If one thing is abundantly clear to anyone who’s ever spent time with Dave Grohl, it’s that he’s an even bigger music fan than he is a rock star. Whether talking about his favorite Van Halen album (“Fair Warning”) or getting to play drums as a teenager with Iggy Pop at a record release show in Toronto, he is as animated as he is on stage.
So Grohl and his Foo Fighters bandmates were the perfect people to resurrect Cal Jam, the massive festival held in 1974 (with Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, the Eagles, Earth, Wind & Fire and others) and 1978 (featuring Aerosmith, Foreigner, Heart and more), and last year when Grohl and the Foos flew the flag again, alongside Queens of the Stone Age, Cage the Elephant, Liam Gallagher and many more.
“Talk about bringing the party,” he says of the original festivals. “When I look at that lineup, I think about the musicianship. To see a band as funky as Earth, Wind & Fire, and then a band as heavy as Black Sabbath, and then someone as mellow as Seals & Crofts and the Eagles, those were the f—ing days.”
This year he and Iggy Pop (who is reuniting the Queens of the Stone Age-derived lineup from his 2016 album, “Pure Pop Depression”), Garbage, Tenacious D, Greta Van Fleet and more will unite Saturday, October 6, in San Bernardino’s Glen Helen Regional Park for Cal Jam ‘18. Variety sat down with Grohl to talk about the festival, how Foo Fighters have stayed true to themselves for 24 years, and what he learned during his time in Nirvana about giving back to musicians.
A lot of the bands from the first two Cal Jams are still active. Who would you like to have come back?
Dave Grohl: Last year we had Joe Perry from Aerosmith come up and jam with us — it was a little bit of a fiasco! We tried to do [The Beatles’] “Come Together” with Liam Gallagher. It went haywire, but it was fun. We asked Joe about his experience in ‘78 and back then bands would take helicopters to gigs (laughs), so I asked him more about the helicopter than anything else. But Heart are still f—ing amazing, they would be a great one. Everybody loves a little bit of Foreigner now and then. I don’t doubt that any one of those bands could jump up on stage in between Japandroids and Greta Van Fleet and school everyone. It could happen.
Who is the dream Cal Jam headliner?
Of course, I would say AC/DC because they’re the greatest rock and roll band in the world. But realistically I’d probably say I’d like to have Slayer before they go away. That’d be a big one. I sure as f— wouldn’t want to go on after them! (laughter)
What prompted the resurrection of the Cal Jam name?
We started looking at all these classic festivals and one of the people we work with said, “Man, we should try to bring back Cal Jam because of how incredible it was back then.” That’s kind of where the idea was born. Those California festivals, the Us Festival and Cal Jam, they just looked so f—ing fun: hot and loud and dirty, and that’s how I like it. We got an email from a man whose father was one of the people that put on the first two Cal Jam festivals, and he said he was a little apprehensive about us bringing it back, but afterwards he was really happy that we brought the same vibe the original Cal Jam had.
Considering the success and visibility you’ve had, how can you use that to give back musically?
It’s important for people to feel connected to the musicians that they share the stage with. If somebody needs your help then you give it to them —the generosity of sharing with other musicians is really f—ing important. Beyond Iggy [Pop] being an incredible influence musically, he also gave me one of the highlights of my entire life [when they performed together when Grohl was young]. And I remember when he came to see Nirvana play before “Nevermind” came out — I mentioned it to him and he remembered, I couldn’t believe it. But also, Krist Novoselic’s band is playing on the [Cal Jam] bill, and I’ve got Josh Homme, Butch Vig — there’s a lot of history there in that lineup. That’s the sense of community I feel is important, and it can grow stronger because when you’re blessed with the opportunity to be able to expose your audience to bands they otherwise may not have heard, you invite your friends. When Nirvana became popular we brought out the Melvins, the Boredoms, the Meat Puppets — bands that we loved and that influenced us, so hopefully our audience would get maybe a deeper understanding of where we come from.
What is the Foo Fighters aesthetic and how has it evolved as you’ve gotten older?
Independence is very important, because you want to control your experience and that’s basically what we’ve done for the last 24 years. We’re on our own label and have our own studio and basically just tell everyone, “We’re making a record. Here are the songs, here’s who’s going to produce it, we’d like to tour here and there.” Independence has always been important to us, but a lot of it goes back even before Nirvana, when I was in punk rock bands in Washington, D.C.