Throwback Thursday: 20 Years of Japan's Fuji Rock Festival

Japan's best rock festival, Fuji Rock, is having its 20th anniversary festival this weekend, and I wanted to share how much this festival has meant to my life and my family. This festival in the mountains 2-3 hours north of Tokyo, is such a breathtakingly beautiful, and awe inspiring locale for the best bands in the world to play.

My wife, Anne, worked at the first Fuji Rock back in 1997 when the Red Hot Chili Peppers headlined (and they are headlining this year as well!) and the site of the festival was actually at the base of Mount Fuji. She was an interpreter for bands coming from all over the world and her experiences are wild and hilarious:

"The first of two days kicked off with a massive typhoon, and I spent more time holding down the soaking wet, whipping-furiously-in-the-wind curtain on stage as the Red Hot Chili Peppers tried their best to play their set. Anthony Kiedis had a cast on his arm which completely dissolved clean off of it by the time their set was cut short by the storm. The second day was cancelled, hundreds were hurt and it was kind of a disaster. Weezer was set to play Day 2 and were milling about; they'd been interviewed many times by my identical twin sister who was music journalist at the time and thought that I was her ignoring them at the festival. They were pretty shocked to learn there were two of us! Although it had a rough start, this festival ended up being one of the very best in the entire world and continues to be to this day."

-Anne

The second 1998 Fuji Rock Festival was moved from the dangerous base of Mt. Fuji to a big space near Tokyo Bay where my wife worked as an interpreter again. She told me Beck headlined that year and they asked the Fuji Rock staff to hand out hundreds of disposable cameras and then asked for them to be given back to the band (of course they were all given back...it's Japan).

Photo Credit: Fuji-Rock

Photo Credit: Fuji-Rock

On the third Fuji Rock Festival in 1999, they moved the festival site to these beautiful mountains I mentioned above, in a city called Naeba. Naeba is typically a winter vacation destination and you can tell when you arrive to the festival as is surrounded by ski lifts and resort hotels. I came to Japan playing bass for Stevie Salas with one of my best friends on drums, Matt Sherrod of Vato Negro! We were Stevie's rhythm section for this gig and we both so excited to have finally made it to Japan!

So the first person the band meets when we get out of the airport is our interpreter, Anne. My wife-to-be picks us up and tells us we are going to be on a bus for the next 2-3 hours until we get to the site. Once we get there, I just can't believe how dream-like the whole festival is. It thousands of people camping on hillsides in the mountainous nature beneath beautiful trees and tons of great food stands. I watched a great Black Crowes set, a massive Rage Against The Machine set, saw Jon Spencer walking around the hotel lobby but best of all, I instigated the best move of my life...getting Anne to take notice of me!

I played Fuji Rock several times after 1999 with the Mars Volta, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Group and the last with Vato Negro and it always amazes me how consistently great the festival is. They treat the bands extremely well, the venue site is one of the best in the world and this special festival has meant so much to my wife and me. Stevie once told me that he played Fuji Rock again and the crew there were talking to him about Anne and I and how we met at Fuji Rock!

-Juan