Jean Parker, Merriweather Post Pavilion’s general manager, first started working at the venue in 1977, five years after her first visit there for a 1972 Beach Boys concert. Since then, Parker has seen it all—and has had to deal with her fair share of concert crises. Here, she shares some of her most memorable stories from 40 years on the job.
“When Depeche Mode played in ’94, the tour forgot to advance ground transportation. So I drove my family’s Dodge minivan to go pick up the band from their charter flight into Butler Aviation. They complained about the cheerios in the seats.”
“Back in the day, some artists would do multi-day runs. You know, Jackson Browne, Chicago, Barry Manilow, etc. Chicago’s tour manager Marty was a huge baseball fan. Since they’d already all loaded in and prepared after the first show, the second day was more laid back, so our crew and some of the tour would head over to a nearby softball field and play against each other. We’d bring coolers for drinks and provide snacks. I have this distinct memory of Jackson himself up at bat. We always tried to keep it on the down low, but once a tour bus showed up to the field, the cat was pretty much out of the bag. I don’t remember for sure, but I’d heard that the MPP team beat Jackson’s team, [the] stakes of which were rumored to be the fines from the prior night’s show.
“For one of these games, there were state-of-the-art TVs on the line—if the artist lost, they had to buy the TVs for the promoter, and if the promoter event staff team lost, then the promoter would deliver the goods.”
“When Andy Gibb, of The Bee Gees, came in 1977, it was the hottest ticket for teen girls. I’d never heard—even to this day—a crowd that loud and excited. It was really almost deafening. It was Gibb-mania!”
“Along those lines, Frankie Valli had that one song in 1978, “Grease,” which was actually written by Barry Gibb, interestingly enough. But when he played that year, he played that same song three times in one set, and the crowd went crazy every single time. I’ve never heard anything like that happen again since either.”
“In 1983, there’d been an awful lot of rain leading up to [Grateful Dead’s] show, and they were playing two nights back-to-back. So the old footbridge, down by South Box, connecting the pavilion to the parking lot was washed away. The fans didn’t really mind. They’d just roll up their pants and wade through. But for the second day, that lawn was really looking worse for the wear. It may’ve well been one giant mudslide. And as we always do, we got creative trying to think of some quick and efficient solution operationally. … So we brought in helicopters and had them hover real low across the lawn so their rotors were just acting as large wind turbines to help dry out the mud. And it mostly worked! It wasn’t great, but it was certainly better than it would’ve been without them.”
“One of the times [Elton John] was performing at Merriweather, some package was being delivered backstage, and apparently there was nobody around to sign for it. By the time anyone had come back, Elton was signing for it himself! The poor delivery guy, not at all realizing who he was speaking to, leaned in to try to read the signature before giving up and asking, ‘What does that signature say?’”
“When Mikhail Baryshnikov came in August of ’91, there was a lot of rain. We had a sold-out pavilion and many on the lawn. We knew people would be dressed nicely, so in order to make it comfortable sitting on the lawn, we staked down and rolled out AstroTurf left over from a prior project on the entire lawn area so nobody would have to sit on the muddy ground. As they entered, we handed out free candy bars from a sponsorship we had with Nestle at the time along with large plastic sheets to help to further protect them from the muddy lawn areas.”