86 times in an effort to stop her from rampaging around a town the circus she belonged to was visiting. The tragic incident became a heartbreaking symbol for animal rights, especially those animals who perform in the circus. Name aside, 86 Bullets is a high-energy modern Rock band and they were ready to get the party started.
Encountering a short power failure in the beginning did not stop Vocalist Steve “Gravy” Graybeal, Guitarist Chris “Shredder” Elliott, Bassist Eric Dee, and Drummer Jerry “Jyro” Oxendine from bringing their best to the stage. People were still making their way through the gate and to their seats when 86 Bullets started their set, but the audience’s noise level was still amplified, despite the small size. 86 Bullets made sure to keep fans engaged with a high-energy stage presence, and as the pavilion seating filled up, the excitement was growing with each song. The band even brought out the beautiful “Bullet Girls” to toss band merchandise out to the expectant fans. Disappointingly, the band encountered yet another power failure half way through their last song, “Stand Up And Fight,” and was unable to finish. The crowd vocalized their displeasure at the sudden stop, but then promptly cheered for 86 Bullets in encouragement as they exited the stage. Working out the technical kinks that were beyond their control, 86 Bullets did a fine job of starting things out on a high note.
Next was Gabbie Rae, a first time performer at M3 Festival. Winner of a bunch of awards, at only 17-year-old, the New England native is highly talented and motivated. Rae was signed to Purple Ribbon Kidz Label when she was merely 10-years old, she released an anti-bullying video that VH1 featured on their Best Week Ever, alongside Billboard and Rolling Stone. Coming out on fire to the M3 Festival stage, Rae and her band treated the crowd to two original songs called “Can’t Stop Us Now” and “Deadly.” Striding confidently out on stage in heavily studded leather gear, Rae unleashed shockingly powerful vocals on the crowd through each song. During one of them, it was nearly impossible to tell the difference between her insane scream and the lead guitar’s shredding.
Taking everyone back with her intensity, Rae paused after the second song to ask the crowd if they liked the new songs, and resounding cheers echoed in response. Her songs and her covers alike embodied a matured sound that normally is acquired after years of life experience and not always found in younger artists. Having performed for a while now, Rae knew how to work a crowd. Her stage presence was awesome as she stomped around, pausing her movements to focus on vocals that required full concentration. Rae was able to keep the crowd fully engaged in between songs with the confidence of a seasoned performer, and she had the crowd bobbing their heads and stomping to every song she performed. Her set list included Metal classics such as Dio’s “The Last In Line” and Black Sabbath’s “Neon Knights.” Spectators were very impressed with Rae’s performance and flawless delivery that she was sure to have picked up a bunch of new fans by the time her set concluded.
Greeting fans with a worship-esque bow from the lead singer, Chip Z’Nuff, Illinois based Enuff Z’Nuff took the stage next. Since their formation in 1984, Enuff Z’Nuff has released thirteen studio albums, including their most recent, 2015’s Covered in Gold. Attaining success with records such as 1991’s Strength, Enuff Z’Nuff has also had a slew of chart-topping singles. In 2002, Lead Singer Donnie Vie left the band to pursue a solo career, but performed live shows with the band until 2008. Despite several member changes over the years, Enuff Z’nuff continues to harness their powerful Rock music led by founding member Chip Z’Nuff on bass/lead vocals, Tory Stoffregen on lead guitar, Tony Fennell on rhythm guitar, and Erik Donner on drums.
Opening with “Baby Loves You,” almost immediately, smartphones and cameras were visible throughout the entire venue seating area, evoking the modern-day equivalent of thousands of lighters in the air. Fancy footwork and stage antics laced the entire performance with band members creatively throwing merchandise out to the crowd occasionally. At one point, Stoffregen threw his guitar pick up into the air, spun around, caught the falling pick and tossed it out into the crowd. Joking around between songs, the band had the fans laughing often. Entertaining and fun, Enuff Z’Nuff ended their performance with favorites “Fly High Michelle” and “New Thing” before saying, “Drink up, smoke up, God bless you and your families!” Those who missed this performance will have a chance to see them as they perform select shows around the US over the next couple of months.
By the time Britny Fox hit the stage, it was cold enough that the fans could see their breath. Forming in Philadephia, PA over three decades ago, Britny Fox had their share of success with their ever-popular 1988 self-titled album. While the band had broken up for some time, in 2015 Bassist Billy Childs, Vocalist Tommy Paris, and Drummer Johnny Dee decided it was time to get back on the road as they brought in new member, Guitarist Chris Sanders. A re-energized bunch, they played select shows in 2015 and seemed enthusiastic for the chance to let a large group of people know they were back at M3 Festival.
Promptly tearing into “In Motion,” Britny Fox had fans hyped up from the get go. They then went into 1991’s “Louder” before a cover of Nazarath’s “Hair Of The Dog.” Defying the weather with an array of killer cuts, the setlist included “Long Way To Love,” “Save The Weak,” and “She’s So Lonely.” Wrapping up the set with “Dream On” and their signature “Girlschool,” people were passionately singing along every step of the way. Each song they performed, from beginning to end, Britny Fox embodied the ’80s Metal vibe perfectly with a nostalgic Rock anthem beat. The band will keep busy in 2016 with some dates already slated for June, as well as August.
Returning for their second time on M3 Festival, the first being 2012, Lynch Mob dove right into rocking out. Formed after Guitarist George Lynch’s departed Dokken in 1989, he has kept the band going strong with a variety of different lineups. Releasing their impressive album Rebel in 2015, the current lineup of Lynch Mob consists of Lead Guitarist Lynch, original Vocalist Oni Logan, Former Bulletboys Drummer Jimmy D’Anda, and former Quiet Riot Bassist Sean McNabb.
Coming out with energy, Lynch Mob had no trouble impressing the fans with their performance on Day 1 of M3 Festival as fans began to pack the area directly in front of the stage quickly. Outstanding guitar pieces, awesome vocals, and drumming laced Lynch Mob’s set which included “21 Century Man,” “She’s Evil But She’s Mine,” “River Of Love,” “Believers Of The Day,” as well as Dokken classics “When Heaven Comes Down” and “Into The Fire.” Between songs, they made fans feel greatly appreciated, even requesting for the house lights be turned on to better see everyone. By the end of their performance, the rain started to fall lightly and the crowd was so hyped up that they did not care because they just had a chance to witness an extremely tight modern day assembly of Lynch Mob. Those looking for more from George Lynch, he has a new project called Project NFidelikah, due out with an album May 27th.
Just off a bittersweet farewell tour with Mötley Crüe, distinctive Vocalist Vince Neil was up next. Surprising many fans that Neil is quickly hitting the ground running with no real down time after Mötley Crüe’s lengthy goodbye, now Neil can divide more attention to his solo career. Having released three solo records since 1993, the last being 2010’s Tattoos & Tequila, Neil has a great deal of fans who dig what his solo effort has to offer.
Coming out in good spirits, Neil showed no signs of being worn out in any way and greeted fans, asking how everyone was doing. Starting off with crowd-pleaser “Dr. Feelgood,” everyone was head-banging and dancing around right from the first notes. Requesting the fans participation often, Neil kept everyone on their toes, singing as loud as they could. Neil and his band of Slaughter’s Bassist Dana Strum and Guitarist Jeff Blando, along with Drummer Zoltan Chaney performed one great Mötley Crüe cover after another to the fans’ delight. Messing around with the band, Neil even teased them on one of the songs, saying they always messed it up. That must have been some motivation, because the band performed with exact precision on all the tracks including “Piece of Your Action,” “Looks That Kill,” and “Home Sweet Home.”
Adding showmanship to their set, Chaney, known for his crazy antics, threw drumsticks out to the crowd often, and stood up to beat on the drums. Drenched in sweat minutes into the song, fans could tell he was putting everything he had into each song. He put on quite the show, complementing Neil’s performance wonderfully, along with the rest of the band. At the end of one song, Chaney even climbed on top of the equipment to jumped off over the drum kit without knocking anything over or hurting himself while landing an awesome blow on the drum. Continuing to rock into “Same Ol’ Situation,” Neil left the stage for a brief moment but was right back out for Led Zeppelins’ “Whole Lotta Love” as Blando joined him on vocals for a fantastic cover. Concluding with “Wild Side,” Neil flashed a good-natured smile and rightfully introduced the band, to which the audience cheered in appreciation for his and the band’s performance. Those who missed the Mötley Crüe farewell tour can catch Neil rock out all their favorite tunes from the band as he continues to tour through the summer.
Fittingly, Maryland state natives Kix were on stage next as the last act of the night. A regular at M3 Festival, having played each year since the inauguration in 2009, this is a tradition the area has grown to love. One of the only bands during the ’80s era who did not decide to relocate out to Hollywood during the Hair Metal craze, Kix built a strong following while remaining in the Maryland area as their gritty Rock -n- Roll style distinguished themselves from other acts at the time. Reaching new heights in 1988 with Blow My Fuse, they recaptured that magic in 2014 with the impressive album Rock Your Face Off, their first ever without Donnie Purnell. Carrying on strong since reuniting back in 2003, the lineup of Brian “Damage” Forsythe (guitar), Ronnie “10/10” Younkins (guitar), Steve Whiteman (vocals), Jimmy “Chocolate” Chalfant (drums), and Mark Schenker (bass) has kept the Kix name going strong.
Opening with an animated short video on the screen behind them, they led right into “Kix Are For Kids.” Highly energetic drum lines, vocals, and guitar pieces helped push the biting cold out of the bones of shivering fans as their blood began to flow again as they played on with “Red Lite, Green Lite, TNT,” “Rock Your Face Off,” “Rock & Roll Overdose,” and “Mean Miss Adventure.” An ever energetic frontman, Whiteman showed off his talented harmonica skills on a few tracks as he moved about the stage along with the band’s groove. Echoing vocals could be heard on several tracks as well as when he addressed everyone in between songs, putting an ’80s dramatic twinge on everything, including crowd interactions.
Mixing in a broad range of their songs in the set, including “Same Jane,” “You’re Gone,” and everyone’s favorite “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” Kix had everyone up on their feet. Going on with “Baby Time Bomb” and then “Love Me With Your Top Down,” the band united the past and present perfectly. Cracking jokes all night about sex and old age, the band shimmied and shook even more with songs like “Blow My Fuse” and “Girl Money.” Giving each member a chance to shine, Younkins and Forsythe each rocked guitar solos while Chalfant battered his kit on a tight spot later in the set.
The band never stopped playing something, from solos to quiet pieces, through stories and jokes, they brought it all to their hometown crowd. During one story, Steve dramatically dropped to his knees, threw his head back, paused, then continued on with the story in a spectacular display of storytelling talent. Kix enlisted the crowd to sing along any chance they could and played a game of copy cat that had everyone saying, “Your welcome” in unison every single time they thanked the fans. This fun Rock show would come to a conclusion with the sixteenth and final song from Kix being 1981’s “Yeah Yeah Yeah.”
Once again, Kix proved why they should always be a headliner at M3 Festival year after year. With that said, every band matched each other’s output and made Day 1 of M3 Festival a memorable one. As fans left Merriweather, cold and exhausted but reeling from the day’s performances, there was much chatter everywhere on the Day 2 lineup.