Live Review: M3 Rock Festival, Day One

Published on May 27th, 2012

May 11, 2012 – Dokken t-shirts, RATT bumper stickers, and the bands themselves (along with a dozen other counterparts from the era) taking the stage over the course of two days in front of more than 10,000 hardcore fans. This is M3 Rock Festival. It’s hard to imagine this paradise for glam rock fans even existing some 29 years after RATT climbed out of the cellar and Dokken broke the chains, but it’s here, and it’s more than just a flashback. Night Ranger and KIX headlined the first day of this rock oasis hidden carefully in the wooded greenery of Columbia, Maryland’s Merriweather Post Pavilion.

If stepping out of a time machine into 1985 could be accomplished, it would look and feel a lot like walking up the wooded trail that leads to the Pavilion’s main entrance on opening night of M3 Rock Festival. Fans are swarming in lines to snatch up glam metal t-shirts, and the video screens are showing a piece of brilliant comedy titled “M3 Groupie Exchange Program”.

Now in its third year and gaining momentum with each carefully executed rock mash-up, the early days of summer in peaceful Columbia, Maryland haven’t been quite the same since M3 came to town.

The fans aren’t the only ones feeling ’80s fever. After Enuff Z’Nuff performed with singer Donnie Vie looking more like John Lennon than John Lennon, Night Ranger took the stage and had no trouble getting a chorus of fans singing along to even the more obscure parts of the catalog.

Even the song they wrote for Michael J. Fox’s yuppie classic “Secret of My Success” was no match for a crowd that cherished every note that came out of hyperactive frontman Jack Blades’ mouth.

Night Ranger has not skipped many beats since their days of peak stardom. Dueling singers Blades and Kelly Keagy are singing in top form, and Blades becomes the energizer bunny when he’s put behind a microphone. Perhaps they’re reaping the benefits of being one of the few glam acts not embroiled in drugs and alcohol during their time in the spotlight.

Last year the band roared to life once more with the release of “Somewhere in California”, inspired by their west coast roots and littered with the kind of guitar excess that two lead guitarists will get you. The M3 crowd eagerly received two choices from that album – “Lay It on Me” continues to prove itself as an excellent opener since they began employing it on last year’s tour with Journey and Foreigner.

KIX didn’t achieve half the stardom that Night Ranger did during the 1980s, which made their headlining status questionable even to their own singer, Steve Whiteman, as he pondered on stage and thanked Night Ranger for being gracious. There are two explanations for this arrangement: Maryland is the KIX homeland, and Steve Whiteman was born to headline rock shows.

If his over the top antics during “The Itch” or the dozens of rock star poses during the first three songs didn’t tip anyone off – Whiteman enjoys attention. And as a fifty-something who can still maneuver like an acrobat while screaming like a banshee, quite frankly he deserves it.

There’s no better crowd for KIX than an M3 crowd. Their songs may not be well-known radio anthems in most parts of the country, but it’s a different story at a festival where “criminally underrated” is most commonly used to describe their brand.

With KIX, Night Ranger, and even VH1′s Eddie Trunk as emcee, the M3 time warp was off to a good start on Friday. The only problem with the ’80s theme was a series of large HDNet cameras that wouldn’t have been imagined in the heyday of hair metal. But HD footage of this weekend escape? Bring it on.

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