It's hip, it's generational, it's music at Merriweather

If last summer's subscription series at the Merriweather Post Pavilion seemed the work of someone stuck in the '70s, this year's offerings can only mean one thing: Someone bought the booking agent a new calendar.

True, many of the names included on this initial listing are as old as they are familiar: Chicago (June 12); Jimmy Buffett (June 20); Barry Manilow (July 24); and the Beach Boys (date to be announced). Strictly VH-1 material, just like last year.


Others, though, are as fresh as anything in the MTV Buzz Bin. Take the June 23 show, a bill that matches jam-oriented sound of the Spin Doctors with high-energy alternative rock of Soul Asylum and the Seattle grunge of Screaming Trees. Even more enticing is the "Festival New Orleans" package scheduled for July 31; this booking promises such Crescent City favorites as the Radiators, Buckwheat Zydeco, Beausoleil and more.

There are even some surprises among the oldies. Steely Dan -- an act that hasn't toured in two decades -- is due at Merriweather on Aug. 28. Incredibly, this tour does not herald a reunion album; Walter Becker is currently working on a solo album, while Donald Fagen's "Kamakiriad" is due in late May. But for touring purposes, the band is officially back together.


Moreover, this is only the subscription fare. Among the acts likely to be added to Merriweather's schedule are Van Halen, 10,000 Maniacs, Coverdale/Page and Sting.

Before you rush out to the nearest Ticketmaster, credit card in hand, be advised that this initial listing is for subscription series only, and cannot be purchased at regular ticket outlets. If you want to sign up, you'll need a coupon from a Merriweather ad (you'll find one in this Sunday's Sun) and a stamp -- it's mail-order only for now. Tickets for individual shows will not be available until after May 1.

There are eight series in all, and here's how they break down:

Series A promises a scent of the '70s, as most of its acts peaked before or during the Carter administration. Jazz/rock fossils Chicago kick things off with a June 12 show, followed by one of President Clinton's favorites, Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band, on June 20 (it's possible that other, non-subscription shows by Buffett will be added, but there's no sure word yet).

Following are Steve Miller -- one of the few '70s icons who has managed to build an audience among the college crowd -- on June 29, Steely Dan on Aug. 28, and a to-be-announced date by David Crosby and Graham Nash with friends.

Series B is the Middle-of-the-Road schedule, but in this case, it's MOR with teeth. First, Barry Manilow brings his inordinately upbeat show for a July 21 performance. Then we get Tom Jones, the Dorian Grey of hip, on Aug. 26. Rounding the series out is the redoubtable Tony Bennett, whose exquisite singing will be accompanied by the current version of the Count Basie Orchestra; this show is slated for Sept. 1.

Think of Series C as heavy nostalgia. Sure, the acts included here are definitely vintage material, but they're not exactly heading quietly into that good night. Lynyrd Skynyrd, for example, remains as wild and woolly as ever, and the same goes for Bad Company; both roll in on June 16. More boogie is expected when the Allman Brothers Band arrives Aug. 3, with a double-dose of classic rock -- Jethro Tull and the once-symphonic Procol Harum -- following on Aug. 30.

Aging metallist Deep Purple are also expected, but at a date to be announced.


Light jazz and blues dominate Series D, which has its first show, the Festival New Orleans, scheduled for July 31, with jazz popsters Al Jarreau and David Sanborn on Aug. 4. There are also two TBA shows listed: A blues bash featuring B. B. King, Buddy Guy, Eric Johnson and others; and a show by another Clintonian favorite, soprano saxophonist Kenny G.

If Series E had a motto, it would be "New Music Now." That's certainly what subscribers will get with the Spin Doctors/Soul Asylum/Screaming Trees show on June 23, as well as the July 29 date with Duran Duran -- technically old guys by new wave standards, but currently on the comeback trail. Series E's third -- show, however, is a TBA wild card, with no act or date listed.

Series F is Merriweather's country music special, with two multi-act shows on tap. The first features Ricky Van Shelton, with up-and comers Cleve Francis and Joy White, on July 1; the second matches Lorrie Morgan with Doug Stone, Tracy Lawrence and Great Plains on July 28. As for the third show,

there are no names attached as yet, but we can safely rule out the Clint Black/Wynonna Judd tour, which will go instead to Wolf Trap.

Finally, there's Series G, home of the "are those guys still around?" acts. This series starts off promisingly, with a June 28 show by Little Feat and what currently passes for the Band, and then delivers Tina Turner -- a singer whose fear of being too old to rock and roll has yet to get her off the road -- on Aug. 1.

There's also a TBA date with the Beach Boys and America, but the less said about that bill, the better.