The first festival I ever attended was the famous country music festival, Stagecoach, in 2008. It featured Big & Rich, Carrie Underwood, Trace Adkins, and Tim McGraw. I enjoyed the music, the food, the people, and atmosphere that go along with a festival. I got to cover my first major festival, Blackest of the Black, earlier this year with Matt Martinez. On Saturday, October 7th, I got to cover my biggest show to date, Cal Jam 2017. It is one of the biggest music festivals on the west coast, with both big names and small acts sharing the same area, the Glenn Helen Amphitheater in San Bernardino, Calif. The festival featured headliners Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age, Cage the Elephant, Royal Blood (who I did not see) and Liam Gallagher. With three stages and many acts to shoot, I had my work cut out for me, but I was up for the challenge. It is festival time!
I arrived just in time to catch Liam Gallagher. For those who do not remember, Gallagher was the frontman for the legendary British rock act, Oasis. He has recently put together his first solo LP, As You Were, and Cal Jam was the perfect setting to share with the fans what he has created. With his backing band, Gallagher put on a hit parade with a mixture of tunes between his days in Oasis, and his new stuff. Sporting sweat pants, sweatshirts, and sunglasses, he approached the mic in confidence, in his signature poise with his arms behind his back. His voice has such swagger, showing no signs of letting up. His lead guitarist, Jay Mehler, brings sass to the riffs, especially when playing the Oasis songs “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” and “Morning Glory.” The fans responded very positively when hearing his new tunes, “Walls of Glass,” “Greedy Soul,” and “For What It’s Worth.” I plan on checking out “As You Were,” and I recommend fans of Oasis to check it out.
Fill Liam Gallagher slideshow below:
While Gallagher was still performing, I hopped over to the other side of the venue to the Mountain and Sun Stages to check out Babes in Toyland, and Japandroids. Babes are an all-girl grunge/punk group from the 1990s, who has recently reformed. From what I heard from the rest of their set list, their sound is heavy like early day Nirvana, with an emphasis of Bikini Kill. Vocalist/guitarist Kat Bjelland has a raspy, eerie voice that oozes out a pleasurable sensation to my ears. Bassist Clara Salyer is the youngest and newest member, and she held her own very nicely. Grunge holds a special place in my heart, and I plan to see Babes in Toyland again very soon.
Full Babes in Toyland slideshow below:
Immediately after their performance, Japandroids hit the Sun stage next door. This is an interesting alternative rock duo, who combines the sounds of alt rock with indie, heartland rock, garage rock, and punk. With Brian King on guitar and David Prowse on drums, Japandroids have this classic rock sound, that makes their performance exciting to watch and shoot. Both members share vocal duties, and they both have the making of becoming rock legends. King’s stage presence was electrifying, singing and riffing with vigorous magnetism. Prowse blasts some heavy drum beats, all the while hitting the bass drum to provide the group with its bass sound. Japandroids is definitely one of the coolest bands to grace Cal Jam. I am glad to have checked them out, along with Babes in Toyland.
Full Japandroids slideshow below:
Heading back to the main stage, Cage the Elephants stampeded the fans with a rip-roaring set. I will admit, I have heard of them before, but did not pay much attention to them. I was immediately mesmerized by frontman Matt Shultz’s magnitude of his ability to stir the crowd into a musical frenzy. He is charging the stage like a madman, while swaggering to the beat of their music. Cage the Elephant started off with an homage to the late great Tom Petty by playing “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” Recently winning the Best Rock Grammy, their musical prowess caught my attention immediately. With the combined guitar efforts of Brad Shultz and Nick Bockrath, their alternative rock style played to the hearts of their beloved fans. Both guitarists joined in the crowd for some music fun. From “Ain’t No Rest For the Wicked” to “Punchin’ Bag” and “Cold Cold Cold,” it was never a dull moment with Cage the Elephant. Armed with red smoke and fire balls, I can say with certainty, that I have become a Cage the Elephant fan. What made the performance more special for me, was the fact that I got to shoot the entire performance in the pit. I had myself the best seat in the house.
Full Cage the Elephant slideshow below:
It was back to the Mountain and Sun Stages to hear the end of Bob Mould and The Kills. I only got to hear Mould for a couple of songs, but they were good tunes to hear. He has a magnificent voice and is alternative rock’s unsung hero. One of Dave Grohl’s favorite musicians, I will see him again soon enough.
The Kills hit the Sun Stage to bring their unique blend of indie rock and blues rock. Frontwoman Alison “VV” Mosshart astonished the audience with her sensational vocals. VV’s hair twirled wildly in the wind as she sang her heart out. Together with guitarist and partner-in-crime, Jamie “Hotel” Hince, their musical fusion was the perfect way to close out the sets on the side stages. They were backed by a touring drummer and keyboardist/bassist, who helped enhance the sound. White smoke surrounded the stage, creating an ambiance for the band’s set. Overall, The Kills killed their performance.
Full The Kills slideshow below:
Back to the main stage, Queens of the Stone Age took the center stage. The band, which helped introduce stoner rock and desert to the mainstream, was a site for sore eyes. Frontman Josh Homme wowed me, not only with magnetic vocals, but also with his captivating guitar riffs. Watching him slay it, with each new solo was a real treat. Queens recently released their newest effort, Villains, and I enjoyed hearing them live, from “The Way You Used to Do It” to “Feet Don’t Fail Me.” Guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen helped Homme out with some powerful licks, especially when it came to his famous lap steel guitar. The stage was encircled with tall light sticks, giving the band a more ominous glow every now and again. Drummer Jon Theodore, keyboardist Dean Fertita, and bassist Michael Shuman were dead on, note for note, in the rhythm section. Particularly, I was most impressed with Theodore’s drumming skills. In addition to hearing the Villains tracks, I was thrilled to hear the classics that have made Queens of the Stone Age who they are today, like “No One Knows,” “Little Sister,” and “Sick, Sick, Sick.” Homme and his gang are always pushing the boundaries of their signature sound and staying fresh every new record, all the while giving the fans what they want. Queens of the Stone Age put out an album called Villains, while they are one of rock’s biggest heroes.
Full Queens of the Stone Age slideshow below:
Finally, after many years of waiting patiently, I got my chance to catch the Foo Fighters. Just watching Dave Grohl talk in the mic is magical enough. My parents grew up on Lennon, McCartney, and Jagger; I got to grow up with Grohl. From the first note on “Times Like These,” I was in rock ‘n’ roll Heaven. He has one of the most influential, dominating voices in music today, and it has not lost any of its youthful lust. Ever since guitarist Pat Smear rejoined the band, the Foo Fighters have been more dominating than ever, especially being joined at the hip with lead guitarist Chris Shiflett. Both of these guitar masters go together beautifully, exchanging riffs and solos between each other. Keyboardist Rami Jaffee is stimulating when he tickles the ivories. Recently made an official member of the band, though he has been touring with them since 2005, Jaffee brings a classical oomph to their sound. Along with bassist Nate Mendel and drummer Taylor Hawkins, who just killed up there (especially Hawkins), I could not think of another band more suited to headline this year’s Cal Jam.
They recently crafted their newest album, Concrete and Gold, to which the fans absolutely enjoyed. From “Run” to “The Sky Is a Neighborhood” and “Dirty Water,” these songs sound really good live. Hawkins took to the mic for “Sunday Rain,” and nailed it. I knew he sang, but I did not know it was this good. Like Ringo Starr, he is a singing talent that needs to be heard more often. Foo Fighters would also play their fan favorite classics, like “Rope,” “Learn To Fly,” “Monkey Wrench,” and “My Hero” to name a few. They even had guest musicians come out to join in on the fun, like legendary guitar maestro Joe Perry of Aerosmith (“Draw a Line,” and “Come Together”), Gallagher (“Come Together”), Rick Astley (“Never Gonna Give You Up”), and producer/keyboardist Greg Kurstin (“Sunday Rain,”). Unfortunately, I had left before Perry came out in order to avoid the festival traffic. Still, seeing the Foo Fighters made this year even better for me.
Full Foo Fighters slideshow below:
All in all, Cal Jam 2017 was a tremendous success. From the skating ramps to the Foo Fighters Museum, rides, and people, these are the ingredients to any triumphant music festival. Every group that I saw, performed with gusto, and put on top notch performances. I hope next year’s lineup (if they do Cal Jam next year) will be just as good as this one was. To the Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age, Cage the Elephant, Liam Gallagher, The Kills, Babes in Toyland, Bob Mould, and Japandroids, I salute you. Horns up!!!