Attending her first Weenie Roast as a fan in 1999, 106.7 FM KROQ DJ Kat Corbett has seen the show evolve with the times. Though she'd rather not remember the "Limp Bizkit-Creed year," Corbett points to the show's largeness and loyalty to the station as one of the key reasons why it's succeeded and resonated.
"It was weird to me that a radio show would put on a show that's so big," she says. "It is a large scale that it took me a while to get my head around what it is. It wasn't just another show; it was actually bands who were appreciative of the station spinning them, and it's a cool experience to feel that love."
Over the past 22 years, the Weenie Roast has become the preeminent radio rock show. Despite other markets playing catch up, the Weenie Roast (officially called the Weenie Roast Y Fiesta because of it's proximity to Cinco De Mayo) has built enough cache to become the unofficial summer kickoff concert for rock fans in Southern California. Of course the definition of what a KROQ band sounds like has changed quite a bit if your look at this year's lineup touting pop powerhouse Florence + The Machine, soulful crooner James Bay and indie gods Death Cab for Cutie.
The event has allowed the station evolve from a regional powerhouse to national heavyweight. Delivering an impressive array of national headliners along with up-and-comers and local talent, the Weenie Roast plays a pivotal role in introducing fans to bands that are likely to be in heavy rotation for the rest of the calendar year. Beginning in 1997, KROQ added a side stage that's showcased smaller bands, many of which graduated to the main stage.
"It's pretty cool that there's a side stage before the main stage starts," AWOLNATION's Aaron Bruno says. "If you get there early enough, you get to see a newer band, like we were our first time there. In some ways, it's cooler than the main stage because everyone is standing and they can get more rambunctious and you can have an energetic, interactive show."
Additionally, the event has been a friend to classic rock bands trying reestablish themselves. The 1996 edition saw the original lineup of KISS playing its first show since the early 1980s, while Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath played in 2000. Even in 2013, the Weenie Roast surprised fans when Stone Temple Pilots performed with Linkin Park's Chester Bennington instead of Scott Weiland, ushering in a new era for the alternative rock giants.
The Weenie Roast is known as much it's surprise guests as it is the strong lineups. Modern rock giants like Soundgarden, Foo Fighters and Incubus, all of whom have headlined arenas and amphitheaters on their own, have made unannounced appearances at the festival.
KROQ has been accused by naysayers as being stuck in the mid-1990s in terms of what bands they played on the air. Critics point to the consistent inclusion of a finite number of bands on the air and say that the station is past its prime. However, judging by the variety and eclectic groups that have filled out the bill over the years, that's far from the truth.
More recently, KROQ has moved away from the skate punk and reggae rock bands that defined the station's influential years and adapted to include many indie and electronic groups. In fact, going as far back as 1998, groups like The Prodigy and Crystal Method graced the Weenie Roast stage. Electronic-infused rock groups like Big Data are becoming the norm on the lineup. Knowing the event's history and relationship with electropop, this isn't lost on the duo.
"The way music has been evolving, and I think the lines between genres are blurring more and more every day," Big Data's Alan Wilkis says. "Things go in cycles and people want things with guitars and thats a thing for a couple of years and then they'll want something with a little more kick drum and maybe we're going through a shift right now.
"We're always aware as to what's happening right now," Corbett says. "As a format, alternative has changed over the years. This station started out as a new wave-punk station and went into the grunge, Lilith Fair and then nu-metal. It's constantly changing formats and we're a reflection of what's going on. I think we have a really forecast of what's going to have a little juice for a few years."
For bands with local ties like AWOLNATION and Saint Motel, playing the Weenie Roast is a career benchmark and what comes with it is an appreciation of the moment.
"Growing up in the L.A. suburbs (Westlake) and hearing about the Weenie Roast and anything KROQ did appealed to me," Bruno says as his band readies for its third Weenie Roast. "It was always a dream to play anything for them and it's an absolute honor for me and being able to put it on the resume is really an accomplishment for me."
"It's another tradition that we always hear about being locals, and it's wild to know that you're playing it," Saint Motel singer/pianist/guitarist A/J Jackson adds.
Though not a definitive predictor of success, the lineup is a strong indicator that both a band and a genre music are of that particular time. Something Corbett says, for better or worse, can be something that the festival is associated with.
Even for bands who haven't played it before, like Death Cab For Cutie, the Weenie Roast show is a bit more important than some of the other radio shows that may fill out a band's touring calendar. The indie rock veterans played Almost Acoustic Xmas in 2011, but playing the Weenie Roast this year offers the group a chance to have fun in multiple ways.
"You know people are going to the Weenie Roast to hear good music," Death Cab bassist Nick Harmer says. "It always translates into good shows for the band because you feel that excitement. Festivals for us are still really exciting and at an event like the Weenie Roast, it's great because it gives us the rare chance when we're touring to run into musicians that we know. It ends up being a fun day for everyone."
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The Weenie Roast has become a must-see concert on any Southern California rock fan's calendar. It's one of the few shows where rumored surprise guests, collaborations and covers can happen in a single day. KROQ has managed to build brand loyalty with its listeners, who trust that even the bands they don't know now will be the stars of tomorrow.
"There have been people going every year since it started," Corbett says. "Maybe they don't listen to KROQ as much anymore but they love going to this event. We're so, so lucky for this thing to have turned out the way it has and somehow it keeps resonating with people."