Led-fueled Sammy Hagar and the Circle fires up huge Lake Tahoe crowd on a cold night

Tim Parsons/ Tahoe Onstage
Sammy Hagar and Vic Johnson were at full speed at Harveys Outdoor Arena.
Photos by Tim Parsons/ Tahoe Onstage

A whole lotta Red Heads and Led Heads gave Sammy Hagar and the Circle some love.

On a cold Tahoe night Saturday, more than 6,000 warm souls packed Harveys Outdoor Arena for a rock and roll party that spanned Hagar’s 40-year career. The Red Rocker and his Circle — Jason Bonham on drums, Vic Johnson on guitar and Michael Anthony on bass — did not disappoint.

Sammy 13The band cranked out 15 songs over 85 minutes, including four Led Zeppelin covers that conjured up memories of Bonham’s dad, legendary Zep drummer John Bonham.

“I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart,” Bonham said. “This song is dedicated to everyone here and it goes out to you with a whole lotta (pause).”

And the crowd responded: “Love.”

Hagar, a Grammy Award winner and member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, nailed the vocals all night long, unlike a year ago when a fought through a bout of the flu. His bandmates were along for the ride, and they weren’t driving 55.

“The Circle done got better since the last time,” Hagar said.

In addition to a stirring rendition of “Whole Lotta Love,” the band covered Zeppelin originals “Good Times Bad Times,” and “Rock and Roll.”

It also unleashed the Zeppelin version of “When the Levee Breaks,” a cover of the song by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy. Hagar changed the lyrics from “going to Chicago,” to “going to Lake Tahoe.” With Hagar at the mic, the groove of “When the Levee Breaks” sounded very close to his famous song with Montrose, “Rock Candy.” Hagar and Johnson traded lead guitar riffs during the tune, a highlight of the evening.

Johnson — who at times played a double-necked guitar, as did Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page — was a member of the Bus Boys in the 1980s and the metal band Sound Barrier in the ’90s before joining Hagar’s bands. When Hagar bantered with him between songs, Johnson was soft-spoken, a contrast to his hard-rock guitar style that melds so well with Hagar’s aggressive sound.

Tahoe Onstage
From left, Jason Bonham, Sammy Hagar and Vic Johnson.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

Other songs served as road markers for Hagar’s four decades as the “CEO of rock and roll,” including “Why Can’t This Be Love,” from his time as lead singer for Van Halen, and “Mas Tequilla,” a tune by Sammy Hagar and the Wabos.

And then there was something about being in the driver’s seat. Hagar recently purchased a $1.3 million Ferrari LaFerrari. “I thank you for everything, especially my new car,” he told fans. Hagar chided Bonham for picking up two speeding tickets in the drummer’s home state of Florida. “You should have told them you were late to a Sammy Hagar show. Everybody loves me. What’s not to love?” That tactic worked on Bonham’s third traffic stop in his Dodge Challenger Hellcat.

He also teased Johnson for turning white after a ride in the new buggy.

“He went in as Vic and came out as Joe (Satriani of Hagar’s other supergroup, Chickenfoot),” Hagar said, also noting that his son Aaron, a South Lake Tahoe resident, isn’t allowed behind the wheel: “Aaron doesn’t drive my cars. He rides in my cars with me.”

Concertgoers sang along with “I Can’t Drive 55.”

“Are We Having Fun Yet?” Hagar asked, perhaps inadvertently providing a plug for his soon-to-be-released book. Perhaps not.

Hagar himself is an open book. In his biography, “Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock,” Hagar revealed he grew up dirt poor, the son of an angry, alcoholic father. Hagar is honest and candid onstage and in life and is as proud of his entrepreneurship, philanthropy and marketing of his rock brand as he is of his music.

A year ago on the very same stage Hagar drank hot tea at the end of the show and confessed his “ass was kicked.” He had Anthony, whom he befriended in the Van Halen band, do more of the speaking and singing. But during this September performance, the 67-year-old with a full-throated, screaming singing style was at 100 percent strength, in the driver’s seat with the pedal to the heavy metal. He repeated the mantra, “Sammy Hagar and the Circle, at your service.”

Yeah, on a cold Tahoe night, where the venue banners whipped like a red flag at a NASCAR race, everyone had fun.

Editor’s note: Photographer Tim Parsons contributed to this story.

Related story: Comedian comments on Sammy Hagar’s fans. LINK

  • Sammy Hagar and the Circle
    Sept. 5, 2015
    There’s Only One Way to Rock
    Rock Candy (Montrose song)
    Good Times Bad Times (Led Zeppelin cover)
    Poundcake (Van Halen song)
    I Can’t Drive 55
    Right Now (Van Halen song)
    Whole Lotta Love (Led Zeppelin cover)
    Little White Lies
    When the Levee Breaks (Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe McCoy cover)
    Why Can’t This Be Love (Van Halen song)
    Heavy Metal
    Mas Tequilla (Sammy Hagar and the Wabos song)
  • Encore
    Dreams (Van Halen Song)
    Rock and Roll (Led Zeppelin cover)
    Cabo Wabo (a cappella)Sammy 21 Sammy 1 Sammy 4  Sammy 6 Sammy 7 Sammy 8 Sammy 9 Sammy 10 Sammy 11 Sammy 12 Sammy 17 Sammy 18 Sammy 19

    The Garage Boys crank up the concert

    The Garage Boys, a high-energy rock band from Las Vegas, opened the show, featuring music from a newly released album, “Sgt. Peckers.” The Garage Boys are Bryan Duffy (vocals and guitar), Aaron Harris (bass and keyboard), Craig Small (drums and vocals), Mike Neufeld (guitar).

    “Come on, let’s stay warm,” Duffy prompted the crowd. “I think the Canadians in the crowd are warm.”

    The band did its job, firing up the crowd with tunes that ranged from reggae-rock to hard rock.

    The Garage Boys opened with a loud, rocking set.
    The Garage Boys opened with a loud, rocking set. Tim Parsons/ Tahoe Onstage

    Sammy 15

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Tahoe Onstage is an online entertainment and sports magazine covering Lake Tahoe, Truckee, Reno, the Carson Valley and June Lake.

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