M3 Rock Festival

Jaime St. James, lead singer for Black 'N Blue, performs with his band at the 2011 M3 rock festival at Merriweather Post Pavilion. (Colby Ware, for The Baltimore Sun / May 14, 2011)

There are many ways to describe Merriweather Post Pavilion's M3 Rock Festival — passionate, sweaty, loud, over-the-top, sartorially questionable. Sometimes, it's even romantic. Just ask the Australian couple that got engaged while in attendance and returned the following year as part of the honeymoon.

"We did a toast from the stage with a couple of the artists," said Brad Canfield, the festival's producer and general manager of Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Now in its fifth year, the M3 Festival (which stands for May Merriweather Metal) attracts fans from as far as Australia, Russia and Japan, Canfield said. The two-day event, which takes place Friday and Saturday and kicks off the Pavilion's 2013 season, will feature the Bret Michaels Band, Twisted Sister, W.A.S.P. and more.

If a weekend full of '80s hair-metal bands sounds more like a punchline than a viable festival, don't tell the thousands of fans traveling miles, states and continents to Columbia this weekend.

"It's definitely a niche market," Canfield said. "But once again, we're doing it the biggest and best, probably in the world, so we get people all over the world that come."

Canfield says a festival like this works well in the Baltimore area because of the city's history with the genre, including formerly thriving live venues and homegrown acts that generated national buzz (Mannekin, Child's Play and more).

"With the tradition of Hammerjacks and Baltimore's metal history, especially the '80s hair metal, it just seemed like a natural fit," he said. "The '80s hair scene started coming back and there was no singular event that brought all the bands together with top-tier, modern production and facilities."

Hagerstown's Kix has turned M3's first night into an annual homecoming. Three years ago, M3 expanded to a two-day event, and Kix headlined opening night. Since then, the "Blow My Fuse" quintet has made Friday night the "Kix-Off Party."

While the headliners attract some die hard fans to the festival, Canfield said it's the lineup as a whole that appeals to most attendees. While Friday night will be shorter and more focused on Kix and W.A.S.P., the all-day concert on Saturday could surprise fans with its lesser-known bands, Canfield says.

He picked two non-headlining acts not to miss on the second day. JSRG (short for JanetShareRoxyGina) features three former members of Vixen, the glam-metal band known for the 1988 hit "Edge of a Broken Heart." Canfield said the act isn't permitted to use the name Vixen for legal reasons.

The other act that could win new fans, according to Canfield, is Loudness, a Japanese quartet that rarely performs in America. Last year, Canfield took a chance by putting the band on the M3's smaller second stage, and the reaction was immediate.

"They were very well-received. They don't speak a lick of English and people are rediscovering them [right now]," he said. "So they're back now, on the main stage and with a longer set."

The M3 Festival is a celebration of a rock scene whose decadence and outsized fashion matched the sounds of the time. (Fittingly, there will be a makeover station on the pavilion's grounds this weekend.) But Canfield says it's pure nostalgia that draws fans back each year.

"It's the memories," he said. "Everyone's got their own niche music that they find comfort in. To the '80s hair-metal people, this is the one place they can come."

If you go

The M3 Festival takes place Friday and Saturday at Merriweather Post Pavilion, 10475 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia. W.A.S.P., Kix and more will perform Friday. The Bret Michaels Band, Twisted Sister and more will perform Saturday. Doors open at 5 p.m. on Friday and 10:30 a.m. Saturday. Friday tickets are $25-$40; Saturday tickets are $40-$60. Call 410-715-5550 or go to merriweathermusic.com.