Merriweather Post Pavilion, one of Columbia’s most well-known attractions, has been operating since the mid-1960s.
Elton John, Jimmie Hendrix, Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters and many more of the industry’s biggest stars have taken the stage throughout the years. The venue today is not always what it looked like, however.
In fact, there are many differences and changes that Merriweather has endured over the past 50-plus years, whether it be physical renovations, changes in artists, or changes in society.
The story of Merriweather is one that is told through the eyes of the people that work there.
Baltimore Fishbowl spoke with employees who currently work there, some of who started in the 1970s. These interviewees have stayed working at Merriweather, some seasonal and some full-time, unable to leave the atmosphere and environment that the venue provides every summer.
Some interviewees work at Merriweather full-time, while others work there during the summer months, holding other jobs at the same time. Here is what they had to say about their experience.
What was the hiring process like?
Alyse Carter (Hospitality administration and VIP Events Director, 33 years old, started in 2006, lives in Columbia and graduated Centennial Highs School in 2007): I just waited a long time. It felt like forever. It was probably a week and a half. So I got a phone call saying, ‘Hey, do you want to come in for a group interview?’ And I was like, ‘Absolutely.’ We have the little white administrative house at the top of the hill where old offices used to be. So we all crammed into that tiny little conference room. And it was a whole bunch of us. It was our first time ever doing an interview like that, especially a group interview, which is nerve-racking.
And then you had some different personalities around the table. I remember Jeff Starnes was our old director of event staff; he was in there. One of the questions they always asked was, ‘Can you bake cookies with the cookie dough from cookie dough ice cream,’ or something silly like that just to see what your logic would be. And so he asked us a lot of off-the-wall questions. A lot of things are like, we’re all just staring at each other. Like how do we answer this? It’s a nice team-building effort already. These are the people that you’re going to be working with.
It was like another week and a half where I waited and all this is during the springtime before the season even starts and every day I would come home from school I’d be like, ‘Mom did anybody call, did Merriweather call yet?’ And finally, the call came one day when I was home. And I just remember accepting the job right away and then doing like the whole teenager thing, like hanging up the phone jumping up and down in the hallway screaming. It was just one of those pinnacle moments for me.
Judith Davis (retired after 28 years with Howard County Government, and started working at MPP in 2005, lives in Columbia): I actually attended a concert there. And I was not impressed. It was during the Jazz Fest, which is a three-day thing. And I came, by the time I got there at noon, it’s so many people, it’s like they discovered land. And so they bring in like all these tarps and stuff, and there’s no room to put your little chair. So I just remember complaining all day. It’s hot out here. There’s nowhere to put my chair. I couldn’t really see the stage because you gotta look down in this little hole, and I’m on the lawn. And so I just remember fussing all day. And I was like, I’m not impressed with this. And that was the end of my story.
However, Jeff Starnes was one of the managers there, with Brian Tiddle. He also worked for the county. So I was a county employee. … And Jeff, I remember, he came to me one day and he said, ‘It’s the end of the season, I need some help, can you help out? I work for Merriweather.’ I kind of looked at him with this face like, ‘Are you kidding me? You mean, out there in the heat, bugs, in the crazy, crazy stuff? No.’ So then I look, I think I hurt his feelings. So he kind of looked at me like, ‘How dare you,’ like I’d insulted him. And I said, ‘Okay, this is what I’ll do. I’ll come at the end of the season, and I’ll come to this one show, and I’ll help you out. If I don’t like it, I won’t come back anymore. I won’t do it.’ Well, funny story: I’ve been there ever since.
What is one of the more challenging parts of your job?
Carolin Harvey (age 22, photographer, started in 2018, 2019 graduate of Centennial High School): The fact that I worked at Merriweather got around the high school. Because all my friends knew I worked there. But then other people just knew that I worked there. And so people would always…come to me at school and be like, ‘Hey, can you sneak me in? Or is there anything you can do to get me in?’ And I was like, ‘No, I’m not gonna do that.’ And people would get really b****y with me about it. ‘I’m not going to do that. I don’t want to. I don’t want to risk my job.’ And that was the other thing, working at gates a lot. When I was 15, 16, maybe even 17, I would always see people I knew from high school. And they would always try to act overly friendly with me, trying to hide the fact that they were probably a little bit intoxicated. And I just had to…treat them like any other patron.
Harold Burgess (faculty at the University of Maryland, started at MPP in 1991, lives in Columbia and graduated Howard High School in 1993): We have a professional camera policy, but not cell phones. But cell phones also change, I think, the way people behave to some extent. I remember earlier on there, probably the first third of my career at Merriweather, we had a lot more rowdy crowds, a lot more issues, and things going on in terms of just different challenging demographics to work with. But I feel like in many ways, since cellphones came in, in the 2000s, behavior has kind of been curbed a little bit. I mean, we still have issues certainly that pop up, but not at the same level and the same extent that we used to have where it used to be almost every concert was like, ‘No, you have to see what’s gonna happen.’ Now, it’s more of a rarity in terms of those things. I feel like the fact that people know they’re on camera, or it could be recorded, has impacted how people behave.
When did you realize you wanted to work at Merriweather for a long time?
Mike Deckman (Operations manager, started at MPP in 2009, graduated Howard High School in 2011): Immediately, but it’s also because of the people I worked with. We had a crazy group of guys. [Jean Parker’s] son, Doug, and all his buddies from high school worked there. They were like two or three years older than me. So I thought it was the coolest thing to hang. When you’re a sophomore in high school, and you’re hanging out with college kids all day, you think it’s the coolest thing in the world. And so immediately, I was like, ‘These guys are awesome.’ I felt I was in love instantly.
Alyse Carter: Pretty early on. I always enjoyed it. I always wanted to be here every summer. The year after I started, it was one of the Pimlico dates that we had for Virgin Fest. We needed extra help for that because the capacity of the festival was so much larger than what we do at Merriweather. We were asked to bring on friends and family, so I actually brought my dad on to work. And he ended up loving it.
What was your first day on the job like?
Samantha Crouse (age 26, first-grade teacher, started in 2011; graduated River Hill High School in 2015): I remember the first show very well, which is surprising to say. I was 14 and everyone I worked with was like 20. So I already felt weird because I was still in high school, and they’re in college. And this was with a different company that’s not there anymore. And I was so confused. But it was so much fun. I made all these friends that I never thought. I was like, ‘Oh, I’m friends with 20-year-olds at 14,’ which is super cool. And it was so much fun. And we got breaks and we got to listen to the show. And we could see it from where we were. It was definitely a fun show. But I was nervous because my mom had to pick me up and drop me off, and everyone else was like, ‘I’m gonna go drive home,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, okay.’ I want to say it was the M3 Rock Festival. That’s what sounds right in my head. I was working at the kettle corn stand at the time.
Carolin Harvey: I worked at a gate that day then I got put at a swing gate, then I was in the aisle. I got a little bit of everything that day. And M3, I should clarify, it’s like 80s hair metal is how I would describe it. So definitely some interesting characters in the crowd. Lots of good people watching. But yeah, that was how I started.
What was the craziest or most surprising show you’ve seen?
Brian Tittle (age 53, Merriweather’s Director of Events, in 1988, 1988 graduate of Hammond High School): The craziest show I ever worked, it was a duo headliner. Wu-Tang Clan opened up for Rage Against the Machine. That was the wildest. I mean, there’s been a lot, but that’s the one that, when people ask me, ‘What’s the worst show you’ve ever worked as far as like, frightening?’ Definitely was that one.
It was chaos, we had control of the first 10 rows of the pavilion. And as soon as Wu-Tang went on stage, people bum-rushed the gates and everybody from the lawn jumped up the railing into the pavilion and they were jumping on the seats and breaking the seats off and chucking them through the air.
Bryan Rothstein (Merriweather’s Director of Facilities, started at MPP over 40 years ago, lives in Linthicum and graduated Calvert Hall in 1986): What stands out in my mind, honestly, was this band called Hillsong UNITED. They’re a religious band. I had no idea who they were, what they were, but it was some wild stuff. I don’t know how to say it politically correctly- but it was intense. A lot of bibles, a lot of serious praying going on. And when you don’t expect that kind of scene, it kind of was like, ‘Whoa, man.’
I always love Billy Idol. Billy Idol just brings it even to this day. I mean, he’s older than I am. And he’s like fit and he just brings so much energy.
What is the biggest change you’ve seen over the years?
Harold Burgess: In terms of the physical part, that’s changed dramatically, for sure. For anyone who’s been to Merriweather in the past five or six years, it’s very different than what Merriweather was eight years ago, certainly 20 years ago when I first started there. There were a lot more trees around the property. In fact, you really couldn’t see into the Merriweather property at all, from the outside. It was all pretty much encased in a canopy of trees and bushes and everything like that. It was kind of nice, because it was like a little cocoon, in a way. And it gave us our own kind of privacy fence, so to speak, around the entire area, because you really just couldn’t see and because of all the trees, things are there.
Since then, that has changed quite a bit with all the newer construction that’s happened and just the evolution of the area around Merriweather. For a long time, Merriweather was kind of like its own little island in Columbia, and there wasn’t really much around. We had our main parking lot. But they’re running into some of the new buildings and things that are around now. And they know this existed, it was all either trees, or it was some gravel, lots, that kind of thing. But it wasn’t that much stuff around Merriweather itself. So that’s changed quite a bit now. Now we have neighbors everywhere. And you can see into Merriweather from all the high rises. And so that’s changed quite a bit too. So it feels, in many ways, like we’re more integrated into Columbia. At the same time, that kind of privacy island kind of aspect has completely gone away.
Brian Tittle: Well, I mean, we went through a huge renovation plan. So it’s not only changed with the way it looks, and the amenities and stuff like that, but also, I think the changes in the crowd have happened dramatically too because of some of the structural changes, as well as social media and use of cell phones and stuff like that. So we don’t have the amount of problems per se that we used to have way back when just because the times have changed so much.
What is your favorite part of the job?
Jean Parker (General Manager of Merriweather, started in 1977, Mt. Hebron High School): It never gets old, right when the band starts, and you look into the crowd, and you see just volumes of people having the time of their lives. They are here, they’re smiling, it’s fun. When you go to a sporting event, you go to a baseball game, you go to a football game, you’re going to watch your team play. Well, guess what? If your team loses, you are going to be really bummed, right? You’re a fan. You’re bummed, a natural reaction. When you come here, everybody’s smiling. Everybody wins here. There are no losers. And that feeling, just watching everyone have a great time. They’re escaping from their lives temporarily. That never grows old. And I think that’s one of the things that I like about this job the best.
Abby Bosse (age 30 years old, started in 2010, graduated Glenelg High School in 2011): One of the coolest things for me is to work at a business that has such a female-dominated leader in our company, and one that is so respected. I think that is a very cool thing. And I don’t think you always often get to see that all the time. So, for me personally, just as a female, I thought that that was like, ‘Hey, that’s really cool.’ And [Jean Parker], she is literally a boss lady. She is the coolest boss that you could have.
What’s the biggest lesson or best advice you can share?
Samantha Crouse: I’ve definitely learned to be patient and to always embrace the change. I feel like every year, something new is added. We lost cash one year, and we became credit only, new menu items, everything. So I feel like just being able to embrace change and be flexible. From show to show things will change. There have been shows where we can’t have bottle caps, or the water changes, and instead of bottled water, it’s boxed water. Kind of just going with the flow.
Jean Parker: I think the biggest thing that I can tell anybody is don’t have an ego. And that’s it. If you do your job, and you over-deliver, and you don’t have an ego, nothing’s ever going to affect you. You can be a team player, not having an ego and being a team player. The overarching answer for me is don’t have an ego and then everything else falls underneath that being a team player. Being flexible.
What do people miss by not working at Merriweather?
Bryan Rothstein: Just the fun, and it’s such a unique place to work. I can’t describe it. Just businesses and things are so different now. And how Merriweather has been able to hold that fun atmosphere, I don’t know how they’ve done it, but they have. It’s just a very comfortable, fun, enjoyable place to work.
Abby Bosse: Merriweather is a family and, I know that there’s a lot of talk out there that you don’t always want your work to feel like your family but truly, they are my summer family. I’ve been there for so long at this point. I know all of them really well. It is really cool to feel like you’re part of some, just, weird experiences that maybe you would never be able to explain to anybody else. But you all went through it together. And so you all at the end of the day can be like, ‘What just happened?’ And then walk away at the end of it, and it just honestly feels like a summer family.
I think that there’s a lot of love and acceptance for everybody there. And there isn’t a time that goes by that something just didn’t happen in somebody’s life, negative or positive, that I feel like isn’t shared amongst our team to offer congratulations or sympathy or reach out for support in some way. And I think that’s a really, really cool thing to be able to have. For lack of a better word, Merriweather never felt like a job. To me, it is a job, but I just call it my summer hobby. Because it’s something I love to do so much at this point that I think it’s really nice to have a job that truly does not feel like a job because I know that that’s kind of a rarity.
What’s your favorite memory working at Merriweather?
Mike Deckman: Post Malone needed to come [to Merriweather from Pimlico]. Well, we got one of our vans, the girl who drove the van didn’t know how to get around Baltimore. So I was like, ‘Alright, whatever, whatever. I’ll roll with you.’ So we go and we pick up Post Malone and we’re talking in the van. They won’t let us back in the venue because none of us had our credentials on us. And we’re like, ‘But Post Malone is the headliner and he’s sitting in the passenger seat right here,’ and so that was the whole thing.
And then fast-forward like two years later, I get a text being like, ‘Hey, come backstage’. Our production manager is like, ‘Hey, Post Malone wants to come watch the concert. Will you take care of them?’ I said, ‘Yeah, of course’. And then I just spent the whole night with Post Malone. We just watched the show and I was just there to kind of babysit and make sure he needs anything.
And they remembered me. That’s the best part. They all remembered me because he’s got giant security guards with them. And they just kept calling me the horse race guy. But he remembered me and then he was he was super nice all night.
Judith Davis: The show that I hear myself talking most about is, out of all the ones that I’ve seen, it’s the Taylor Swift show. I remember that night, I was at work, and one of my friends who I work with is a DJ, and he knows music. And he said, ‘Are you working the Taylor Swift show tonight?’ And I was like, ‘No, not really. Who’s Taylor Swift?’ And he goes, ‘You don’t know who Taylor Swift is?’ And I’m like, ‘No’. So I think you can just throw on your shirt and show up, so I remember, I threw on my shirt and I showed up. It was so many people. I mean, I think we were over-capacitated. It was so many people, and our job is to watch the crowd. And you don’t know where you’re gonna be. And you’re not supposed to watch the show. However, every now and then, you have to turn around and see what’s going on, because of people trying to find their seats. And sometimes I’ll stand sideways, and I’ll glance at the show.
I see Taylor Swift and she’s singing the song about rain. And then all of a sudden, right where she’s at, it starts raining. And she’s the only one soaking wet, her hair’s wet, and her clothes are wet. And then you turn around again, she’s changed her clothes, right on the stage. That’s not what she was wearing. I mean, to me, I felt like she acted out every dream that she’s ever had, every experience, right on that stage.
Revisit Part 1, where we shared stories from people who used to work at Merriweather.