Thursday, April 27, 2006

Fear and loathing at Merriweather...

I’d like to highlight some really good (and one really bad) letters to the editor about the HFStival in the Flier. First, the good stuff:

The concerns raised in your article "Merriweather's HFStival sparks some concern" stink of candidates for office in search of an issue late in the campaign. It seems that they are almost nostalgic about supposed transgressions of the "Deadheads" of long ago.

…I suggest that before Stephen Meskin, Cynthia Coyle and David Willemain pass judgement, they buy some tickets and go to the concert. The music may not be to their liking and the audience may be a bit younger than your average Wine in the Woods attendee, but they will certainly see that concerts such as this are attended by people looking to have fun, not cause problems. Perhaps they will even see that some of us moved to Columbia because of Merriweather, not despite it.
How right you are, Fred Johnston of Hickory Ridge.

Tell me there’s more. Yes, yes there is.
I am writing in response to "Merriweather's HFStival unnerving residents" in the Columbia Flier ("Merriweather's HFStival sparks some concern" in the Howard County Times) April 20. Why does the Times choose to put a negative spin on something positive for Columbia because of the opinions of a few choice residents?

Ask the numerous restaurants, shops and other businesses that stand to gain from the influx of upwards of 54,000 concert attendees. Ask the parents of children in the Columbia vicinity who will attend the concert if they prefer their children to be close to home instead of trekking down to the District or, worse, Northern Virginia. Ask the legislators and the folks from Save Merriweather who struggled to save a legendary Columbia landmark from becoming yet another apartment and townhouse community.
I know pretty well the people behind Save Merriweather, Michael Milburn, and I can tell you unequivocally they were not contacted for the horrible story in question. But, thankfully, people like you are not afraid to call out journalistic sloppiness.

Still more…
Merriweather was built as a part of our planned community to expose people of all ages to the cultural experience of live musical performances and to bring added revenue into our community. I applaud Merriweather and their management for working to bring this type of event to our area, and for their ongoing effort to work with the local government to make the necessary arrangements to manage the impact that such an event has on the community. One of the great things about Columbia is that there are both numerous things to do and multiple ways to get around the backups that something like this will cause in the downtown area.
I encourage those that don't like the HFStival to take the time to find something else to do that day, and to find an alternate route to get there if your choice of activities takes you through the downtown area.

The positive things something like the HFStival will bring to our community far outweigh the negatives. It will expose kids, teens and adults to a wide variety of music, and give them an opportunity to relax, blow off some steam and enjoy themselves for a day or two over the Memorial Day weekend.

Will there be drinking, traffic congestion and noise? Sure, but no more then we'd see at Wine in the Woods, the Columbia Classic Grand Prix, the Fourth of July celebration or many other great events that come to our area.
Brad Speierman, writer of this piece, is a tremendous American. Thank you, Fred, Michael and Brad (disclosure: I don’t know any of these fine gentlemen) for bringing some intelligence to a discussion heretofore dominated an irrational fear of young people.

Of course, there were some (well, one) who thinks the apocalypse (perhaps even the Rapture) is set for Memorial Day weekend. I’m calling on you, John L. Preston.
Well, fellow Columbians, forget about having a pleasant Memorial Day weekend. We are about to be invaded by 54,000 fans who will attend Merriweather's HFStival on May 27-28. The festival will feature reggae, rock, hip-hop and punk "music." We can look forward to heavy traffic, circling helicopters, sirens of emergency and police vehicles, drunkenness, drug use and (probably) fights.
One wonders, what does he think qualifies as “music?” I guess it has something to with age of the artist or his/her fans, which I’ve always thought is a pretty good way to judge the quality of something.
Who is responsible for this mess? Well, let's see ... certainly Jean Parker, the general manager of Merriweather Post Pavilion, deserves a lot of the blame. The Columbia Association is complicit because it is leasing land to Merriweather during the "concert" and failed to inform Columbians (but what else is new) of the impending invasion.
Mr. Preston, you can go after CA all you want, even though it is not their job to knock on every door and get approval from every resident before entering into an agreement that is pretty much standard for most big Town Center events, like our cherished Wine in the Woods, an event that actually encourages public drunkenness (or, euphemistically, "wine-tasting").

However, attacking Jean Parker is beyond the pale. Parker is active in the community and very responsive to residents concerns about noise. And, what’s more, she doesn’t even book the shows. That’s the guys at IMP Productions. But I guess details don’t matter when your consumed with anger and set only on attacking innocent people.
Merriweather is not a good neighbor. It does not serve most of the people of Columbia. I would venture that the overwhelming majority of attendees at any given concert (especially the upcoming HFStival) will not be from Columbia or Howard County. Who does Merriweather benefit? You gue$$ed it: General Growth Propertie$.
I’m sorry. You lose all credibility when, without a single trace of irony, you replace the letter S with a $.

But just to humor Mr. Preston, of course the majority of those attending the HFStival will be from outside Howard County. Merriweather, though located in Town Center, operates in a regional market that encompasses much more land than just our little city. And if you look at the attendance numbers, Merriweather sells more tickets in Howard County than any other county in its market, even though Howard is one of the smallest. So, it is disproportionately a place for locals. I know it’s not very fun to have to use facts when making an argument.
Could Merriweather be a good neighbor and profitable as well? Sure it could, by offering an eclectic mix of entertainment. If you don't believe me, take a look at the upcoming schedule of events for Wolf Trap.
Again with the making stuff up. Of course Wolf Trap can offer “an eclectic mix of entertainment.” It doesn’t have to (nor does it) make a profit. It’s a national park and its annual revenue losses are covered by everyone who pays federal taxes. What's more, there's a nonprofit foundation designed specifically to support it's operations. If Mr. Preston would like to discuss establishing a private foundation to fund more artistic and cultural events at Merriweather, I'm sure I can find several people who would be willing to help, including the guys at IMP.

Merriweather and IMP Productions try every year to offer as diverse a lineup as possible, even though they lose money on the more “eclectic” shows. In fact, they readily admit that all of their annual profits are made off of the two or three sell out concerts each year.

I have long advocated for a more diverse schedule for Merriweather and for the venue to host more community events. But I understand this is only possible if we support them as a community and allow them to make money hosting blockbuster events like the HFStival. Perhaps if IMP had a long-term contract to manage the pavilion, they would be willing to take more risks on “real” culture instead of just “pop” culture. And it probably wouldn’t hurt if those wishing to see a more eclectic schedule didn’t seek out opportunities to say how much they dislike the pavilion, its managers, and its supporters.

Sorry, I got a little worked up there...

1 comment:

Anonymous said... says: Ahmen Brother!