As we enter 2020, the team at Live For Live Music has been looking back on all of the memorable musical moments fans were lucky enough to experience last year. For the final installment of our year-end Staff Picks series, we’re diving into the “Strangest Sagas” of the year—those bizarre storylines that kept us perplexed and amused in 2019.
Once you’re done, you can also check out our other 2019 Staff Picks including our Favorite Festivals of 2019, The Breakout Artists of 2019, and our Favorite Live Collaborations of 2019.
1980s Pop Smash “Gloria” Becomes A Victory Anthem For The Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues
It’s always interesting to watch old songs resurface thanks to some unlikely new significance. During the 2018–2019 NHL season, players on the St. Louis Blues happened upon Laura Branigan‘s 1982 hit, “Gloria”, while watching an NFL playoff game at a bar in Philadelphia. At that point, the Blues had the worst record in the entire league.
“We got together with some friends and watched the game with a bunch of Philly guys who grew up there,” as Joel Edmundson told stlouisblues.com. “They had a DJ in the bar and whenever there was a commercial break, they would crank the tunes and all these guys from Philly would get up and start dancing around. They played this song Gloria a couple of times, and this one guy looked at the DJ and said ‘keep playing Gloria!’, so they kept playing it. Everyone would get up and start singing and dancing. We just sat back and watched it happen. Right there we decided we should play the song after our wins. We won the next game, we got a shutout, so we just kept on playing it.”
Laura Branigan – “Gloria”
Over the ensuing months, “Gloria” went from an amusing inside joke between the Blues and their fans to a verifiable viral sensation. The excitement surrounding “Gloria” must have energized the team, as well—once “Gloria” became their “win” song, they just kept on winning. Before long, they went from worst to first, storming through the playoffs toward the Stanley Cup Finals.
On June 12th, the blues found themselves in a decisive game seven against the Boston Bruins for the Stanley Cup title. That night, both Phish and Vampire Weekend were playing shows in St. Louis. By sheer coincidence (these shows were booked when the Blues were still at the bottom of the barrel), both bands were onstage when the Blues clinched their victory. With all the stars aligning so perfectly, neither band could resist the urge to celebrate the local heroes with triumphant live renditions of “Gloria”. Even if you’re not a Blues fan—or even a hockey fan—the Blues/”Gloria” saga remains a “can’t make this sh*t up” phenomenon.
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📸 @rene_huemer . . #phish #phishsummertour #treyanastasio #mikegordon #jonfishman #pagemcconnell #stlouis
The Rise & Fall of Woodstock 50
Ah, Woodstock 50—the blazing dumpster of controversy, mistakes, unrealistic expectations, and genuine bad luck we couldn’t take our eyes off of all year. The idea started out simply and realistically enough: A festival to celebrate the 50th anniversary of 1969’s iconic Woodstock Music & Art Fair, history’s most famous festival and a noted embodiment of the late-’60s counterculture.
But it was a different world for music festivals in 2019 than it was in 1969. Today, large-scale, well-executed music festivals are everywhere. The modern industry has gotten them down to a science from top to bottom. Woodstock ’69 is just as notable for its ramshackle production, haphazard planning, and general chaotic nature as it is for its legendary music and sense of community. It became iconic, in part, because of its obvious shortcomings—because of how the artists and audience came together around them.
The subsequent Woodstock anniversary festivals in ’94 and ’99 failed to recreate the same magic out of the same logistical shortcomings. Would Michael Lang and his team be able to pull off a festival worthy of both Woodstock’s legacy and today’s high festival expectations for the 50th anniversary? In short, no. But the path toward that answer made for no shortage of groan-worthy headlines.
The long, strange Woodstock 50th anniversary festival story began with the soft announcement of two separate events in late 2018—one at the original Woodstock site in Bethel, NY produced by Live Nation; one more abstract “real Woodstock 50th festival” produced by Woodstock co-founder Michael Lang at a then-undetermined location; both set to take place on the weekend of August 16th–18th, 2019.
In early January, Michael Lang spoke to Rolling Stone to reveal a few details of his “official” Woodstock 50 festival, which would take place at Watkins Glen International, the upstate New York racetrack that’s played host to the iconic Summer Jam ’73, two successful Phish festivals, and one not-so-successful Phish festival. He also noted that he expected more than 100,000 people to attend.
In February, as Lang’s festival seemed to look more and more real, the event at Bethel Woods pivoted to become a three-day series of standalone concerts rather than a full-blown festival, positioning Woodstock 50 as the only true anniversary “festival” that weekend.
However, trouble was already brewing for Lang. With weeks quickly passing, the lack of details available about the festival became increasingly glaring. A March 5th report by Billboard claimed the lineup was initially scheduled to be released in February, and rumors were starting to float around about financial troubles facing the event. Billboard cited representatives for several rumored artists on the lineup as saying that they had not yet received payment.
At a media event at New York City’s Electric Lady Studios on March 19th, Lang (alongside performers John Fogerty and Common) finally revealed the lineup for Woodstock 50, stacked with a stylistically diverse cross-section of mainstream stars and Woodstock Veterans The Killers, Miley Cyrus, Santana, The Lumineers, The Raconteurs, Robert Plat, Nathaniel Rateliff, Run The Jewels, Maggie Rogers, Dead & Company, Chance The Rapper, The Black Keys, Sturgill Simpson, Greta Van Fleet, Leon Bridges, Portugal. The Man, Gary Clark Jr., David Crosby, Dawes, Country Joe McDonald, Amy Helm, Jay-Z, Imagine Dragons, Halsey, Bradi Carlile, Janelle Monae, Courtney Barnett, Hot Tuna, The Marcus King Band, and more.
Common and Fogerty each performed a couple of songs for the small crowd of media reps at the event. These short sets would prove to be the only actual music to emerge from Woodstock 50.
[Photo: Andrew O’Brien – (l-r) Common, Michael Lang, John Fogerty]
The high profile announcement gave the fest a boost in public confidence. While Lang eventually began to dole out some details, Woodstock 50 pushed back its first official on-sale date. Soon, The Black Keys became the first act to pull out, followed by the big announcement: According to an official statement by event financiers Dentsu Aegis Network, “…despite our tremendous investment of time, effort and commitment, we don’t believe the production of the festival can be executed as an event worthy of the Woodstock Brand name while also ensuring the health and safety of the artists, partners and attendees … As a result and after careful consideration, Dentsu Aegis Network’s Amplifi Live, a partner of Woodstock 50, has decided to cancel the festival.”
However, Michael Lang was not ready to give up. He quickly refuted Dentsu’s cancellation, kicking off a long, arduous process of legal battles, potential new investors, a venue eviction by Watkins Glen, new venue permit denials, unrealistic cost and infrastructure projections, more artist dropouts, and other chaotic developments surrounding the festival’s uncertain future as August drew closer. With each new report (and there were many), the festival seemed increasingly doomed to fail.
In late July, after two different alternate venues had fallen through, Woodstock 50 announced that they would actually host the event at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, MD, moving it out of the state of New York altogether and rebranding it as Woodstock 50 Washington. The next day, the festival officially released all their booked artists from their contracts. The day after that, the event announced that it was transitioning to a free benefit concert.
Four days later, on July 31st—just a couple of weeks ahead of the scheduled dates—Woodstock 50 finally conceded its cancelation (again). For those keeping score, the Bethel Woods 50th anniversary celebration went off without a hitch with performances by Woodstock alumni like Santana and John Fogerty (who made the late jump to Bethel after dropping out of Woodstock 50) and the Edgar Winter Band as well as acts like Ringo Starr, Tedeschi Trucks Band, The Doobie Brothers, and more. Turns out, there was only one “real” Woodstock 50th anniversary celebration after all.
Dick’s Gets The Plague
If you’ve ever been to a weekend festival or run of concerts, you’re surely familiar with getting a little sick when you get home. But Phish fans at this year’s three-night run at Commerce City, CO’s Dick’s Sporting Goods Park faced a potential illness far more serious than wook flu: the plague. Yes, that plague.
Plague warning sign at Dicks 😳 pic.twitter.com/jCFVssKjDF
— Wombat Mätt ✭ (@Wombat_Matt) August 10, 2019
In early August, as the band’s annual Labor Day Weekend run in Colorado approached, the Colorado Rapids canceled a post-game fireworks display at Dick’s due to “the confirmed presence of plague-infested fleas affecting prairie dog colonies in the surrounding areas,” the same areas that comprise the campgrounds and vendor spaces when Phish comes to town.
On Monday, August 19th, Commerce City officials addressed the issue at a city council meeting. As the council speaker noted, “Given the fact that every year the Phish concert is here the weekend of Labor Day, Tri-County Health has closed off and will not reopen the areas in dirt around the stadium. So areas where a lot of the Phish participants would normally be camping, they won’t be allowed to be camping.”
He continued, “Where they have their… what’s the alley called? Something Alley?” Another council member responded, “It’s called Shakedown Alley [Editor’s note: Close enough], and it’s located in the dirt lot between City Hall and the stadium. That will not be happening.” The main speaker continued, “Shakedown Alley apparently will not be happening either, which is where a lot of the participants sell grilled cheese sandwiches or whatever they need to sell to get to the next concert.” [Editor’s note: lol]
The band soon confirmed the news with an official announcement confirming that no overnight camping would be allowed this year. While the absence of onsite camping and vending no doubt changed the character of the Phish Dick’s experience this year, we can surely all agree that “no camping” for “no plague outbreak” is a pretty fair trade.
Phish, as always, had some fun with the plague-infested flea and prairie dog scare during the three shows including lyrical nods during “46 Days” (“Taste the fear, for the plague is drawing near”), “Free” (“Fleeeaaa”), and “Stray Dog“. Here’s hoping everyone managed to steer clear of infection…
Jimmy Fallon Gets On The Bus
Prior to the fall of 2019, The Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon had only a passing knowledge of the Grateful Dead. In September, under the guidance of his longtime friend, fellow TV host, and card-carrying Deadhead Andy Cohen, Fallon embarked on a conscious trip down the rabbit hole in preparation for his first Dead experience: Dead & Company‘s Halloween night show at Madison Square Garden.
Preparing to see my first @deadandcompany show on October 31st at @TheGarden. My friend @Andy is helping me prep by sending three songs a week to listen to and learn. What is on the must listen list?
— jimmy fallon (@jimmyfallon) September 20, 2019
Cohen began to give Fallon three Grateful Dead songs at a time to get his feet wet, and in early October, he welcomed Fallon as a guest on his show, Watch What Happens Live, to quiz him on what he’d learned so far with an amusing “Name That Dead Song” segment. You can watch that clip below:
Andy Cohen Tests Jimmy Fallon’s Grateful Dead Knowledge on Watch What Happens Live
[Video: Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen]
Soon after the show, photos of Jimmy and Andy in their full, Day of the Dead-style makeup at the Dead & Company Halloween show began to surface online. In a post on his Instagram, Fallon thanked the makeup crew, the band, and Andy for showing him an incredible experience and promised to issue a review of the show on The Tonight Show the next week.
On the following Monday’s show, true to his word, Fallon issued his review of the Dead & Co Halloween experience, during which he showed the audience the photo of him and Andy in full makeup pictured above. “I went… It was unbelievable,” Jimmy began. “I went with my friend Andy Cohen. He told me to go to the show and [I] was like, ‘I can’t, I’m just gonna be a poseur, I don’t really know all the songs.’ He was like, ‘I’ll give you three songs every week for the next two, three months, and get you ready for this concert—Halloween night, Madison Square Garden.’ And most of them, they played, so I knew almost all the songs. It was totally great, I wore full-on makeup. Cynthia and Jacob did our makeup here, on The Tonight Show. … So it was so fun! I kinda went to this concert and no one knew who I was, [they] couldn’t recognize me. So it was really an interesting concert for me. I loved it, and I gotta say, the band was fantastic. They were just on point that night. John Mayer is just phenomenal, this guy’s unbelievable. They all—I mean, Bob Weir, Mickey [Hart]… everyone was great.”
Fallon continued, “I will say, the thing that made it great was the fans. And I know people talk about that, but the community that they have, they’re so nice. Sure, they’re probably on something [crowd laughs], but they are so nice. They had no idea it was me, and they were like, ‘What’d you think the next song’s gonna be?’ And I didn’t really know, so I just kept saying, ‘Fire on the Mountain’? And they go [nodding], ‘That’s a good call, that’s a good call, bro! That’s cool, bro, I like that idea! I like what you’re thinkin’, man!’ They were so nice, and dancing, and it was Halloween, so people were, like, dressed up, and it was just… What an experience! I haven’t ever had an experience [like that]. If you get a chance, go see Dead & Company. They were fantastic.”
After thanking the band and the Tonight Show makeup artists, Jimmy Fallon closed by thanking Cohen and confirming his newfound fandom: “I wanna thank Andy Cohen for kinda changing my life there. I’m a Deadhead now, I love it.”
Welcome to the team, Jimmy. You may not be a full-fledged “Deadhead” yet, but you’re well on your way. Here’s to many more life-changing Dead experiences…
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I couldn’t ask for a better person to go see my first Dead show with. Thank you @bravoandy and @deadandcompany for an unforgettable time! Truckin’, Uncle John’s Band, Sugar Magnolia and an epic Eyes!!! (At my 1st show?!?!) The Dead fans were next level fun and helpful and really made the experience for me. Thanks to everyone who works @thegarden and my glam squad @cyndieloumakeup and @jakoby for the faces. I’ll talk about it on the show Monday. #ReadyForDead
Hindsight Is 2020: Every Band Ever To Reunite
As we headed into 2020, it seemed that many long-defunct bands were feeling nostalgic. In the waning months of 2019, a multitude of groups announced high-profile reunions set for 2020. Beloved acts like The Black Crowes, Rage Against The Machine, and Mötley Crüe all announced ambitious plans for reunion shows in 2020. Even Wyld Stallynz, the fictional, future-altering band comprised of Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves) will get back in action in 2020 by way of Bill & Ted Face The Music, the long-awaited third installment of the time-traveling Bill & Ted saga due out this summer.
A handful of exciting supergroups like Oysterhead (featuring Trey Anastasio, Les Claypool, and Stewart Copeland) and Billy & The Kids (featuring Bill Kreutzmann, Aron Magner, Tom Hamilton, and Reed Mathis) have also announced plans to reunite for various 2020 headlining shows and festival plays.
Most of the original members of the Allman Brothers Band have now left this earth, and the band has not played since 2014. However, longtime ABB veterans and extended “family” members like Jaimoe, Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks, Oteil Burbridge, and Marc Quinones with Duane Trucks, Reese Wynans, and Chuck Leavell, will perform as The Brothers for a one-night-only celebration of the band’s 50th anniversary at Madison Square Garden in March.
Beyond the full-band reunions, we also saw various bands announce changes to their lineups that will bring early-vintage rosters back together in 2020. The Doobie Brothers will head out on tour with Michael McDonald as part of the band for the first time in 25 years. Red Hot Chili Peppers will also welcome longtime guitarist John Frusciante back into the fold after a 10-year absence.
There was one heavily rumored reunion, however, that ended up being too good to be true: After rampant speculation following the launch of a new “official” Instagram account, David Byrne shot down the prospect of a potential Talking Heads reunion. Still waiting on that one. Sorry, Trey…
Miracle(s) at The Met
From the moment Phish announced their exclusive SiriusXM subscriber show at The Met Philly in celebration of their new Phish Radio station, the unusual performance became a hot-button issue among fans. Beyond the fact that The Met the smallest venue Phish had played in the better part of two decades, none of the roughly 3,500 tickets were actually sold. Instead, SiriusXM subscribers were prompted to enter a series of email raffles or call into SiriusXM Phish Radio to attempt to get through to program hosts Ari Fink and Jonathan Schwartz for their on-air “Met Drops”—a task that quickly proved easier said than done as nonstop calls tied up SiriusXM phone lines and eager callers even began spilling over to other Sirius stations’ numbers with their hopeful outreach.
Unsurprisingly, a notably vocal contingent of Phish fans decried the corporate nature of this event, arguing that it went against the band’s long-practiced aversion to any corporate messaging at and surrounding their shows. However they may have felt about that aspect of the show, fans eventually turned their collective attention toward finding a way inside. The vast majority were inherently unsuccessful, but that didn’t stop hundreds of ticketless fans from showing up at The Met anyway hoping or some luck, some with upwards of $1,000 to offer for their spot… and they all got in, for free. You can read first-hand accounts from some of the nearly 300 ticketless fans who got organized and got their miracles here.
The fans lucky enough to make it inside at the show were treated to a truly special night of Phish. Along with the intimate atmosphere and the ease of experience that came with it, every person in attendance received a free poster for the show. The performance itself was no slouch either, featuring a smattering of bust-outs, plenty of “Tweezer” antics, and a “Jam of the Tour” candidate in the second set “2001”. The show even featured an amusing mashup of “Ass Handed” and “Weekapaug Groove”, perhaps a precursor to the full-blown “Ass Handed Reprise” (a la “Chalk Dust Torture Reprise”) that made its debut appearance during the band’s New Year’s run at MSG. You can read a full rundown of the Phish Met Philly show and experience here.
Phish – “2001” [Pro-Shot] – 12/3/19
The Rolling Stones & The New Orleans Jazz Fest Blues
It all started out so promising: After some hints from Mick Jagger got the rumor mill churning, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival announced that The Rolling Stones would headline the 50th annual edition of the beloved musical and cultural gathering. To accommodate the rock n’ roll icons, Jazz Fest added a separately-ticketed (and more expensive) eighth day to the event. As is customary when things change and prices get higher, the requisite melts from fans about this update proceeded to flood social media.
That outcry wound up being for naught: At the end of March, The Stones postponed their entire North American tour—including their Jazz Fest spot—when Jagger was forced to undergo heart surgery. In the wake of the cancellation, fans were left to wonder who might fill the headlining vacancy—and whether or not a passable substitute for one of the greatest bands in history even exists, particularly on such short notice.
As Jazz Fest organizers put their heads together regarding a replacement, speculation ran rampant online. The buzz and confusion spiked on April 1st when an April Fools joke article “revealing” that Led Zeppelin would reunite to fill the void went viral [Editor’s note: Oops].
Eventually, organizers wound up finding a relatively admirable suitor in Fleetwood Mac. Problem solved. For now… Just four days after being announced as the Jazz Fest replacements for The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac postponed their tour due to Stevie Nicks health issues. Once again, Jazz Fest organizers were sent back to the drawing board.
Finally, as the event drew closer, organizers turned to festival regulars, Widespread Panic, to take over the second Thursday headlining duties. They also converted the controversial, specially-ticketed day back to a regular Jazz Fest pricing structure and turned it into a second Locals Thursday. Panic wound up playing their set at the Fairgrounds on May 2nd, and Jazz Fest wound up selling so many tickets over the course of the event that they decided to keep the eighth day in 2020.
[Photo: Adam McCullough – Widespread Panic at Jazz Fest]
While the Jazz Fest saga ended happily, The Rolling Stones’ strange year in New Orleans was not over year. In mid-May, following Jagger’s successful recovery from surgery, The Stones rescheduled their No Filter North American tour to take place in June, July, and August. While the Jazz Fest ship had sailed, the Stones added a new date at New Orleans’ Mercedes-Benz Superdome with Dumpstaphunk and The Soul Rebels—a proper Crescent City makeup for the missed Fairgrounds play. After all of the twists and turns, The Rolling Stones were actually set to play New Orleans on July 14th…
Mother Nature, however, had other plans. Due to serious weather threatening the region on the weekend of the Superdome show, the band once again had to postpone their performance. This time, the wait was much shorter: The Rolling Stones finally performed at the Superdome on July 15th, bringing the 7-month ordeal to a close. The band’s performance of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” felt particularly well-deserved as New Orleans fans sang along:
You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need…
The Rolling Stones – “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” -New Orleans, LA – 7/15/19
[Video: Alexander Nebarez]