Festival Frequency is a monthly look at music festival-related topics that step beyond the shadow of the Ferris wheel, discussing everything from the performances to the inner workings that make this a global phenomenon.
As I noted earlier this year following a trip to Coachella, big American music festivals are less and less an ideal place to watch a rock band. With an eye to the history of events like these — Coachella’s first installment was anchored by Tool and Rage Against The Machine, Lollapalooza began as a touring showcase for rising rock artists — it’s hard to believe that festivals have shifted away from one of their core genres, but the fact of the matter is that the audience who wants to watch rock bands at these big events simply isn’t turning up.
For instance, Lollapalooza, which almost always sells out in its home base of Chicago, still has single tickets available for the Thursday and Sunday shows. The headliners those days are Arctic Monkeys and Jack White, while the days with The Weeknd and Bruno Mars at the top have sold out easily. Yes, it could have something to do with the days of the week in play, but it’s hard to discount that Lolla’s audience has shifted. Likewise, this year’s Coachella was the first in its history that completely ignored rock music in its headliners — Beyonce, Eminem, and The Weeknd — a reaction to shrinking crowds at sets from the likes of Radiohead, The Stone Roses, and LCD Soundsystem in recent years.
But that doesn’t mean that guitars no longer have a place in the festival space. Foo Fighters‘ leader Dave Grohl has placed his energy into the idea that rock fests can find success in 2018 by reviving a long-dormant Southern California event called Cal Jam; the 1970s editions of this concert featured the likes of Deep Purple and Aerosmith. Last year, kicking off the festival’s return with a show that also functioned as a Foo Fighters record release event for their latest album, Concrete &Gold, Cal Jam seemed to boast a backyard cookout vibe, taking pride in the casual, close-knit communal feel it fostered. Friends, brews, and tunes — this is Grohl’s holy trinity, and Cal Jam placed each in high priority.
“Being blessed with the opportunity as a band to share a lot of our musical influences and tastes with the audience is amazing,” Grohl told Uproxx. “We feel very fortunate that we get to do this, and we try to make the most of it. And it’s f*cking fun.”
Speaking with Grohl gave me the impression that pretty much anything can be fun when he’s involved; he speaks as passionately about playing music as he does about being a father, striking the listener as someone that doesn’t take any aspect of the incredible life he leads for granted. His newest role as festival curator comes at a precarious time for rock and roll, but it might be his good-humored attitude about it all that makes the whole thing work. Last year at the fest, a Foo Fighters museum shared space with biker culture booths, psychedelic mushroom art, and an endless plume of smoke from a huge barbecue pit, all backed by performances from the Foos, Queens Of The Stone Age, Liam Gallagher, The Kills, and Cage The Elephant.
This year, taking place on October 6 at Glen Helen Regional Park and Festival Grounds in San Bernardino, California, the event will offer Iggy Pop performing with his Josh Homme-featuring band from his latest album, Post Pop Depression, along with Tenacious D, Garbage, and, of course, Foo Fighters. There’s simply nothing else quite like it in the festival landscape, and that makes it feel particularly special. (Cal Jam’s first year back delightfully sidestepped most expectations, coming across as a grab bag of Grohl’s loosely related interests that have found a surprising harmony).