On this day in 1990, Van Halen performed at the Grand Opening of their very own Cabo Wabo Cantina!
There’s a sleepy town, south of the border.
If you go there once, you’ll be there twice.
Sound familiar? These are the hallowed words that introduced us to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and the Cabo Wabo Cantina, which was, at the time, owned by Van Halen. Today marks the 26 anniversary of the official grand opening. Enjoy our photos from that weekend, some of which have never been published before! Great video is below, as well.
Sammy fell in love with Cabo when he first visited there in the ’80s. In his autobiography, Sammy explains how his friend Jorge, a local, became his business partner, which led to the building of the club:
It took him nearly four years, but Jorge finally found a piece of property for the bar I’d wanted to build, but it was going to be expensive. Even though I was in Van Halen, I didn’t have the money for a million-dollar project, more like a half-million-dollar project. But still, that was a lot of money to be putting into a town with dirt roads and no telephones.
The town had been building up a little bit though. None of the side streets were paved, but they’d paved the road to town and partway through town. The swinging set in Hollywood began to discover the town. The hipsters were coming down. It wasn’t just a little fishing village any longer. Boat-owners and private-plane pilots found the place. Private planes would land on this dirt strip. Walking around, you could sense the potential, it just wasn’t there yet.
I knew I was going to call the cantina Cabo Wabo. I had already written the song. It was going to be a tequila bar, a small place with a stage. I told Jorge to find an architect, and he found Marco Monroy Jr., son of the developer of Terrasol, who I had met. His father had showed me a smelly, old sardine factory earlier, when I was looking for locations. His son had recently graduated college and was starting to work for his dad. He had built a couple of houses that were the coolest houses down there. I hired him.
Marco did the plans. It looked fantastic. I thought the building was three thousand square feet, but Marco and Jorge were talking three thousand meters. I thought there would be plenty of room for a big parking lot. When they laid the foundation, it was three times larger than I figured. I was thinking of a nice, small room that would hold 50 or 60 people, 150 tops.
With everything going on, the plans for my cantina had begun to get a lot of my enthusiasm and Eddie and Al couldn’t help but notice. Finally, Ed Leffler had told me the other guys in Van Halen were beginning to feel like they were being left out. He’d taken me aside and gently suggested that I make the other guys my partners in the cantina.
“You want MTV to really support it, you want the press, you want the publicity,” he’d said. “Bring these guys in on it.”
We held a meeting and all of them, including Leffler, decided to join up as equal partners. They each gave me some $70,000 to repay the money I’d put up.
It worked. Van Halen played the gala grand opening weekend in April 1990. MTV spent millions of dollars on a big promotion. They filmed commercials and held contests. They flew a whole airplane full of people down there. Raquel Welch was there. Brad Delp from Boston, Steve Lukather from Toto. The whole town was excited.
The grand opening was hyped by MTV in their Cabo Wabo contest and
Van Halen filmed two commercials for MTV to advertise a contest in which they flew 10 very lucky winners and their guests down for the occasion. Clips from the weekend were broadcast on MTV as part of their “Viva Van Halen Saturday” TV special.
The grand opening weekend went great. Besides performing their planned concert April 22nd, they had a somewhat impromptu public rehearsal/soundcheck the night before. So many rabid Van Halen fans descended on the town on the night of it that on the night of the 21st, the band had almost no choice but to open the doors, and invite the fans inside to enjoy the soundcheck.
This high-quality video covering the grand opening has some GREAT footage of the band performing acoustically. Very impromptu!
For the soundcheck, the band casually performed some choice cuts from 5150 and OU812. They also treated the fans to “Panama” and Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused!” Watch the video, here:
Watch Van Halen perform “Dazed and Confused” during the unrehearsed soundcheck!
The band was joined on stage by several big name musicians including Steve Lukather, Boston’s Brad Delp, Lita Ford, and Dweezil Zappa. Many other famous folks were on hand including Kip Winger, Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander, and Ratt’s Robin Crosby.
Songs that were reportedly performed were: Best of Both Worlds, Summer Nights, Finish What Ya Started, Panama, Rock and Roll, Wild Thing, Born to Be Wild, and Cabo Wabo.
And as you can see in the three clips below, the April 22nd performance was a really unique show!
Boston’s Brad Delp & Toto’s Steve Lukather performing with VH on April 22, 1990
Below are our exclusive photos from the Grand opening concert. We’ve never shown most of these before. Enjoy!
Brad Delp & Sammy Hagar
Sammy holds up the special “MTV – CABO WABO CANTINA with VAN HALEN” T-Shirt made just for the Grand Opening weekend. Note that Van Halen Store has a very limited supply of Sammy’s official reprint of this shirt, which he released a few years ago. We have a short supply, but only in size Small, which are all that’s left. (Order yours HERE.)
Sammy posted the following message to his social media followers (in April 2016):
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 26 years! Some of the most fun I’ve had in my life has been since the opening of the Cabo Wabo.
I just spent a week down there celebrating the anniversary because I couldn’t be there today… played the Cantina three times! The most fun is when nobody knows, I just walk out there, always a great feeling makes everybody so high. You can do no wrong on stage after that ha ha.
The discovery of a place like Cabo and the creation of the Cantina has created a lifestyle for me and hundreds of thousands of fans. It’s one of those dreams I never dreamt would come true. I don’t know where I would be in my life or how I would even dress if it weren’t for that lifestyle change.
I thank the fans and the staff at the Cantina from the bottom my heart, Michael Anthony, Eddie and Alex, and my partners Marco, Jorge, and all the staff (some that have been there 26 years) – it’s awesome! thank you, thank you, thank you!” — Sammy
Van Halen would perform at the Cabo Wabo Cantina only one other time … the club’s second anniversary. But that’s another story…