M3: The Last Of The Great Hair Metal Festivals? (2011)

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By STEVE MASCORD

TED Poley has a sportscar.

I can only assume he wants you to know this, since the lead singer of Danger Danger has insisted he be interviewed by Classic Rock standing behind it, with the motor running.

We had encountered Poley after his band’s set at M3, arguably the last pure hair metal festival left in North America since Rocklahoma added the likes of Staind and Drowning Pool to its bill.

Poley, a fit-looking 50ish blonde dude in a sleeveless shirt and denims, was pressing flesh in the VIP area when CR approached him for a short chat.

His behaviour immediately altered. “Wait a minute,” he said, pointing a finger in the air. He then moved to another part of the VIP area, seeking out anyone who recognised him and posing for photos.

“Still there?” he said, looking around for your correspondent.

Poley, whose biggest hits include 1990’s “Naughty Naughty” and 1992’s “I Still Think About You”, then shakes hands with fans who are actually lining up to meet Slaughter. “Still there?”

After that Poley hangs with some friends, who seem to be Mexican, for a few minutes before ushering ‘Classic Rock’ backstage. “We can do this in two minutes here,” I say.

“No, no, I want to get out of here. Let’s go to the car.”

With the key turned in the ignition and the motor purring, Poley finally accedes. “Let’s move over here, the engine noise is loud. How can I help you?”

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A HOWARD County transit bus eases past the gates of Merriweather Post Pavillion on a still Thursday night.

The bus driver, like his most talkative passenger an African American in his 60s, asks: “Is there a concert on there tonight?”

“No, it’s tomorrow,” the passenger replies. “It’s da White Snake. They say people gonna come from all around for da White Snake at the weekend. They’s an old rock band.”

The driver chuckles. “Whoa! They is OLD. They’s as old as Keith Richards.”

Seven hours later – the morning M3 is to kick off with Jetboy, LA Guns and local favourites Kix – black-garbed Dean Boswell is in the breakfast room of the nearby Columbia Sheraton.

Dean is the founder of Back In The Day, a rock club in Melbourne, Australia. “We are not up early,” a friend of Dean’s insists. “We’re out late.”

And all over the quaint planned community of Columbia, Maryland, on a chilly, damp morning, old friends from far flung lands – bearing denim, leather, studs, ink and piercings – are meeting up.

Three boys in their mid-20s – too young to remember most of the weekend’s music being released – have driven from North Carolina.

One of them, Jordon, has a tattoo on his inside left biceps which reads: “To do. 1 _____, 2 _____, 3_____” “I fill it in with a sharpie pen,” he explains.

Today he’s written: 1. Drink, 2. Rock, 3. Repeat.

The male half of a black-haired, leathered couple explains they got together when Taime Downe, the lead singer of Faster Pussycat, “fucked my ex-girlfriend.

“At first we weren’t going to ever have their music in the house,” our man, who speaks on condition of anonymity, says.

“But they are responsible for us getting together so we are going to go and watch them tomorrow.”

Hair Nation is a radio station on Sirius Satellite radio in the US. But after half a day in Columbia, Maryland, it’s apparent that there really is a hair nation.

Whether it is a country under siege with a dwindling populace or a booming world power which still strikes fear into others, we are about to find out as we make our way up the hill and through the gates of M3.

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“HANDS up who’s got granny looking after the kids so you can get wasted??” the new lead singer of Jetboy, DK Revelle, exhorts from the stage.

Passage through the M3 gates is as painless as any festival you will enter this century. Not much in the way of searches, little in the way of queues and a bare minimum in the way of security.

In much the same way illegal immigrants have their own tax forms in America, fans who bought VIP tickets from scalpers have their own line to get their bag of goodies.

Merriweather Post Pavilion was designed by Frank Gehry, opened in 1967 and holds 19,316 people. The main amphitheatre has a VIP section at the front, seating behind and then a large outdoor grassed area. A second stage lies at the top of the hill.

Gary Cherone, the former lead singer of Van Halen and sometimes frontman of Extreme, tells CR: “It’s a slightly different vibe than your typical festival.

“It’s very chilled out, just-there-to-enjoy. I’d be shocked if there’s a fight that breaks out. Sometimes you can go to a festival and someone gets taken away and you’re not really shocked.

“Extreme did this two years ago and these fans are loyal. They love their music. It’s what they grew up on. When you play these festivals, when you play with Whitesnake or Kix, there’s a unity.”

Cherone’s brand new side project, Hurtsmile, are playing on the smaller stage on Saturday. “These are considered heritage acts,” says Cherone. “I go back to Extreme: we had the chance to play with Journey or Heart. Those are some of the bands we grew up on.

“Those audiences, that love those bands, they would dig Extreme. So, Hurtsmile is a new band. We want to be considered a new band with new music.

“We don’t want to be considered a heritage band.

“But we could go play a club to a 100 new Hurtsmile fans or we could try to convert a couple of thousand. We’d rather do this.”

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SO what about the music?

Jetboy’s most successful album peaked at 135 on the Billboard chart 23 years ago – so they and their fans should be thankful they are still around to play their energetic set.

The two bands touring under the name LA Guns are neck and neck in the view of this writer. This is Phil Lewis’ lineup and it’s a little more vampy than Tracii Guns’ version. Phil wears a kind of exploding hat during “Electric Gypsy” and the omission of “One More Reason” is a little irritating. But what’s to hate about LA Guns, once one of the most under-rated bands of the Sunset Strip era – now two of the most under-rated bands of the Sunset Strip era!

Warrant have become a completely different beast with new singer Robert Mason. Between the cheese of “Cherry Pie” is new material with genuine crunch and – live – “Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ is actually a metal song.

Kix may seem from afar a curious headlining choice on Friday. But Steve Whiteman’s men are local heroes in Maryland, Pennsylvania and surrounds – as much as Motley Crue are quintessentially Californian. Whiteman’s vocals are so good you’d swear he’s miming (he’s not), with “Blow My Fuse” the highlight of the M3 “Kix-off party”.

On Saturday, Danger Danger are fun if you don’t take them too seriously. The chorus from “Don’t Blame It On Love” sticks in your head all day whether you want it to or not. Firehouse provide the weekend’s schmalziest fare with about as much heaviness as Foreigner.

Pretty Boy Floyd look – and sound – like Murderdolls on ecstacy. Faster Pussycat have aged better than most, their music evolving into a form of industrial sleaze and the aforementioned Downe uber cool in his officer’s cap and black lipstick, with drooping cigarette. I’d almost consider fucking him myself. Alas the set is short – amid rumours of organisers pulling the plug because of excessive swearing which carries a draconian fine each time.

Lita Ford plays her whole show with hair billowing from a stage-front fan. I’d be amazed if she didn’t finish the evening with a nasty chill. It’s a good set though, with “Close Your Eyes” hitting the mark despite the absence of Ozzy Osbourne.

Great White are a notch above your average revival act with their more-than-competent blues rock, XYZ front man Terry Ilous does an admirably turn in the absence of the ill Jack Russell and a nifty cover of The Angels’ ‘Face The Day’ is among the highlights.

It’s hard to imagine Tesla tendering a poor performance  these days. Jeff Keith’s men deserve extra brownie points for continuing  to release quality material and  no-one is left disappointed when the Sacremento band finishes up at  around 8.40pm on the final night. Even if you despise anything approaching cock rock, you’re likely to dip your lid to the sturdy, muscular Tesla.

And what of “The White Snake”? David Coverdale’s voice – a recent problem  for the pan-Atlantic masters of the double entendre  – holds up well. He seems to have some high-tech help, too, hitting some unfeasibly sweet notes while holding an obviously- very-sensitive microphone a fair distance from his mouth, all without the feedback problems that dogged Great White’s set.

Coverdale plays with the audience (“Nice rack,” he says to a presumably female punter) and mixes classics like “Stranger To Love” with new stuff like “Forevermore “. Actually, there’s a preponderance of material from the album of that title and its predecessor, Good To Be Bad – which is a good, not bad, thing.

“Still Of The Night” is the encore – and it’s oddly washed out as the rain tumbles at the end of a marathon 11 hours on day two.

But if there was a show stealer at M3 then it was undoubtedly Mr Big. The reunited technical wizards sound impressive enough on your stereo but live, they are musical athletes – a force of nature. Singer Eric Martin looks – and sounds – like he’s 21. The fact guitarist Paul Gilbert is wearing headphones only seems to emphasise the extent to which he is “in the zone” tonight. Pat Torpey is clearly a drummer’s drummer and – obviously – Billy Sheehan is to the bass what cocaine is to the advertising industry.

Standing back and watching Mr Big mesh seamlessly and yet simultaneously excel as individuals puts them above anything this weekend  that could be described as cheesy or out-dated. Mr Big do something with music and instruments that you are not going to see and hear often in your lifetime – so much so that when their sappy hit, “To Be With You” ,comes around, it’s a letdown.

Popularity in Japan was a major factor for Mr Big reforming in 2009 after a seven year absence. “I can’t believe how fortunate I am to still be able to be doing this,” Torpey tells Classic Rock before the show.

“It’s a young man’s game and it’s really nice to be part of a band that, to me, I had a major influence in shaping. We were able to make a success out of it. We’ve been all over the world. We’ve done decades of things that other people would cut off their arm  to be able to do.

“I just ran into the keyboard player from Great White and I haven’t seen him since forever. And I’ve known him since the eighties. A lot of these guys, I’ve known for decades and I haven’t seen them in eight to ten to 15 years.

“There’s a great community vibe about the whole thing. Hair nation? Yes.”

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THE writer’s best view of Sebastian Bach  – who also played late on Day two – is in Clyde’s, a bar next to the Sheraton.

Bach causes the sort of kerfuffle entering this bar that a current US president would stir up in other places. His decision to shift to another part of the establishment later in the evening requires all the planning and execution of a small desert military battle.

Here, at Clydes, rock journalist Eddie Trunk is harassed all night for photos and autographs, Faster Pussycat drummer Chad Stewart is an a-list celebrity and the three young strapping lads from  North Carolina are completely eclipsed by men twice their age when it comes to attention from the ladies.

Many of the drinkers know each other from Shiprocked, the annual Caribbean Cruise which is now going the way of Rocklahoma by adding more modern acts. Having been courted by promoters five years ago, these heartland rockers are being cast aside again  in the search for bigger profits.

“Everyone has a different idea of what music is important to them,” Torpey says. “It’s usually what they were listening to when they were in their teen years and it stays with you for the rest of your life.

“I mean, I still listen to Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles. It’s important to me even though they’re not fashionable. What is that? It’s a tricky word.”

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THE car and the digital voice recorder are running. Ted’s talking.

These days, he says, festivals are “more about getting sleep and getting some coffee, it’s not so much about getting laid before, after, and  sometimes during the show.

“I no longer have to have sex with everybody that came to the show. I just like to meet everybody.

“I love the hands-on approach. Not exactly the hands-on approach of the old days but the new hands-on approach. I mean, I miss the old hands-on approach, don’t be me wrong everybody out there with big breasts. Ladies only. Guys with big breasts, you never had a chance even back in the day.

“After the show, the only thing I’m grabbing for is a paycheck.”

At this point it would be easy to leave Poley looking like a goofy lower division Gene Simmons. But he has some insights to offer. For festivals like this, he says, “I think we’re at the tail end. I think the festivals were five years ago til now. This festival is obviously doing great. M3 is great. But I see a lot of the other ones slowly dying off or changing. They’re not as cool or relevant to our kind of music.

“I think the thing to do would be to take a big show like this and tour it. I don’t know why they don’t do it.

“What’s happening  is (promoters) see it’s a working formula so they say ‘why don’t we do this with some modern bands and get more people. Whereas I think the attraction is you come out with your family and you see bands you love from  the old days.

“To me, it defeats the purpose to have 20 modern bands that you could see all year. A lot of us, we only do these festivals once a year, twice a year.”

Why? Because many of the “rock stars” – just like in the Anvil movie –  have day jobs. “I buy and sell antiques, antique toys. Anybody out there who has any antique toys or trains, contact me, I want to buy them, I want to meet you. You want to meet Ted Poley?”

What do the rest of Danger Danger do? “I have no idea what they do but if you have an old train set, contact me. Ted Poley on Facebook.. I’m serious.

“One day you could catch me selling crap at a flea market and the next day I’m here in concert for 20,000 people.”

With that closing quote, I tell Ted I should let him go since he is clearly in a hurry to drive off in his fast automobile.. But he shrugs and does the strangest thing.

Ted Poley reaches into the idling car, takes the keys back out of the ignition, and goes to watch Mr Big.

Filed for: CLASSIC ROCK PRESENTS AOR

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