Cal Jam fans turn out for Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age and unity through music

When Ciro Sepulveda said goodbye to his co-workers at San Diego country music station KSON-FM the Friday before last, many were gearing up for the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas. By the following Monday morning, after a gunman had opened fire from the Mandalay Bay hotel and killed 58 concertgoers, the 32-year-old Sepulveda didn’t know if any of his colleagues were still alive.

“My co-workers had to run for their lives,” he said. “I was texting them all day, unsure if they would ever be texting me back.”

The co-workers did make it back home, all safe. And despite the lingering fear of the Las Vegas massacre, Sepulveda was back out himself this weekend — on the lawn of the Glen Helen Amphitheater in San Bernardino for the Cal Jam rock festival, one of the first major outdoor concerts after the Route 91 tragedy.

As his Cal Jam crewmate Nicolas Arias put it, “people showing up here tonight is the best way to show that we’re not going to let it affect us.” The 34-year-old was “a little bit nervous, sure, but we go to three shows a week. We’re not going to deprive ourselves, we have to live life.”

That was the prevailing attitude among fans at CalJam, a version of the 1970s rock fest revived by the headliners, Foo Fighters, and also featuring Queens of the Stone Age, Liam Gallagher and Royal Blood, among others.

It had the sad timing of arriving after the worst mass shooting in modern American history. For Misha West, a 23-year-old from England, the Las Vegas attack brought back vivid memories of the June attack outside an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, where 22 fans were killed.

“I know a lot of people with young kids who won’t let their children go to concerts anymore,” she said. ”But you have to just carry on. Music is what brings people together.”

Charlotte Milham, 23, also from England, said “you just try not to think about it.”

“They want to cause fear,” Milham said of shooters, “and the best thing you can do is not be scared.”

It helped that the grounds for Cal Jam were worlds apart from Las Vegas. The open-air Glen Helen Amphitheater is in a rural mountain pass, with no hotel towers surrounding it like the one used to fire on the Route 91 event.

Still, organizers said they prepared for the worst.

“Additional security measures have been established, both seen and unseen, including bag searches with size limits and metal detectors, along with enhanced security and law enforcement presence,” Cal Jam officials told The Times in a statement before the show.

The police presence was more visible than at past shows. But by and large, the mood remained optimistic — if somewhat mournful — as the sun set over the surrounding hills.

“On the way over here, I asked, ‘What do we do if something happens?’ ” said Eliza Gero, who moved to Southern California from Greece. “Living in Europe, terrorism was always something that happened far away. But now it’s right here.”

Apostolos Pap, who came to Cal Jam with Gero, chimed in. “But you can’t stay home, you can’t be scared,” Pap said. “You can’t just stay locked inside your apartment.”

You can’t let fear win,” Gero added.

The bands certainly didn’t. The Vegas attack was obviously in the minds of acts including Cage the Elephant and the Kills. But they played with what felt like renewed purpose, to remind fans of why they come to music festivals: to feel connection and catharsis.

Foo Fighters knew they had to rally fans on a terrible week in music. The death of Tom Petty on Monday also wore heavily on the fans and bands, many of whom covered or alluded to Petty in their sets. The Foos’ exultant hits like “Times Like These” felt even more necessary for the thousands assembled.

But it was Queens of the Stone Age singer Josh Homme who gave the night’s most meaningful gesture. After opening his set, he saw a fan waving a handwritten sign in the crowd, and he asked that it be passed to the stage. When he hoisted it above his head, fans read “Vegas Strong” and the names of each of the victims written out.

“We are nothing when we’re apart, and we’re everything when we’re together,” Homme said. It wasn’t much, but for the Cal Jam crowd, it was something to cheer.

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