Howard County Executive Ken Ulman and singer Jack Johnson shared the spotlight Thursday to talk about renovation plans for Columbia's Merriweather Post Pavilion.
"We've come a long way since in 1967 when Merriweather opened," Ulman said, standing between the lawn and the amphitheater's east side, with the stage in the background.
"Merriweather desperately needed some renovations, and that's what we are here to talk about -- the future of Merriweather Post Pavilion."
Johnson was eager to lend his voice. He said one of the reasons he returns to Merriweather is because it is eco-friendly, something he said has become more important to him as his success has grown.
"We became a headache for some venues," Johnson said. "We decided if we were going to keep coming back and playing venues, they were going to have to try and upgrade the concert experience for the fans ... and a lot of that is greening measures."
The five-year, $19-million renovation plan was announced last month between the Howard Hughes Corp., the pavilion owner, and the county government. The county will fund $9.5 million through a grant, and Howard Hughes will cover the remaining $9.5 million.
Renovation is expected to be complete in 2019 and will include a raised main roof, new restrooms and concessions, a new stage and new artist dressing rooms. Construction will be carried out during the off-season, beginning at the close of the concert schedule in the fall of this year.
The details were highlighted Thursday at a media event before Johnson's concert. During the news conference, Johnson and Merriweather operator Seth Hurwitz, co-owner of I.M.P. Productions, talked about what makes the venue special.
"In the music business, a lot of criticism comes from the sort of factory it's become and all the tours and venues look the same," Hurwitz said. "When you go to other venues, that's when you realize how special this place is. It's truly unique. That's a cliche to say, but it really is true about Merriweather."
Added Johnson: "I really applaud all the changes they are doing. ... We love coming back to Merriweather Post."
After the news conference, Johnson presented Ulman and Hurwitz with a signed guitar to be displayed at the pavilion to show his thanks.
Ulman, Johnson and Hurwitz then led a tour, including a trip on a cherry picker, which elevated the three above the grounds.
They also stopped at Johnson's tour bus so he could connect it to a bio-diesel fueling station, which is one of the environmental features the pavilion has installed.
Other eco-friendly features include a solar array, which powers house and backstage lighting; composting facilities; and a new concession stand and restroom to LEED standards.