When the Cordish Co. asked concert promoter John Scher's Metropolitan Entertainment Group to analyze the potential of the Pier Six Concert Pavilion, it didn't take long for Scher and company to reach a conclusion.
"Our observation was that it was underutilized," says Scher, confirming what Baltimore music fans have long suspected.
While Washington-area venues were booking with-it rockers like Alanis Morissette, Radiohead, the Spice Girls and the Dave Matthews Band, Pier Six was offering moldy oldies like the Four Tops and the Doobie Brothers -- acts more likely to sedate than excite. Where the rest of the Inner Harbor exuded youth and cool, thanks to its ESPN Zone, Planet Hollywood and Hard Rock Cafe, Pier Six perched on the harbor like a forlorn fuddy-duddy.
Scher hopes to change all that. Instead of graying teen idols Bobby Sherman and Davey Jones, this summer's Pier Six schedule offers such current heartthrobs as 98 Degrees, Britney Spears and B*Witched. Add in shows by alt-folkie Ani DiFranco, country iconoclast Lyle Lovett, art rock avatar Roger Waters and progressive soul star Seal, and suddenly Pier Six seems cutting-edge.
"We've got a pretty good, strong, diverse lineup," says Scher. "There are some other things that we would like to have done, that I think we will be able to do eventually. It's a matter of getting people used to thinking that, from June to September, there are going to be concerts down there."
Scher credits the turn-around to several factors.
First, there's Pier Six's size. At 4,338 seats, the venue is far too small to attract megastars on the order of Elton John or Shania Twain. But as Scher points out, there's a whole second level of stars for whom the relative intimacy of Pier Six is just perfect.
"There is starting to be, throughout America, a sub- circuit from the amphitheater business," he says. With capacities running between 4,000 and 5,000 seats, this circuit includes outdoor venues like Harborlights in Boston, the Nautica Stage in Cleveland and Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, as well as indoor halls like New York's Radio City Music Hall, The Wang Center in Boston, the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles and the Fox Theaters in Detroit, Atlanta and St. Louis.
"We had an industry that was forcing our artists into venues that were either too big, or too small," says Scher. When the only choices a market offered were 800-seat clubs and a 13,000-seat amphitheater, a lot of up-and-coming or mid-level acts found themselves having to choose between packed-but-poorly-paying club shows, or playing to empty seats at oversized arenas.
Most amphitheaters, like the Merriweather Post Pavilion or Nissan Pavilion at Stone Ridge, offer several thousand "shed" seats, under a roof, and a much bigger area of "lawn" seating, where concertgoers merely stretch out on the grass. Scher points out that some acts tried to justify playing such venues by convincing themselves that the lawn was just "optional seating space," and that the only spots that really mattered were the seats under the shed.
"But as we all know, part of the excitement of going to a concert is going to a venue that feels like there's something happening there," says Scher. "Whether it's totally sold out, or just filled. [For an artist to take] the position that 'We weren't even trying to sell the lawn' doesn't keep a place from feeling empty."
Another factor that Scher thinks will work to Pier Six's advantage is the extent to which Baltimore has been overlooked by the concert industry.
"For us, Baltimore was and is a sleeping giant," says Scher. "This is a big, sophisticated market that, for one reason or another, has been somewhat ignored."
One big reason Baltimore has been ignored is that most of the promotional muscle in this area has been centered in Washington. Both the Virginia-based Cellar Door productions (now owned by the mammoth SFX conglomerate), and IMP Productions have done much to make the District a major concert center. But both companies have treated Baltimore as a backwater, a secondary market whose only value was to absorb overflow from their primary base in D.C.
Scher had no trouble recognizing Baltimore's situation, because it was similar to what he faced when he started out in northern New Jersey.
"In 1971, when I opened the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, we said, 'Hey, there's plenty of room to play New York and to play northern New Jersey. Plenty of room.' And it has proven to be absolutely factual. Lots and lots of acts play both Madison Square Garden and the Meadowlands Arena. Lots and lots of acts play Radio City or the Theater at Madison Square Garden, and the new New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark.
"So we've got a model that works for us, that we're going to try to apply down in Baltimore."
Finally, says Scher, people in the concert business forget that the Inner Harbor itself is a major attraction waiting to be exploited. "When you've got an area like the Inner Harbor, which did 15 million, 18 million people last year -- it's the best-kept secret in all the entertainment business," he says. "There's no place like that in all of the East Coast. And there's no gambling! It's a family atmosphere, and it's safe, and it's cool."
Scher knows that it will take some time to get others in the industry as excited about Pier Six as he is. But he believes it will happen. "I suspect that you will find, if we have success at Pier 6, that suddenly it will stop being ignored," he says. "People will start saying that you can play both Baltimore and Washington on a given tour."
At Baltimore's Big Three
Pier Six Concert Pavilion
731 Eastern Ave., Baltimore
June 3: B-102 Birthday Blowout, featuring 98 Degrees, Eagle Eye Cherry, B*Witched, Divine, Michael Africk. 7 p.m.
June 5: Violent Femmes, with G. Love and Special Sauce. 8 p.m.
June 6: Gladys Knight. 7:30 p.m.
June 15: Ani DiFranco, with Maceo Parker. 7:30 p.m.
June 18: Seal, with Joan Jones. 8 p.m.
June 20: Elvis Costello and Steve Nieve. 7:30 p.m.
June 27: Sounds of Soul, featuring George Duke, Rachelle Ferrell, Kenny Lattimore. 7:30 p.m.
July 4: Mary Chapin Carpenter, with Solas. 6 p.m.
July 14: Willie Nelson, with Lee Roy Parnell. 7:30 p.m.
July 31: Collin Raye with Kathy Mattea. 8 p.m.
Aug. 4: Lyle Lovett & His Large Band, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 19: Spirit of Unity World Tour, featuring Steel Pulse, Third World, Culture, Shaggy, Maxi Priest, Diana King, Ras Shiloh. 6 p.m.
Aug. 20: Roger Waters. 8 p.m.
Sept. 3: Gipsy Kings. 8 p.m.
Sept. 4: Britney Spears, with Michael Fredo. 8 p.m.
Sept. 5: Jethro Tull. 8 p.m.
Sept. 10: B.B. King Blues Festival 1999, featuring B.B. King, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Tower of Power, Indigenous. 7 p.m.
Merriweather Post Pavilion
10475 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia
June 5: Capital Jazz Fest, featuring the Capital Jazz All-Stars (Kirk Whalum, Peter White, Everette Harp and Marc Antoine), Fattburger, Jonathan Butler, Tuck & Patti, Tom Scott, Marcus Johnson, Jeff Lorber, Eric Marienthal, Chuck Mangione, Regina Carte, Angela Bofill. Noon.
June 6: Capital Jazz Fest, featuring David Sanborn, Oleta Adams, Roy Ayers, Rick Braun, Larry Coryell, Earl Klugh, Steve Cole, Richard Elliot, Greg Karukas, Phil Perry, Warren Hill, Brian Culbertson. Noon.
June 14: Santana, with Ozomotli. 7:30 p.m.
June 16: Rod Stewart. 7:30 p.m.
June 23: Hootie & the Blowfish, with Shawn Mullins. 8 p.m.
June 26: Brandy, with Tyrese, Silk and 702. 7 p.m.
June 29: Maximum Rock, featuring Motley Crue, with the Scorpions and Flash Bastard. 6:30 p.m.
July 1: The Allman Brothers Band, with Hot Tuna. 7 p.m.
July 9: Phish. 7 p.m.
July 21: The Brian Setzer Orchestra. 7 p.m.
July 28 Lilith Fair, featuring Sarah McLachlan, Sheryl Crow, Dixie Chicks, Pretenders, Me'Shell N'degeocello, with Mediaeval Babes, Cherokee, Kendall Payne, Kashi Tara, Toni Blackman. 3:30 p.m.
Aug. 6: Barenaked Ladies, with the Beautiful South. 8 p.m.
Aug. 25: Alanis Morissette, with Tori Amos. [No starting time given.]
Aug. 26: Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band. 8 p.m.
Aug. 28: Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band. 8 p.m.
Sept. 10: R.E.M., with Spacehog. 8 p.m.
Nissan Pavilion at Stone Ridge
7800 Cellar Door Drive, Bristow, Va.
June 4: Ozzfest '99, featuring Black Sabbath, Rob Zombie, Deftones, Slayer, Primus, Godsmack, System of a Down, with Fear Factory, Puya, Slipnot, Hed Pe, Flashpoint, Pushmonkey, Drain STH, Apartment 26, Static X. 11 a.m.
June 10: Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band. 8 p.m.
June 11: Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band. 8 p.m.
June 25: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. 7:30 p.m.
July 5: J. Geils Band. 8 p.m.
July 11: Cher, with Cyndi Lauper. 7:30 p.m.
July 13: Journey, with Foreigner. 7 p.m.
July 16: Paul Simon, with Bob Dylan. 7:30 p.m.
July 17: Chicago, with the Doobie Brothers. 7:30 p.m.
July 23: Steve Miller Band, with George Thorogood & the Destroyers. 8 p.m.
July 28: 'N Sync. 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 6: Barry Manilow. 8 p.m.
Aug. 21: Nickelodeon's All That Music and More Festival, featuring 98 Degrees, Monica, Tatyana Ali, 3rd Storee, No Authority, and "All That" stars Kenan Thompson, Josh Server, Danny Tamberelli. 5 p.m.
The 10 shows to see
Ozzfest '99: Who said head-banging was dead? This year's Ozzfest boasts the heaviest of the heavy and the craziest of the crazy, with techno-rock ghoul Rob Zombie, mosh pit messiahs Slayer, and "South Park" themesters Primus among the featured acts. But the big draw is what is being billed as the final tour by the original Black Sabbath: Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward. Of course, this is the same Ozzy Osbourne who "retired" a few years ago, so ... Nissan Pavilion, June 4, 11 a.m..
Branford Marsalis: In town to launch this year's Columbia Festival of the Arts, the saxophonist and his quartet (with new pianist Joey Calderazzo) will remind us just how daring and provocative jazz can be. Rouse Theater, June 18, 8 p.m.
Mid-Atlantic Music and Arts Festival: Summertime is festival time, promising lots of all-day marathons. But few are as eclectic as this four-stage, two-day extravaganza. In addition to headliners ranging from Latin rockers Los Lobos to groove-jazz aces Medeski, Martin & Wood, the festival also includes jam bands, gospel singers, blues guitarists and noteworthy local artists. Timonium Race Course Infield, Maryland State Fairgrounds, June 19-20, beginning at noon.
Elvis Costello & Steve Nieve: For years, the classic way to present a song was with piano and voice. In the rock era, however, the piano was pushed aside by guitar. Costello and Nieve fuse the two approaches with this concert, which will have the two of them rummaging through the Costello songbook. Pier 6, June 20, 7:30 p.m.
Robert Forster and Grant McLennan: Although they never enjoyed much in the way of commercial success, Australia's the Go-Betweens was considered one of the smartest and most musical bands of the '80s. Forster and McLennan -- the group's Lennon and McCartney -- have kept that tradition alive in their solo work. 930 Club, June 24, 9 p.m.
Mary Chapin Carpenter, with Solas: What better warm-up for the Inner Harbor's Fourth of July show than a first-class concert? In addition to Carpenter's musical fireworks, we get the Celtic virtuosity of Solas, one of the best folk bands in America. Pier 6, July 4, 6 p.m.
Paul Simon, with Bob Dylan: You want singer-songwriters? We got singer-songwriters. Although it's a bit ironic to see Dylan opening for Simon, seeing the two together seems like a crash course in classic '60s songwriting. And '70s songwriting. And '80s ... Nissan Pavilion, July 16, 7:30 p.m.
Lilith Fair: Is it still pop music's the year of the woman? Maybe not, but that hasn't taken any of the wind out of the Lilith Fair's sails. Even though the show's musical range isn't as broad as it was last year (more country, less R&B; and no hip-hop), the combination of Sarah McLachlan, Sheryl Crow and the Pretenders remains hard to beat. Merriweather Post Pavilion, July 28, 3:30 p.m.
Shawn Colvin, with Steve Earle: A truly great songwriter isn't bothered by current taste or trends; he or she simply writes the songs that need to be written, and assumes they'll find an audience. That's certainly been the case with these two, who blur the lines between folk, rock and country to brilliant effect. Wolftrap Filene Center, Aug. 12, 8 p.m.
Alanis Morissette, with Tori Amos: Even before it starts, this pairing is proving to be the season's most controversial tour. Not because of anything Morissette or Amos are likely to say onstage (though neither is known for holding her tongue), but because these shows are being sponsored by Internet music mavens -- and record- industry enemies -- MP3.com. Merriweather Post Pavilion, Aug. 25, show time to be announced.
Other acts of note
Around the area:
June 5: UB40, 930 Club, 815 V St. N.W., Washington. 9 p.m.
June 18: Branford Marsalis, Rouse Theater, Columbia, 5460 Trumpeter Road. 8 p.m.
June 18: Elton John, Baltimore Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St. 8 p.m.
June 19: Crack the Sky, Recher Theatre, 512 York Road, Towson. 8 p.m.
June 24: Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, 930 Club, 815 V St. N.W., Washington. 9 p.m.
At Wolftrap Filene Center, Vienna, Va.:
June 6: 10th Annual Louisiana Swamp Romp, featuring Dr. John, Boozoo Chavis & the Magic Sounds, Beau Jocque & the Zydeco Hi-Rollers, and Geno Delafosse & French Rockin' Boogie. 2 p.m.
June 22: Aretha Franklin, 8 p.m.
June 25: Tito Puente, with Pancho Sanchez. 7 p.m.
July 19: The Neville Brothers, with Little Feat. 8 p.m.
Aug. 1: Tony Bennett, with Diana Krall. 8 p.m.
Aug. 12: Shawn Colvin, with Steve Earle, 8 p.m.
Aug. 18: Dwight Yoakam. 8 p.m.
Mid-Atlantic Music and Arts Festival (Timonium Race Course Infield, Maryland State Fairgrounds):
June 19: Featuring Medeski, Martin & Wood, Spyro Gyra, moe., Bobby Rush, Anders Osborne, Laura Love Band, John Mooney, Carl Filipiak, Vickie Winans, Jah Works, All Mighty Senators and others. Noon.
June 20: Featuring Buddy Guy, Los Lobos, Southside Johnny, the Funky Meters, Jimmie Vaughan, Buckwheat Zydeco, Shemekia Copeland, the Kelly Bell Band, Gingham Schmuz, Roy Bookbinder, and others. Noon.
On the Web: For ticket information, directions and maps to concert venues, visit SunSpot at www.sunspot.net/features/sunday
Pub Date: 05/30/99