With the exception of one year, Southern California rock fans have flocked to the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre for KROQ’s Weenie Roast to partake in what has become the unofficial kickoff of the summer concert calendar. There have been many memories made onstage over that quarter century, but for iconic KROQ morning show hosts Kevin Ryder and Gene “Bean” Baxter, what stands out most is a little-known story that happened offstage.
In 1996, KISS’s original members reunited for the first time in 14 years. Both longtime fans since their childhood, Ryder and Baxter were excited to take in the action at that year’s Weenie Roast, especially after having the band in-studio earlier that year. But a mishap nearly ruined the moment.
“Bean loved them even though they tried to kill his wife!” Ryder says.
“I think the sparks from the fire that Gene Simmons was swallowing flew off,” Baxter adds. “We were sitting pretty close, so my wife’s hair caught on fire. The person behind us had to literally beat her head to stop her hair from going up in flame.”
And with the Irvine Meadows Ampitheatre meeting a bulldozer in a few months, this Weenie Roast is the last chance for them to make more pleasant memories at the Southern California institution, which has hosted many of the biggest names in rock, including this year’s high-profile acts Weezer, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Garbage. “It makes us really, really sad that it’s going away,” Ryder says. “It’s so underappreciated because people are either so Anaheim- or Los Angeles-centric that they don’t think about Irvine as being a place, but it’s a great venue.”
In the past few weeks, the KROQ hosts have talked to a bunch of the station’s most celebrated artists on and off about the venue. Chili Peppers front man Anthony Kiedis said he is also bummed to see the end of OC’s biggest outdoor amphitheater.
Garbage bassist Duke Erikson is relishing the opportunity to play the final Weenie Roast at Irvine Meadows. This is the band’s third performance at the extravaganza, and Erikson says he and his band mates treat it like a family reunion. “We’re like the house band at the Weenie Roast,” Erikson jokes. “It’s always a friendly atmosphere, and it’s always great seeing the people from the station. It’s great to hang out with LA friends, and it’s almost like a family affair. There’s always a party atmosphere and friendlier than a lot of festivals, both backstage and in the crowd.”
Looking back at the first Weenie Roast in 1993, Ryder and Baxter say the Almost Acoustic Christmas show served as a blueprint. “[The Weenie Roast] was a big jump for KROQ,” Bean remembers. “It was three times the amount of people than at Universal City [for Almost Acoustic Christmas], and it was outside and all day long. We were just hoping it worked.
“Looking back at that lineup, with Terence Trent D’Arby and the Gin Blossoms, how could it not work?” he asks with a laugh.
During its early years, KROQ loyalists were protective over what should and shouldn’t be on the Weenie Roast bill. “I remember [listeners] used to call up and say that this wasn’t rock music and get upset,” Ryder recalls. “Now we can put on almost anything, and it’s all sort of good now.”
That includes Swedish indie electro pop trio Miike Snow. Singer Andrew Wyatt says he has quickly become familiar with the event through reading Anthony Kiedis’ autobiography, Scar Tissue. He is confident the band’s kinetic live show will resonate at the Weenie Roast’s final Irvine date. “Our live show leans more rock & roll,” Wyatt says. “When people hear the recordings, they think we’re more pop. Live, though, there’s more distortion and feels like a rock show when we play, and I think, for this audience, [it] will give them a different take on us in a good way.”
The progressive nature of the show’s booking has allowed it to adapt, pivot and remain relevant. Citing groups such as Twenty-One Pilots, Walk the Moon and Silversun Pickups, Ryder and Baxter have seen a handful of smaller groups leap to a prime spot.
Canadian rockers the Strumbellas may not yet be a household name among the KROQ audience, but their single “Spirits” is making waves on the station. Even north of the border, the Weenie Roast is a prestigious event that is synonymous with big bands and smaller ones on the brink, which isn’t lost on keyboardist/singer David Ritter.
“It’s a major compliment, and it’s been incredible,” he says. “They were the first station, to my knowledge, to add ‘Spirits,’ and it’s so influential that when KROQ adds it, people start to notice. Playing the Weenie Roast feels like a nice addition. Playing the last one at this venue is an honor.”
LA-based band Fitz and the Tantrums have seen their profile increase dramatically over the past few years and feel they owe that to the support of the venerable station. “[KROQ] jumped on the first single, ‘Out of My League,’ on the last record,” Michael “Fitz” Fitzpatrick says. “They wanted to be the first in the world to play it. And because of that, it really validated us with the alternative scene.”
They are playing their second Weenie Roast this year and are sentimental about it being the last in Irvine. “I’m very sad to see it go!” Fitz says. “I’ve been to so many shows there over the years. I sent a lot of time in Newport Beach, and we would always sneak out of the house to go see shows there.”
Plans for future Weenie Roasts are currently unclear. “Irvine Meadows has been home to so many KROQ shows for so long—and this one in particular,” Ryder says. “It didn’t feel right to do it anywhere else, and I just can’t imagine where we’re going to be next summer. ”
KROQ Weenie Roast with Red Hot Chili Peppers, Weezer, Garbage, Empire of the Sun and many more at Irvine Meadows Amphitheater, 8808 Irvine Center Dr., Irvine, (949) 855-8095, (Sold Out), www.kroq.com, All ages.