Will Foo Fighters Regret Playing That Crowdsourced Show Planned by Fans?
There’s a subtle difference between being a rock god and being an actual rock god -- some sort of ethereal, leather-clad deity with the ability to answer the prayers of fans far and wide. But, amazingly, that’s the kind of nebulous, metaphysically murky waters Dave Grohl currently finds himself wading through after recently agreeing to play a crowdfunded show arranged without the Foo Fighters’ original knowledge.
It all began back in April when a fan in Richmond, Va., -- close to where Grohl grew up -- decided it had been far too long since Foo Fighters last played there (16 years -- although they did frequently play other venues within driving distance). So the guy launched (what seemed to be at the time) a far-fetched campaign on Crowdtilt to sell 1,400 tickets to a concert in town, a concert the Foos didn’t even know existed.
But thanks to an influx of media attention both regional and national, not only did the campaign reach its $70,000 goal, but word of the plan also made its way to the band, who surprisingly agreed to actually play the show and did just that on Sept. 17 at the relatively intimate Richmond National Theater. It was such a big deal to locals that the mayor officially declared Sept. 17 'Foo Fighters Day' for all perpetuity, and Grohl himself gushed during the concert saying, “I’ve been a musician for a long time and I’ve played a lot of shows. But I’ve never played a show like this before.”
Since we live in the age of the internet, where no good idea goes unstolen, it was only a week before another crowdfunding campaign popped up -- this time to raise $245,000 to bring the Foo Fighters to Birmingham, U.K. With more than a month left in the campaign, it had already exceeded that goal.
But that's not all. Now a Connecticut club owner is pleading for the Foo Fighters to play a show at his struggling venue in order to bring it back from the brink of closure.
Even for a guy as nice as Grohl, you know he's gotta be wondering if playing that show in Virginia set a dangerous precedent. However, days before gracing Richmond with his band's presence, Grohl did tell a South African radio station (obviously) that he was intrigued by the concept of crowdfunding future shows. “It could become how bands decide where they want to play,” he said. “It’s a funny thing. It sort of changes the game. For the last 20 years, we’ve always decided who we’re gonna play with and where we’re gonna play. But now it’s like if we hear that people want us to come somewhere, then I don’t know, maybe we’ll come there.” He also went onto admit, “If I had my druthers and I had the energy, I would play every single night of my life in every single city on the planet. I definitely would.”
That's the thing about Grohl: If anyone is capable of actually ascending to become a rock god in the ecclesiastical sense of the phrase, it's probably him. Not only does he take with him wherever he goes the mobile money-making machine known as the Foo Fighters (who continue to pack arenas to the rafters two decades in), but he’s also potentially the funniest, most down-to-earth and kindest rock star on the planet. Have Grohl stand next to Bono and tell me which one looks more like an actual human being and which one might’ve had his frontal lobe swapped out for iOS in 2008:
So you really can't blame anyone for treating Grohl like he can and might solve their prospective problems (a.k.a. problems related to seeing the Foo Fighters in concert). In the case of the Birmingham and Connecticut pleas, the organizers of both even go so far as to present a realistic timetable for when Foos could fit the shows into their pre-existing itinerary.
But let's be real here: There's a huge difference between raising $245,000 to bring the Foo Fighters to Birmingham and just asking the band to drop by out of the goodness of their hearts to play a one-off club show. While, yes, Grohl and the boys have a fondness for tiny venues (they just played three small clubs in England under the name the Holy S---s), the club owner's pitch that having the Foos play there one time will turn his venue into the next CBGB's is a little far-fetched. Yes, ticket sales would probably be amazing, but for a small capacity room, that cash won't go all that far. And CBGB's didn't become CBGB's because the Ramones played there just one time.
So the question Grohl inevitably has to be asking himself now is, “Are we going to start looking like jerks if we don’t play all these shows?” Because they might. Not that the Foo Fighters would be in the wrong. They obviously have no obligation to play shows they don’t plan and they definitely shouldn't be expected to play for free. Yes, they’re rich. But those five guys (and a couple more offstage if you believe Jack White) aren’t the only ones who need to be paid every time the band performs -- and if you believe Henry Rollins' rules (below), the crew should be the ones making all the money anyway.
But as for allowing fans to dictate when and where actual shows with actual ticket sales take place: That sort of arrangement would only ever really work for a band of the Foo Fighters' stature anyway. Obviously, you need to be able to stir up enough advance ticket sales to sell out a venue weeks -- if not months -- ahead of time and you need a band with the ability to pick up and go wherever they're requested. (Like Dethklok from 'Metalocalypse' except not rooted in evil.) Tours have always been meticulously routed based on geography and fiscal realism -- for most bands, they're absolutely depending on the payout from their show in Des Moines, Iowa, in order to even have the gas money to make it to the next show in Minneapolis, Minn.
The broader question, however, is whether or not it's smart to put so much power in the fans' hands. Yes, this is the era of entitlement and a wave of social media approval or disapproval is obviously enough to make even an institution like the NFL flip-flop and backtrack like a seventh-grader caught cheating in trigonometry. But do we have too much pull?
Everything about the music industry is almost unrecognizable from how it was even 15 years ago. Albums are streamed online a week before they're released and when they are released, nobody needs to buy them anymore -- and they certainly don't need to put on pants, drive to an actual record store and pay currency for it. We also have direct lines of communication to our favorite musicians thanks to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram -- and, if you ask me, Trent Reznor was a zillion times cooler when we he was still shrouded in an air of mystery as opposed to complaining about how much air time he gets during the Grammys.
Do we really want to radically alter the way bands have toured since the beginning of touring? For Foo Fighters, it's really not all that huge a deal. If they can record an album at eight different iconic studios throughout the country, they can certainly play a show anywhere they're requested just for giggles.
But if I was Dave Grohl, I'd want to pull back a little bit. It's art versus commerce -- and, hopefully, art hangs on at least a little longer. Because regardless of Grohl's incredible beard, he is merely mortal. If he could perform miracles, we know there's at least one guy he would bring back from the dead for at least one incredible concert transcending heaven and Earth -- and if it ever could possibly occur, I wouldn't want fans dictating where and when it happened.