Holy. Shit.

Nirvana reunites (with Deer Tick frontman John J. McCauley filling in on vocals.

Cal Jam returned to the Glen Helen Amphitheater in San Bernardino, and was well worth the two hour drive.

By now, you know that the remaining members of Nirvana played at Cal Jam, with Deer Tick and Joan Jett filling in on vocals for a six song set. It was a highlight, certainly, but just one in a series of all day music in one of the best curated festivals around. The amphitheater main stage hosted the larger bands, while a set of side stages, side by side through a field filled with carnival rides and a forest of pink plastic flamingos had artists bounce back and forth without breaks all afternoon.

The main stage played host to The Front Bottoms early in the afternoon. The lawn seats had already filled up at the fences by both Front Bottoms fans eager for their set, and those staking our their spot for Foo Fighters later that day. Following the Front Bottoms, Manchester Orchestra brought their signature style and hard hitting drums to the afternoon, keeping the energy up for the enthralled audience.

Manchester Orchestra

You’re sick of Led Zep comparisons for Greta van Fleet — I know — but the young rockers are so reminiscent of the rock legends in their style, both musically and aesthetically, that it’s hard to draw any other comparisons. The quartet kicked the crap out of everyone’s already high expectations, putting on a vocally and musically stunning performance that was the highlight of all non-Nirvana sets for most in attendance.

Greta Van Fleet at Cal Jam '18 by Chris Molina

Greta Van Fleet

As the sun set low behind the mountains, legends Tenacious D took to the side stages to finish out the performances, which earlier had been highlighted by Deer Tick and young, vivacious Brits Yungblood, who had delivered a high-energy set to a small smattering of fans early in the day. The D did not disappoint, playing old and well-known hits to the delight of the throng of adoring fans.

Tenacious D at Cal Jam '18 by Chris Molina

Tenacious D

After a strong performance by Garbage lackluster performance by legend Iggy Pop back on the main stage, Foo Fighters began a tour of collective nostalgia, starting their night with Dave Grohl’s signature burst on to stage and by playing recent hits before going chronologically backwards through their extensive catalog. Grohl kept mentioning time and nostalgia, clearly a build-up to the worst-kept secret of the day: the forthcoming Nirvana set.

But the Foos were the main draw, even with the surprise, and played most every song that had ever been a single over the course of their two and a half hour set, including “Learn to Fly,” “Everlong,” and “Monkey Wrench,” along with a smattering of songs off of their first album.

Nirvana reunion at Cal Jam '18 by Chris Molina

Nirvana reunion

As the Foos abruptly left the stage and the lights went dark, the crowd murmured in anticipation until the video screens lit up, showing Grohl with Nirvana’s surviving members Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear, along with Deer Tick’s John McCaulay and Joan Jett. Grohl taunted the crowd, promising one song, then two, then three, finally reaching six before the video feed cut out and the band took the stage, beginning with “Serve the Servants,” “Scentless Apprentice” and “In Bloom” with McCaulay leading. Joan Jett then took over for “Breed,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and “All Apologies,” closing out the evening.

Even without the Nirvana reunion, Cal Jam put forth a well-curated effort and great lineup, making the festival well worth the travel to San Bernardino.

Review by: David Israel
Photos by: Chris Molina