Down in Irvine, tradition is giving way to modernity. In this particular case, the demand for housing within the city limits is resulting in the closure of one of Orange County’s most storied music and entertainment venues. For 35 seasons, Irvine Meadows (or the less subtle Verizon Wireless Amphitheater) has served as a generational mainstay, becoming a fixture for people of all ages across the Southland. You’d be hard pressed to find someone that doesn’t have at least one fond memory, a warm, potentially hazy recollection packaged with a cherished concert ticket. From the cheap seats in the lawn section to the pre-gamng antics of the parking lot, Irvine Meadows going away really is a sad reality for Southern California. As folks continue to rehash their own memorial for the Meadows, there are some truly historic instances that have helped cement the venue’s legacy. Before the final curtain, here are a few nights that went down in the books and made Irvine a special place for 35 years.
1.) The Pissed Off Hippies Of 1989
During a three-night stint at the Meadows in 1989, Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead caused a stir when some 300 angry Dead Heads were left without tickets. While some of the accounts from the night vary from a few hundred people lighting fires and hucking bottles to about 100 hippies sitting on Irvine Center Drive in protest, the Irvine city council passionately considered banning the Grateful Dead from performing in the city for good.
2.) Hell Froze Over
In 1980, Glenn Frey, Don Felder, and Don Henley finished out their contractual obligations with the Eagles “Live” record, gave each other the finger and officially split. Often asked if and when the band would ever reunite, Glenn Frey famously remarked, “When hell freezes over.” Some 14 years later, hell froze over for six unbelievable nights as the band reunited officially for an engagement in Irvine that made rock n roll history. The band would continue to produce records and tour the world up to the tragic death of Glenn Frey just this year.
3.) Sublime Takes Over Backstage
A fixture at Irvine Meadows, the annual KROQ Weenie Roast served as the unofficial summer kickoff during its 23-year run. Back in 1995, an ascending Bradley Nowell and the guys in Sublime took the party to legendary levels. The story goes that the band made their own all access passes and invited hundreds of their friends to rage with them backstage. The result was a raucous set that included an onstage circle pit and a timeless live recording of “Saw Red” with a then young Gwen Stefani.
4.) Shaq Pulls A Superman
At the height of Shaq’s popularity as the face of the Los Angeles Lakers back in 2001, the multi-faceted big man decided to crash the party at another KROQ Weenie Roast. This time, Superman literally flew in on a helicopter emblazoned with the Lakers logo during 311’s set. Just a few short minutes later, Nick Hexum would introduce O’Neal onstage in an unlikely appearance that sent the crowd into a frenzy. Shaq performed “Psycho” with the band while simultaneously becoming the world’s biggest largest crowd surfer.
5.) A Bittersweet Celebration of Orange County’s Punk Rock Roots
Back in 2000, seminal Orange County punk band Social Distortion was sent reeling as the sudden death of the band’s founding guitarist Dennis Danell sent shockwaves through the punk rock community. The only appropriate eulogy for someone so influential was a concert that galvanized the Southern California punk community. The Offspring, X, Pennywise, T.S.O.L. and Mike Ness along with the rest of Social Distortion came together for a benefit show unlike most. While every artist came to the stage with a heavy heart, each managed to rally the fervor of the crowd, so much in fact that during Pennywise’s set, fans began ripping amphitheater seats out of the ground to fling into the air.
6.) The Parrothead Party
When the schedule for the final season at Irvine Meadows was published, there was one obvious omission. Jimmy Buffett has made Irvine an annual stop for years, but initially, he wasn’t listed for the finale. Maybe it was a bit of well-planned theatrics, but Buffett would be added to the schedule as one of the final shows at the venue. The reason the addition was such a big deal really lies in the spectacle that is the parking lot of a Jimmy Buffett show. Particularly in Irvine, the entire parking lot prior to Jimmy’s annual show transforms into an RV tradeshow, complete with plenty of Hawaiian–print shirts, loads of booze, and Parrothead that actually bring their own sand to run their toes in. If you could remember ‘em, the nights Jimmy Buffett played Irvine were truly epic.
7.) Introducing… Lollapolooza
What began as a farewell tour for Jane’s Addiction would prove to be a pivotal moment in rock music history. For Perry Farrell and the guys of Jane’s Addiction, the creation of Lollapalooza was a result of necessity. Combating censorship, Farrell began the festival as a means of giving polarizing artists the freedom to do what they do best: create without restriction. The inaugural Lolla’ featured a multi-genre line-up, something most are familiar with now, but was considered groundbreaking then. From Siouxsie and the Banshees to Nine Inch Nails, from Living Colour, Butthole Surfers, and Ice-T’s Body Count, the touring festival laid the groundwork for most of the festivals we see today. Irvine Meadows was one of the first venues to support Lollapalooza with three consecutive nights.
Among classic metalheads, the 1982 concert film “Speak of the Devil” functions like scripture in its intimate depiction of the tail end of the Diary of a Madman tour. The film is considered sacred as the footage is really the only account of a tumultuous time in Ozzy’s career, just three months after the tragic death of collaborator and guitarist, Randy Rhoads. Much of the live material features selections from Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman, the first few records of Ozzy’s solo career of which were both written with Randy on guitar.
(Side note – According to Rudy Sarzo, the then bassist of the band, Ozzy actually visited the California Lion Safari that neighbored Irvine Meadows until 1984. Apparently there was a photoshoot that took place with Ozzy and some of the big cats prior to his show that evening.