"I miss playing those songs, I miss being that drummer": Dave Grohl on the time Nirvana reunited at Cal Jam 2018

Nirvana reunite at Cal Jam in 2018
(Image credit: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic.com)

Foo Fighters were gearing up for a new phase of their own curated festivals when that thing happened that paused the world in early 2020. After staging Cal Jam in San Bernardino, California in 2017 and 2018, Dave Grohl’s band were set to take it to the other side of the States for D.C. Jam, due to take place in Baltimore in summer 2020 but that for reasons you-know-why never happened. 

Since then, the Foos’ world has dramatically changed with the tragic death of drummer Taylor Hawkins in 2022 and a grieving period of working out how they would move forward. They began to do that with last year’s poignant But Here We Are, the unveiling of new drummer Josh Freese and a tour that will roll on for most of 2024, but there has been no talk of staging their own festival again. If they never revisit the idea, they have left behind some special memories: Grohl made sure that magical things happened at Cal Jam, such as when the Foos’ headline show in 2018 concluded with a Nirvana reunion special.

With Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic joining his ex-bandmates Grohl and Pat Smear onstage and Grohl taking his place behind the drumkit, they ran through six Nirvana classics, with Deer Tick’s John McCauley and Joan Jett taking turns to handle the vocals on Smells Like Teen Spirit, In Bloom, All Apologies, Breed, Scentless Apprentice and Serve The Servants. Brody Dalle also popped up at one point to play bass on All Apologies.

Speaking to Q Magazine about the reunion in 2018, Grohl said he was aware of the pitfalls of revisiting Nirvana without the band’s leader and frontman Kurt Cobain. “It’s difficult territory,” he said. “It’s wrapped up in beautiful memories and sadness. Krist and I have different feelings about it than other people. I miss playing those songs, I miss being that drummer. That music lasts forever. We share it with someone. Someone is missing. You never forgot that for one second. When we’re backstage running through them, Krist, Pat and I look at each other and the mood goes in waves. You’re hit with sadness, then you crash into a euphoric release.”

Grohl said that he had a recurring dream when it came to playing Nirvana’s music. “It’s that I get to play these songs again. Sitting behind the drumkit counting into In Bloom, doing the fill at the start of Smells Like Teen Spirit. It only happens once in a blue moon but it still feels good. It’s complicated.”

Foo Fighters will return to the UK next month for what promises to be an exhilarating and emotional run of stadium shows, but which will probably not feature a Nirvana encore. Instead, you can see what you missed (or revisit it if you were lucky enough to be there) below:

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.