Concert goers get covered in paper during Girl Talk's set

Concert goers get covered in paper during Girl Talk's set at the 2011 Sweetlife Festival at Merriweather Post Pavilion. (Staff photo by Brian Krista, Staff Photo by Brian Krista / May 1, 2011)

For some, the first signs of spring are warmer days and cherry blossoms. For others, the season truly begins with the arrival of the new concert season at Columbia's Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Workers have been busy with spring cleaning in anticipation of the first show of the season, which happens on Saturday, April 28.

"There's been lots of cosmetic maintenance," says Audrey Schaefer, senior publicist with I.M.P., which operates the award-winning amphitheater.

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The venue also has some upgrades. "We installed a new lighting system on stage," Schaefer adds. "It uses LED lights which makes it greener."

There have been numerous environmentally friendly improvements over the past years and other transformations as well.

"When we first took over, the food concessions were run by a very large national company that also supplied food to airports and it tasted like it," Schaefer says.

I.M.P. chose a local company to run the concessions and now works with Baltimore's Charm City Hospitality. Gone are the days when nachos and stale popcorn were your only options.

"We're really proud of our food selection," Schaefer says.

Fittingly, the Merriweather season kicks off with the Sweetlife Food and Music Festival, an event created by the owners of Washington-based restaurant group, Sweetgreen.

"Part of the DNA of their company is a love for music and they use it to help brand their organization and connect with customers," Schaefer says.

The inaugural Sweetlife Festival was held two years ago in the parking lot of Sweetgreen's Dupont Circle restaurant location.

"Last year the group made a pretty bold decision to hold the event at Merriweather," says Schaefer. "This year they are really doubling down by having two stages. There'll be a smaller stage with local and emerging acts and the mainstage has some really top names."

That list includes hip-hop artist, Kid Cudi, indie rock band The Shins and star DJ, Avicii. "He is the electronic music pinnacle," Schaefer says. He sells out enormous arenas all over the world."

The Sweetlife festival food component will focus on healthy, locally grown foods. Thirty area vendors and celebrity chefs like Jose Andreas will be on hand.

As for the rest of the season, here's a preview of what's in store.

Now in its fourth year, the M3 Rock Festival has emerged as one of the biggest hard rock and heavy metal celebrations in the country.

"It's really getting national acclaim because a lot of these bands don't necessarily tour but they come in for this," says Schaefer of the two-day event. "For fans, it's their birthday, Christmas and Fourth of July all wrapped into one."

Baltimore's own Kix lead the charge with the annual Kix-Off concert May 11 along with co-headliners, Night Ranger. The following day features a full slate of music including performances by Ratt, Queensryche and Quiet Riot. But why stop at just two days of headbanging heroics? On May 13, Rob Zombie and thrash metal pioneers Megadeth will team up for the Metal Lord's Day. Other hard rock concerts on the schedule include Def Leppard and Poison on July 10 and The Scorpions on July 12.

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