Rock’s Brightest Stars at the Ford

By Ann Jensen

Ever since legendary violinist Jascha Heifetz and cellist Gregor Piatigorsky launched their landmark concert series at the Ford in 1961, the Ford Theatres has been known as the place to experience world-class performances in a serene, outdoor setting. But don’t let the classical music and the pastoral façade fool you—the Ford has hosted some of the biggest, and rowdiest, names in rock.

Johnny Ramone playing live in Hollywood in 1989. (Courtesy of Steve Appleford)
Johnny Ramone playing live in Hollywood in 1989. (Courtesy of Steve Appleford)

Back in the late ’80s, the Ford served as a launch pad for an impressive lineup of LA-based rock superstars including the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who, newly reorganized, performed one of their first shows ever on our stage in October 1988.

Guitarist Dave Navarro came back the following year with Jane’s Addiction, who played a string of seven sold-out concerts at the Ford in April 1989, a series that the local band still sites as a seminal moment in their rise to rock stardom.

In fact, in 2011, lead singer Perry Farrell traded his leather corset for a suit and wingtips during two anniversary concerts commemorating the band’s original run at the Ford. Similar to the 1989 gigs, the concert included a pre-show drum circle on the Ford’s Edison Plaza. Check out this video documenting the performance here

The late ’80s also saw a sort of punk renaissance at the Ford with bands like The Meat Puppets, X, Social Distortion and The Pogues rocking out on the Ford’s stage.

Alanis Morissette performing at the brink of her stardom in 1995. (Courtesy of Jeff Kravitz)
Alanis Morissette performing at the brink of her stardom in 1995. (Courtesy of Jeff Kravitz)

There was a minor blip in the Ford’s run as a West Coast CBGB  that involved The Ramones and some cross-freeway noise. As a result, the County temporarily banned “rock ‘n’ roll concerts” at the venue. 

Luckily for fans of the Ford, within just a few years, rock ‘n’ roll managed to make its way back into the theatre’s line-up, just in time for the release of Alanis Morissette’s iconic album Jagged Little PillLA Times pop music critic Robert Hilburn described Morissette’s 1995 sold-out shows at the Ford as “spectacular” and pronounced that: “Morissette is an artist whose time has surely come.” 

Emmylou Harris live at the Ford in 2001. (Courtesy of Sherry Rayn)
Emmylou Harris live at the Ford in 2001. (Courtesy of Sherry Rayn)

Other breakout performances followed, including pop star Jewel and Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós. In July 2002, Norah Jones performed on our stage just months before collecting five Grammy Awards, including Best New Artist and Album of the Year.

Since then, the Ford has hosted countless icons of pop and rock including the Counting Crows, Emmylou Harris, Blues Traveler, Elvis Costello, Wilco, Blur, Natalie Merchant and many more.

Nestled in the Hollywood Hills, the Ford is that rare venue that combines the excitement and energy of an outdoor arena with the intimacy that comes with seeing your favorite band in a small club. Maybe it’s our size that makes the Ford the perfect bridge for up-and-coming local talent reaching for stardom. As for which new rock band on the cusp of making it big will blow audiences away on the Ford’s new stage…hard as it may be, we’ll have to wait and see.

Ann Jensen is the Ford’s Assistant Box Office Manager. While the theatre is under renovation, Ann is serving as the Ford’s archivist and historian.