Here’s our FUN look back at the 40th anniversary of a giant rock concert in the late seventies, involving Van Halen, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, Cheech and Chong, midget security guards, and a chimpanzee.
Van Halen co-headlined the 1979 CaliFFornia World Music Festival, and it was amazing!
All photos on this page are from the festival (excluding the Aerosmith photo).
Van Halen played the second day of the two-day event (April 7–8, 1979) held at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. This was a huge milestone for them—playing with bands that they would have stood in line to see just a year earlier.
To celebrate, they invited no less than 300 friends to the show as their personal guests. The band and crew arrived in a convoy of 16 white limousines. Guests backstage were greeted by two little person bodyguards wearing “Van Halen Security” uniforms, and a chimpanzee dressed up like David Lee Roth!
Terry Atkinson from Rolling Stone is backstage with the band. The journalist notes David Lee Roth’s tight pants, open-to-the-navel Robert Plant shirt and waist-length blond hair, “And shall we say, confident manner.”
The band is declaring this huge festival at the Los Angeles Coliseum is the official kickoff to their second ten-month world tour, which they are calling their “World Vacation.”
As the Rolling Stone interview gets underway in the band trailer/dressing room, the two midgets who make up the Van Halen security force serve Roth beers.
Roth begins to share his knowledge. “There’s three basic things you gotta watch out for on the road,” he says, doing his best to ignore the screaming, freaked out chimpanzee the other band members have dressed up to look exactly like him. “The first is your diet. You have to avoid good foods at all costs. If you get your mind and body adapted to healthy stuff, you’re really going to fall to pieces out there, because it’s totally unavailable. So what I do is eat a lot of greasy burgers and other garbage food and wash it all down with anything that’s got a lot of sugar in it.”
Roth shakes his head, remembering the time he went off his diet in San Francisco and paid the price. “Somebody took me to a real nice health food restaurant. I had one of those big, nutritious salads and passed out halfway through. It took three chili dogs and a snickers bar to revive me.”
The second thing you’ve got to be wary of, he sternly warns, is sleep. “Sleep means eight hours, right? That’s impossible on the road. Never go to bed thinking you’re going to get eight. You won’t. They’ll wake you up, you’ll be irritable, everybody will be pissed at you. So what I you do is take naps. A nap is anywhere from fifteen minutes to four hours. Then when somebody wakes you up, all you were expecting was a nap, and that’s what you got. So everybody’s happy.
“The third rule is treat any kind of physical or mental injury with alcohol – the kind you can swallow.”
“Hard rock has a bad connotation,” explains Alex. We call our music ‘big rock.’ It’s different from hard rock or heavy metal because our songs are not about space, they’re not about religious things. Our messages are simple: ‘I want to feel your love tonight’ or ‘I want to have a good time tonight. It’s about how everybody feels on a Friday or Saturday night. You come home from work or school, you have your bath, you shave, you jump in your car, you pick up your girlfriend and you’re going to have a good time. Well, with Van Halen, every night’s Saturday night.”
The festival’s MCs were none other than Cheech and Chong, who at that time had sold over ten million albums and had performed for sold-out audiences from New York to Los Angeles. Their first feature film, “Up In Smoke,” had just been released.
Originally AC/DC were to perform on the 8th, but cancelled a few weeks before the festival and were replaced by April Wine.
This event was hosted by local Los Angeles radio station 94.7FM KMET and was a Wolf & Rissmiller Concerts presentation. (Per the advertising, the official title was the “CaliFFornia World Music Festival,” with 2 capital letter “F”s).
The official program for the event proclaimed, “The talent we’ve assembled speaks for itself. With Ted Nugent, Aerosmith, van Halen and Cheap Trick, we’re bringing you some of the most exciting entertainment you’re likely to see anywhere. We’re bringing you more than just another concert, but the premiere musical event of all time.”
The many merchandise booths offered all of the performing band’s merchandise, as well as the “world’s largest selection of rock ‘n roll T-shirts,” heat transfers and posters, as well as an airbrushed T-shirt booth. The Festival’s own t-shirts (now highly valued collector’s items) were $6. Baseball Jerseys, $8. The large programs were free, with additional copies costing $3.
Van Halen concocted an elaborate stunt for the show, at the expense of Aerosmith. On a grassy incline behind the stage, visible to the crowd, a $100 yellow Volkswagen was parked throughout the day. Periodically, someone at the soundboard would make an announcement asking for “someone in the Aerosmith organization to please move their car.” Van Halen had arranged for a Sherman tank to roll out onto the field before their set and crush the “Aerosmith” car, but apparently word leaked to Aerosmith and the caper was curtailed before any military hardware could be deployed. David Lee Roth tells the hilarious story behind this photo and the Sherman tank HERE.
Van Halen’s Set:
(songs are links to our song pages)
Light Up The Sky
Somebody Get Me A Doctor
Runnin’ With The Devil
Dance The Night Away
You’re No Good
Feel Your Love Tonight
Outta Love Again
Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love
You Really Got Me
Just after sundown, at 6:30pm, Van Halen takes the coliseum stage. How Rolling Stone described their performance:
“They’re set explodes with energy and moves along briskly. Alex and Michael provide solid rhythms. Roth, though he still seems too much like a cross between Black Oak’s Jim Dandy, Black Sabbath’s Ozzy Osbourne and Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, is beginning develop his own personality and vocal style. As always, he’s a consummate showman, mixing screams, leaps, runs and bends into every tune (though he still a little careful with the foot he broke in December when making the crazed leap that’s pictured on the back cover of the new album).
“But it’s Eddie’s guitar that forms the red-hot core of Van Halen’s sound. He’s right in there with Hendrix, Beck, Page, early Clapton, Blackmore and others of the let’s-see-what-a-little-more feedback-here-might-do tradition.”
After the show, the band is received by a stream of well-wishers backstage, including all the group’s parents. After a little prodding, Eddie gives an analysis of his appeal as a guitarist. “Hey, I’m a kid just as much as the kids who come to see us. Not long ago, I was out there, watching Aerosmith. I like loud guitar; I like to play real loud on stage. And I play what I would like to hear. Sometimes I can’t play what I’d like to hear, but I’m always trying.”
David Lee Roth responds to one last question from Rolling Stone. What direction will Van Halen’s music take in the future? His answer kept the band’s fans happy, and it’s critics steaming.
“I don’t care about direction,” he says, ducking a piece of chocolate cake Anthony has sent sailing his way. “I hate the word ‘maturing.’ I don’t like the word ‘evolving.’ Or any of that bullshit. The idea is is to keep it as simplistic, as innocent, as unassuming and as stupid as possible.”
Future guitar hero Slash happened in the audience, who later said, “In 1979, I saw Van Halen opening for Aerosmith at the World Music Festival along with ten or more other bands at the L.A. Coliseum. I subconsciously knew then that rock ‘n’ roll was entering into a new era as a result of this great new band. They were really powerful and alive, and there was a palpable rush of excitement the moment they hit the stage.
“Seeing Eddie live was unbelievable. It was loud and aggressive, melodic, rhythmic, and fluid, with a boatload of charisma and showmanship on top of all that. That first experience seeing him play has stuck with me to this day.” (from the foreword of the book Eddie Van Halen).
Ted Nugent, who headlined the day before, stuck around the next day. He later recalled, “This fuckin’ kid started playing shit I’d never heard before. He was unbelievable! He did things on the guitar that no one else did. He’s one of those rare, gifted musical warriors that could kick the shit out of his guitar with his feet and somehow he’d make it remain melodic, musical, and rhythmic.”
The attendance was around 65,000 each day. Van Halen’s guarantee was $75,000. During the weekend, 675 concessionaires sold more than 150,000 hotdogs and 215,000 cokes. A security force of nearly 500 people were used. After the festival, 175 maintenance workers worked for two days to clean the Coliseum and the Sports Arena.
We’ve embedded four videos below; two commercials for the festival, one short video of silent footage, and a nearly complete audio recording of Van Halen’s performance. Enjoy!
Now Available: Amazingly, Van Halen Store has procured a few of the CaliFFornia World Music Festival Concert Programs from someone who was associated with the festival. These original programs have been carefully and perfectly preserved all these years, and are in MINT CONDITION. For more info or to purchase, visit Van Halen Store.