Brad Canfield will never forget Madonna’s one and only concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion.
It was June 1, 1985, and the superstar opened the venue’s season with The Virgin Tour. “It was sold-out, so it was a huge deal for us,” says Canfield, then a 15-year-old stagehand at the massive outdoor amphitheater, nestled on a woodsy 40-acre property in Columbia, Maryland.
“I was backstage cleaning and I overheard her telling people that she wanted Gatorade Gum,” he says. “They’d sent people out and nobody could find any.” As it happened, Canfield knew of a nearby drugstore that carried the ’80s fad. “So I rode my bike over and bought a whole case. I rode back over and handed it to her. She was so happy.”
Canfield, now Merriweather’s vice president, laughs. “She made a point to call me by my first name and point me out to the general manager. I quickly moved up to become a supervisor. Because of Madonna.”
Even though the Material Girl hasn’t performed at Merriweather since, plenty of other megastars have been repeat headliners at the amphitheater, designed by Frank Gehry and originally built as the summer home of the National Symphony. By 1968, pop and rock acts, from Jimi Hendrix to the Doors, began to infiltrate the lineup, and its fate as a haven for some of the biggest rock and pop acts was sealed.
Jackson Browne, who recorded his 1977 live album Running on Empty at Merriweather, returns as part of a 50th Birthday bash that includes Father John Misty, Grace Potter and country legend Willie Nelson, who performed a duet with then-President Jimmy Carter.
Merriweather is halfway through a five-year, $55 million overhaul, renovating everything from the stage to the seating bowl. “It’s improved significantly since IMP has been managing it [in 2004],” says Canfield, adding that the improvements will include “the best lawn system that money can buy, and all these new high-tech, green buildings and super-efficient ways of doing things. It’s a rare combination of a place that still has charm and beauty and history, but now will be very state-of-the-art.”
The 50th Anniversary Concert is Saturday, July 15, with gates opening at 4:30 p.m., at Merriweather Post Pavilion, 10475 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia, Md. Tickets are $55 to $125. Call 800-551-SEAT or visit merriweathermusic.com.