Will Classic West become L.A.'s new boomer rock festival?

A couple embrace during the Classic West festival at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Sunday.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

When Live Nation’s Classic West lineup was announced in March, the obvious comparison was to Goldenvoice’s Desert Trip, held last October in Indio. It was yet another weekend-long bill of classic-rock titans, geared toward moneyed boomers (and their offspring) who would clearly pony up to relive their festival glory days in more comfortable confines.

Desert Trip was the most profitable festival of all time (it took in $160 million over two weekends) and established a formula other promoters wanted to get in on, which might have contributed to the difficulty in pulling off a Desert Trip follow-up this year.

But after this weekend’s show, a different reference point may be in order. Rather than replicate the calm desert magic and bucket-list legends of Goldenvoice’s (perhaps unmatchable) lodestar, Classic West ended up being more like a boomer-driven FYF Fest in its earlier days.

Think about it. An urban L.A. location (and a New York one; Classic East is set for July 29-30) designed for more-or-less easy commuting and sleeping in your own bed after the show and using the city as a backdrop rather than a sylvan destination, and existing infrastructure rather than a complete, transformational build-out. A lineup of beloved headliners filled out with some relatively wonky acts (Steely Dan), a bit of dance music (Earth, Wind & Fire) and some harder-edged shredding (Journey).


Verdine White, left, with Earth, Wind & Fire at Classic West on Sunday.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Desert Trip was designed to take you away to a hazy ’60s of yore, with added creature comforts and minus all the mud and brown acid. Classic West kept you feeling at home, and you know what? It was actually pretty pleasant.

While the music was a bit of a mixed bag — it didn’t stack up to the sheer history-making star power of Desert Trip — it’s hard to fight the feelings that came with Bob Seger sitting in with the Eagles or Fleetwood Mac in a sundown set overlooking the Echo Park hills. The sound was great, the switch-overs were seamless, and whatever was lacking in prestige was mostly made up for in simplicity and costs (tickets started at $99 a day).

Desert Trip was a logistical and culinary achievement as well as a musical one, but any Angeleno who had been to a Dodger game already knew what to expect – the lack of unpleasant surprises was guaranteed from the start.

Classic West was Live Nation’s me-too entry into a well-heeled older market, and read whatever cynicism you like into that.

But by including stars of the ’70s and ’80s, Classic West may prove to be a more repeatable and accessible boomer rock festival. One can imagine, years from now, how surviving ’90s acts could fit into this model as well, because we’re not making many new forever-legend rock bands. (If Led Zeppelin ever pulls the trigger on one last reunion, that could spur the bidding war of the decade.)

If Classic West can pull it together and return on schedule with comparable or better lineups, it’s easy to see how even this corporate leviathan could end up inspiring real anticipation every year.

Roger Waters performs during Desert Trip in Indio on Oct. 16, 2016.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

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