The list of possible last-minute replacements for the Foo Fighters at the 2022 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival was short.
The festival needed a relatively popular rock band willing and able to perform on short notice.
Maybe Pearl Jam could have worked. Maybe – maybe – Imagine Dragons.
Ultimately, the Red Hot Chili Peppers got the job. They will shut down the main Jazz Fest festival stage – formerly the Acura stage – on Sunday with a 90-minute set starting at 5:30 p.m.
Bringing it to fruition was not easy.
For three decades and more, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have maintained their status as a commercial powerhouse. The group’s flagship album “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” is now over 30 years old. The “Under the Bridge” smash is essentially the Gen-X “Stairway to Heaven”.
Acts of such magnitude plot their plans several months in advance. And the Chili Peppers’ plans for the spring of 2022 included no concerts.
The April 1 rollout of the band’s 12th studio album, “Unlimited Love,” was to be followed by a European tour starting June 4. A North American stadium tour would follow, starting July 23 in Denver.
But Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins died March 25 while on tour in Colombia. Four days later, minutes after Jazz Fest released its lineup cubes, the Foo Fighters canceled all upcoming appearances, including Sunday’s scheduled stop at the Fair Grounds.
Jazz Fest producers had less than a month to find a replacement for their first Sunday headliner. Would the Chili Peppers be ready to fill the void?
By chance, or due to the realities of market size, New Orleans was not included in the Chili Peppers’ summer stadium tour itinerary. If the band had planned to play at Caesars Superdome later this year, a Jazz Fest booking is unlikely to have happened.
The fact that the band and its managers were already familiar with Jazz Fest — the Chili Peppers played to huge crowds at the Fair Grounds in 2016 — likely helped grease the wheels. Just like the fact that the festival is in New Orleans.
The city and its music have long intrigued the Chili Peppers. It’s about that rare rock band in which the relationship between vocalist and bassist, as opposed to lead guitarist, is most critical. Through upheaval and death, vocalist Anthony Kiedis and bassist Flea kept the Chili Peppers together; Flea’s manic bass picking and popping are the band’s sonic and visual signature. So it’s perhaps no surprise that New Orleans funk, which emphasizes bass and drums, struck a chord with them.
As young and daring punks from Los Angeles in the 1980s, the Chili Peppers visited Jimmy’s Music Club Uptown. During a tumultuous performance at the Saenger Theater in December 1989, fans tore seat cushions and Flea cracked the console of the theater’s vintage pipe organ. The police cut the concert short.
As the musicians mellowed and their music became more melodic, they collaborated with some of their local heroes. The Meters, grandfathers of New Orleans funk, joined the Chili Peppers on stage at the 2006 Voodoo Music + Arts Experience in City Park.
Meters bassist George Porter Jr. and drummer Zigaboo Modeliste, along with Dumpstaphunk keyboardist/vocalist Ivan Neville, sat down with the Chili Peppers for the “Give It Away” finale at Jazz Fest 2016.
Four years earlier, in May 2012, the band had shot a video for “Brendan’s Death Song” in Treme; filming extras received free tickets to the Peppers’ sold-out show at the Smoothie King Center in October. During that 2012 show, the band unearthed “Apache Rose Peacock,” a deep cut of “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” that celebrates New Orleans. Flea dedicated it to “our dear friend Ivan Neville”.
While in town for the 2012 video shoot, Flea discovered the Rebirth Brass Band at the Maple Leaf Bar on Oak Street. Rebirth was then invited to join the Peppers on the road for eight arena gigs that fall.
The Peppers’ 2017 tour featured another New Orleans opening act: Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, the hybrid funk/rock ensemble led by trombonist, trumpeter, and Treme native Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews.
This tour stopped at the Smoothie King Center on January 10, 2017. For the final encore of “Give It Away”, the Chili Peppers were joined by Andrews, Porter, Neville and the Rebirth Brass Band.
Sunday’s show at the Fair Grounds will be the band’s first full gig since the release of “Unlimited Love” and its first since the return of John Frusciante, the guitarist on the band’s most successful and acclaimed albums.
Frusciante left the Chili Peppers twice, each time for several years. He wasn’t there for the 2016 Jazz Fest concert or the 2017 Smoothie King Center show. He did, however, sing “City of New Orleans” at the 2006 Voodoo Fest.
We missed his sound and his soul. With Frusciante back in the fold, the Chili Peppers should be at full strength as they look to save the day at Jazz Fest on Sunday.
That they were chosen to replace the Foo Fighters is fitting for another reason: Taylor Hawkins and Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith were close friends. So close, in fact, that Hawkins was godfather to Smith’s son, Beckett.
Smith made a point of saluting Hawkins during recent public appearances, such as when the Chili Peppers received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. When the Chili Peppers performed on Howard Stern’s satellite radio show and made a joint appearance on Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon’s shows, Smith’s bass drum was adorned with “Taylor” spelled out in the silhouette of a falcon.
It would be especially significant if the Chili Peppers acknowledged the absence of the Foo Fighters on Sunday. Maybe Smith will roll out his custom “Taylor” drum skin again. Maybe the Chili Peppers will play a few bars of “Times Like These” or another Foo Fighters anthem.
Or maybe they’ll just pay the kind of tribute Hawkins would appreciate most: a great rock ‘n’ roll show on a nice day at Jazz Fest.