Sammy Hagar

Monday, October 10, 2011

Joel Selvin

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Kenny Chesney stepped off his private jet last Friday and looked up to see a large banner flying from the terminal. “Sammy Hagar International Airport” it read.

Hagar, who had his guest met with margaritas before he went through customs, opened his annual two-week birthday celebration with two gala shows last weekend at his Cabo Wabo cantina in downtown Cabo San Lucas, part of a series of shows that sold out instantly through his fan club network that will culminate with Hagar playing in front of his club with the street closed off next Thursday on his actual birthday.

He has been throwing his Birthday Bash for 21 years, shortly after he opened his rock and roll cantina in what was then a sleepy Mexican coastal town that has since grown into a cruise ship destination and regulation seaside tourist trap, at the center of which sits Hagar’s cantina. The Redheads, as Hagar’s flock calls themselves, thronged the city center, packed the bars and waited on the sidewalk outside the club hours in front of showtime, vying for the best seats.

On Friday, Hagar shot out of the gate with a festive set with his band, the Wabos, with Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony, one of Sammy’s staunchest musical allies, substituting on bass, which meant the band played a lot of Van Halen songs, since Anthony definitely knew those. Chesney appeared, sans cowboy hat, and sang “Fall In Love Again” from a Hagar solo album he must have listened to obsessively in high school, his own “Another Beer in Mexico,” a song he started writing in the sand outside Hagar’s home here, and the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me.” “That guy’s not fucking country,” said Hagar, as Chesney exited the stage.

Guitarist Joe Satriani and drummer Kenny Aronoff brought the new Chickenfoot lineup to the stage and, after Hagar sang “Foxy Lady” – Joe Satriani playing Hendrix…well, alright -- Nickelback vocalist Chad Kroeger sang some Led Zeppelin with that configuration.


Two nights later, Hagar brought the party back to the stage when Chickenfoot reassembled for a full show – the band’s first public performance with Aronoff from the John Fogerty band replacing Chad Smith, who is out of the lineup for the next two years while he tours with Red Hot Chili Peppers. The band was doing as much drinking as the audience – Hagar walked on carrying a margarita and was passing a bottle of his Cabo Wabo tequila around the bandstand before long. The set went South, down Mexico way, from there.

Satriani hit the opening licks to “Jack and Diane,” after Hagar started ribbing the new drummer about his days with John Mellencamp. Sammy stumbled through the opening two lines, as Aronoff fell in behind him and Satriani, only to fumble to a halt a second later since he didn’t know the next line.

Hagar couldn’t remember the second verse to one of his own songs – neither Satriani or Anthony could be any help – and he just blew it off. “Down the Drain” lived up to its name. He sang another couple of songs with lyric sheets in his hand. He will undoubtedly be more familiar with the material when Chickenfoot plays the band’s five-city U.S. tour starting November 1 at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco, to promote the release of the band’s second album, “Chickenfoot III,” but letting it all hang out is what Cabo is all about for Sammy.

Hagar may have cut the encore short on the Friday night show because of food poisoning, but he was back on his game the next day, hosting four couples to a private lunch at his beachside home prepared by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, another Hagar pal who auctioned off the invitations at a fundraiser for his New Orleans charity, another regular event on Hagar’s birthday calendar.

The following Tuesday night show turned into a drum fest, after starting out with longtime Hagar drummer David Lauser and Michael Anthony in their Cabo incarnation as the power trio Los Tres Cuzanos (the Three Worms), doing a lot of Van Hagar material. Vinnie Paul of Pantera took over the kit for more Van Halen and Brad Wilks of Rage Against the Machine joined for “Fight for Your Right (To Party).” Chickenfoot drummer Kenny Aaronoff finished the night with a couple of Led Zeppelin covers.

For the actual birthday, the street in front of the cantina was closed, as neighbors crowded the rooftops and the strippers from the place across the street watched from their window. Sammy sang “When I’m 64,” did a face plant in the birthday cake and came up smiling like a man in heaven. Celebrity chef Guy Fieri, who brought his entire crew, made steak and lobster at the cantina after the show.

“I never thought getting old would be this much fun,” Sammy said later. “Can’t wait for next year.”

Sammy HagarThe shows were quietly being webcast at Hagar’s site ( on an experimental basis. Last year was the first year Cabo Wabo sold advance tickets, which allowed fans to snap them up and plan travel. All the previous years, the shows were free, but lines formed around the club and down the block days before the event. Many of the same people went every year. Still people bring rubber mattresses and folding chairs, food and drink, definitely drink, and wait in line nonetheless down the block.

Many of them whiled away the hours, like they were sitting on the beach, reading Sammy’s book, “Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock.”



2011 Joel Selvin | Website : Maurice Tani Design