Tucked in the crevices of San Bernardino’s off-road terrain, elevated hills, and picturesque view, Cal Jam Fest quickly became a holding ground for high throttled guitars and rock in its purest form. Foo Fighters’ second annual Cal Jam Fest at Glen Helen Regional Park brought out an assortment of greats, such as Garbage, Tenacious D, Iggy Pop with Post Pop Depression, as well as newer acts, all slotted on three stages with an incredible curation on the main stage. As Friday night filled the campgrounds with nostalgia, Saturday was the true gem for show-goers. The main surprise roared after Foo Fighters’ two hours set, which saw Joan Jett and Deer Tick’s John McCauley sharing vocal duties for the late Kurt Cobain as a Nirvana reunion emerged with Dave Grohl on drums, Krist Novoselic on bass, and of course Pat Smear on guitar. Cal Jam brought out a cult Nirvana following and aimed to bridge the gap for those who simply missed aggressive chords while enjoying festivities with the family.
Kicking the whole festival off at the main stage was Seattle’s Thunderpussy. Frontwoman and power vocalist Molly Sides, guitarist Whitney Petty, bassist Leah Julius, and drummer Ruby Dunphy ripped the stage in half with their hard rock licks. Sides conducted with ease and aggressive growls, protruding her limbs in sharp forms towards the wave of the crowd. Petty and Julius reciprocated the energy as Dunphy played it cool behind her kit and shades, bashing with precision and throbbing fills. U.K.’s “boy band,” Slaves, brought a missed slice of punk to the stage. Laurie Vincent and Isaac Holman harness an insane amount of showmanship between them and managed to push the crowd out of their comfort zone beneath their garage-polished scuzz.
A beloved nostalgic wonderment was witnessing Garbage. Noting that they don’t get as much airplay or have the opportunity to perform at many American Festivals, frontwoman Shirley Manson expressed her appreciation on stage and for those still keeping “the guitar alive.” Performing new tracks and hits such as “Stupid Girl” and the obsessive “#1 Crush,” Garbage’s heavy and dark weaved set was a blue torch of reverbed love. Manson’s constant circling on stage between verses riled up the early traits of a pit, ready with signature combat boots and fishnets. Somberness continued as Garbage’s offering brought out San Bernardino’s rain clouds and a few drops perfectly timed with “I’m Only Happy When It Rains.” Soon after, Iggy Pop with Post Pop Depression transformed the stage in black and white layers, invoking die hard fans to take the reins in the pit. Iggy’s hour long set called for a shirtless set, as usual, and double hands of giving the bird.
The hosts, Foo Fighters, rushed on stage as Grohl ran with guitar to the flocks of crowd against a backdrop of lights. The overall theme of the night was time, as Grohl continued to express his gratitude for those sticking around for 25 years. When asking if it was anyone’s first time ever witnessing a Foo Fighter concert, shy responses were given. Grohl casually acknowledged and responded, “Thanks for waiting 25 fuckin’ years… It’s OK, I know you were only like 12.” Playing the hits in reverse, Grohl continued, “Tonight we’re going through the years. Going way back.” Hits such as “Everlong,” “My Hero,” and “This Is a Call” filled the two-hour set. Taylor Hawkins levitated for an early drum solo that resonated deeply with thunderous fills, clean hits, and spotless timing. Grohl’s witty demeanor and ease graciously carried the set, especially for those who tirelessly waited against the rail.
As the final verse was sung, Hawkins’ kit was quickly covered as a new kit emerged, preparing the crowd for the finale that was rumored all week. Novoselic, Smear, and Grohl emerged on screen from the back, teasing the crowd, gesturing how many tracks should be played. Joan Jett shared vocal duties with Deer Tick’s John McCauley, each performing three Nirvana songs. McCauley’s low and throaty calls became the closest thing to the original in the flesh experience, and acted as a respectful tribute, whereas Grohl’s drumming drew breaths of vitality. Jett took the second half, lowly humming the disgruntled words of Cobain. As Novoselic took to the accordion, Jett welcomed The Distiller’s Brody Dalle for “All Apologies.” Wavering in an eerie irony, one that truly lived up to Grohl’s time, Cal Jam etched its way as an iconic placeholder of history. Nirvana setlist: “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “In Bloom,” “All Apologies,” “Breed,” “Scentless Apprentice,” and “Serve the Servants.”
Videos and cover photo: Janette Ayub