Ever since legendary violinist Jascha Heifetz and cellist Gregor Piatigorsky launched their landmark concert series at The Ford in 1961, The Ford 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.
Back in the late ’80s, The Ford played host to an impressive lineup of L.A.-based rock superstars, including the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who performed on our stage in October 1988. Jane’s Addiction played a string of seven sold-out concerts at The Ford in April 1989, a series the band still cites as a seminal moment in their rise to rock stardom.
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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.
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 theater's line-up, just in time for the release of Alanis Morissette’s iconic album Jagged Little Pill. Los Angeles 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.”
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
While the theater was under renovation, Ann Jensen served as The Ford’s archivist and historian.