Best and Worst of Cal Jam 18

Dave Grohl Foo Fighters Cal Jam 2018 mainbar 2

The Foo Fighters made sure Cal Jam 18 went down in history this past Saturday at Glen Helen Regional Park.

This marked the second time the Foos brought the rock and roll festival to San Bernardino. In the week leading into the festival, Dave Grohl kept teasing a Nirvana reunion without outright saying it. That came to fruition when Krist Novoselic — whose new band Giants in the Trees played earlier in the day — joined Grohl and guitarist Pat Smear after the Foo Fighters concluded their set.

They were joined by Deer Tick singer John McAuley for four songs, beginning with “Serve the Servants” from the final studio record from Nirvana, In Utero. McAuley proved capable of landing those difficult vocals, and Grohl, Novoselic, and Smear definitely sounded like vintage Nirvana. It was a trip seeing Grohl behind a drum kit again. Later, Joan Jett joined the guys on stage for vocals on a couple of songs, including “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “All Apologies”. It was quite a sight to behold.

I didn’t make it to the festival until about 4 PM because my ride there had been out the previous night until 6 AM. But I did get inside with enough time to check out a number of great bands and circle through the park to see what else was out there. Here’s a Best and Worst recap of Cal Jam 18 for you.

BEST: Nirvana reunion, duh

John McAuley of Deer Tick may not be a household name but holy shit could he hit the difficult Kurt Cobain singing style. As soon as they launched into “Serve the Servants”, I lost my fucking mind. It wasn’t one of their big hits but I dug that. They also played “Scentless Apprentice” and “In Bloom” with McAuley, and the latter was the most well known by the crowd.

Then Joan Jett came out and all hell broke loose. “Breed” led into “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, then concluded with “All Apologies”. Joan Jett didn’t quite have the vocals for Nirvana — her voice sounded a little flat — but she’s still a legend. For “All Apologies”, they were all joined by Brody Dalle of The Distillers on bass guitar, and Novoselic played accordion.

It was cool to see some people my age and below rocking the fuck out to Nirvana. It proved to the jaded music fan in myself that not all young people wearing Nirvana shirts don’t know their music. These group of teens to my right were singing every word to “Breed” like it just came out and that reaffirmed to me just how important this band was.

WORST: The crowd was kind of meh

One letdown was how some people were leaving before the Nirvana reunion — and some even during it. I understand not wanting to sit in traffic for an hour, but when you’re faced with an opportunity to see something that might not ever happen again, you don’t bounce early. It felt like the Nirvana reunion was slightly wasted on this crowd. But Dodgers fans leave tight games in the seventh inning, so it’s par for the course. But who knows? Maybe Grohl is getting the itch to play these songs again, and Novoselic — who had historically been against doing any sort of reunion-type thing — looked rather happy on stage. Maybe we see it sometime down the road.

BEST: Rumors of rock n roll’s death have been greatly exaggerated

It was great seeing guitar bands old and new make up the entire bill of a music festival. The youth movement of Greta Van Fleet and The Front Bottoms proved that there will always be more bands coming through the pipeline, regardless of what Coachella’s lineup wants to tell us. Greta Van Fleet had a packed crowd’s jaws dropped with their Led Zeppelin sound, and there was a nice little touch in a guitar solo where they sampled Tom Petty’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”, with singer Josh Kiszka vocalizing the memorable harmonica line.

Shirley Manson made mention of how grateful she was for the Foo Fighters to bring Garbage to Cal Jam, passing along a message to the younger bands on the bill “kudos to every band that continues to buck the trend”.

WORST: The five dollar pretzel I bought

I bought a pretzel from one of the snack shacks and holy shit, it might be the worst festival purchase I’ve ever made. I thought I hit the lottery when I found a line that didn’t have many people, but then I was handed a pretzel that was as rubbery as Iggy Pop‘s skin and tastes like cardboard. It was cold. It wasn’t even very salty. But it cost five dollars so I tried soldiering through it, only making it halfway before giving up. I wound up buying some tasty chicken wings and fries for $14 up the hill somewhere. It might be my last festival pretzel purchase ever, it was such a bad experience.

BEST: Lawn passes

One thing Cal Jam 18 did this year was offer lawn-only passes for $50 each. That allowed people to catch the main stage from a distance and have access to the other two stages and all the fun on that side of the park. The volume was good enough that even from a distance you got a good show. When I was eating my chicken wings I sat at a table in the way back and chatted with a mother-daughter combo that bought the lawn tickets. Live music should be as accessible as possible and it was a creative way to get more people in the gates than otherwise would have attended.

BEST: Foo Fighters museum

It almost always had a long line, but it was cool that the Foo Fighters brought back the museum aspect they introduced at last year’s festival. There was such an assortment of items in there, and it also featured Grohl’s mom Virginia signing copies of her book From Cradle to Stage: Stories from the Mothers Who Rocked and Raised Rock Stars. The museum had GRAMMYs, it had awesome photos from throughout their careers, it had old amps. It pretty much had everything a die-hard Foo Fighters fan would want to see — even some of the casts from when Grohl had a broken leg.

Overall, Cal Jam 18 was quite a way to spend a Saturday. Dave Grohl said “We’ll see you next year!” but I wonder if they’ll actually bring the festival back next October. There was a noticeable dropoff in terms of the lineup from the first to second year, and although there are dozens if not hundreds of awesome bands, putting together an all rock n roll bill that will sell a bunch of tickets is difficult in today’s climate. My personal hope is that Dave Grohl and Co. continue to try and do this. It’s been a joy.

Words by Mark Ortega
Photos by Katarina Manos


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