Remembering the Often-Overlooked CaliFFornia World Music Festival
The '70s were so jam-packed with mega-concerts featuring an embarrassment of rock riches that one might count off half a dozen of these legendary happenings (the Texxas Jam, California Jams 1 and 2, the World Series of Rock, etc.) before the 1979 CaliFFornia World Music Festival even comes to mind.
But you’d be hard pressed to find a more impressive lineup than the one that rocked L.A.’s Memorial Coliseum and surrounding grounds on April 7-8, 1979.
To be clear, the modern definition of “world music” had absolutely nothing to do with it. Instead, aside from the hilarious MC duties performed by Cheech & Chong, the quintessential stoner comedy duo, along with parallel entertainment including everything from a battle of the bands to a rock ’n’ roll movie theater, food fair, arts & crafts and skateboarding exhibitions, the festival was entirely focused on rock.
The weekend got off to a disconcertingly inauspicious start when the Fabulous Poodles, a British also-ran new-wave band, were roundly booed by the unimpressed classic rockers in attendance – many of whom were already disappointed by the last-minute no-show by Frank Marino and his Mahogany Rush. Luckily, April Wine stepped in to help get that Saturday’s lineup headed in the right direction, with great help from follow-up acts, Head East, Southern rock mainstays the Outlaws, and rising AOR royalty like REO Speedwagon and Toto.
Then, as night descended, it was time for Cheap Trick to regale the crowd with their irresistible power pop (as well as one of Rick Nielsen’s prized Les Paul guitars) along with their co-headliner, Ted Nugent.
The second day kicked off with Brownsville before veering slightly off-course once again with the Boomtown Rats’ ill-fitting Irish punk. However, their boos did nothing but delight confrontational singer Bob Geldof, who poked fun at their antagonism. Next up came April Wine, once again (now in their originally intended slot), to usher in another afternoon filled with crowd-pleasing sets by heavy funk pioneers Mother’s Finest, Eddie Money, and, again, Toto, whose smoother brand of AOR fared surprisingly well with the partisan crowd.
Finally, as dusk fell, British hard rockers UFO assaulted the stage for what turned out to be one of the weekend’s standout performances, and a perfect set-up for local heroes Van Halen (then promoting their newly released sophomore album) and the somewhat chemically hobbled, but still mighty Aerosmith.
In the end, the 1979 CaliFFornia World Music Festival may not be as well-remembered as some of the other major festivals of its era, but the legendary talent jousting for supremacy over the course of those two, sun-baked days guarantees its place in classic rock history.
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