Corrections and Clarifications: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the date of a Ben Folds Five and Foo Fighters concert in Deer Creek. The concert took place on May 20, 1998.
On April 1, 1996, the Foo Fighters made their first appearance in Indianapolis. I was 13 and I was there.
My best friend Sara Wetzel (née Boschen) and I, probably on signals from the local radio station, called it “April Foo’s Day”. I had never been to a concert and didn’t know if I could get permission. But thanks to the perfect storm, my friend’s mom agreed to come with us and it was spring break, our awkward high school dreams came true.
This show was before drummer Taylor Hawkins joined the band, around the time no one knew who they were until they realized, “Oh, that’s the Nirvana guy?” And Dave Grohl was our favorite Nirvana guy. Long hair and the carefree way he attacked his drums is every 13 year old girl’s dream…right?
Previously:Foo Fighters cancel sold-out Ruoff Music Center shutdown after drummer Taylor Hawkins dies
Do not mistake yourself. Kurt Cobain, with his soulful, heartbreaking voice and blue eyes — and the edgy fashion of our long-sleeved shirts under T-shirts with ripped jeans — was a big figure in college life in the ’90s. Going into the Nirvana craze late in the game, our interest in him was an existential crisis. We didn’t understand mental health and we didn’t understand addiction. All we knew was that something had gone horribly wrong, something we hadn’t seen in our charming suburban lives and couldn’t understand.
Let’s go back to 1996, however, which launched decades of Foo Fighters in Indianapolis.
April 1, 1996: Murat Center Egyptian Room
Grohl wasn’t just “that Nirvana guy”. He was “that guy from Scream”, a punk band that two Midwestern college girls would never have heard of had it not been for Nirvana. My friend obsessively scoured second-hand record stores (remember, we didn’t have Amazon), eventually finding tapes from when Grohl had recorded with them. (“Gods Look Down” is still on most of my playlists.)
We didn’t become Nirvana fans, but Foo Fighters fans, and more specifically, Dave fans. We stocked up on Mentos because we always had to have a roll with us to impersonate Dave in the “Big Me” music video.
I kept the flyer from the first Indianapolis show, and it says tickets were $12.50 or $15 at the door. That we saw the Foo Fighters for so little, or that tickets were even available at the door, is astounding.
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In the Egyptian room of what was then the Murat, I slipped into a puddle of beer for the first time. I jumped into a tiny mosh pit. I saw a boy fall on his head trying to crowd surf. He was bleeding, several of us said to him, “Man, you might have a concussion”, and he still jumped. I saw my best friend’s brother almost fight another guy over a drumstick that was thrown into the crowd. (He lost, because his mother was there.)
I loved every minute.
We were able to hear a preview of “Up in Arms”, which would be on the next album. And we were just steps away from our favorite rock star. About 100 people filled the room, crowding the stage in an intimate performance that would cease to be the norm for the band.
Other Foo Fighters appearances
My need to see the band again was thwarted when they next toured for “The Color and the Shape” in 1998. The Foo Fighters played Deer Creek on May 20 with Ben Folds Five. It was a school night.
As a sign of where the group was going. It was not a small concert of a group that the general public did not like yet. It was an adult show in a big venue with a huge name.
Deer Creek Forever:Real Indiana residents still call these places by their original names.
I came to Deer Creek (yes, it was still Deer Creek, and it still is) when they played there with the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1999. I had the temporary “FF” tattoo that came with the album “There’s nothing left to lose.”
My only lasting memory of this performance was when Grohl took over the drums and Hawkins disappeared into the audience. And while it doesn’t happen on every song, we’ve lived to see him play drums.
When Hawkins reappeared, he took the mic and performed Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar.”
The next time we saw them was at the Conseco Fieldhouse (now Gainbridge Fieldhouse), in July 2008. It was part of my and Sara’s efforts to relive college by going to shows by bands we loved as childless adults in their twenties who could stay out late. We felt much older when someone who was maybe the same age as us in 1996 sang the song “Marigold”. It’s a Nirvana B-side that we didn’t know the younger kids knew about.
At the beginning of my professional life, I discovered that I could no longer pay the ticket price to see my favorite band. And I was no longer close enough to that 13-year-old me to jump at every news about Grohl. But he remained a source of inspiration and joy. When something new happens in the world of Foo Fighters, it feels like hearing what an old friend has done.
2022 Foo Fighters Tour
When the band announced a gig in August at the Ruoff Music Center (that’s Deer Creek), my first text about it was from Sara. My response was that while lawn seating was affordable, driving to Noblesville, parking, and sitting on the lawn around a group of people seemed exhausting. (We’re not only older now, we also just went through a pandemic.)
I swear, we text about other things, but not long after that, I texted her to tell her Hawkins was dead. With the tour canceled, our childhood hero won’t be returning to Indiana this year.
Last week, while reading Grohl’s biography, “The Storyteller”, a sentence struck me: “You cannot predict the sudden death of a person, but there are certain people in life that you prepare to lose, for whatever reason.”
It’s in reference to Cobain’s death, and around where my bookmark is placed. I haven’t even gotten to the part where Hawkins comes into play. (I’ll read it eventually, but I’m not ready.)
So far in the book, however, I’ve seen a theme of resilience: doing what you love, at all costs, and overcoming whatever comes your way despite injury or trauma. I read about it in the sections of his book about his childhood. I saw it when a hardcore fan wouldn’t leave the Murat floor to seek medical help.
Grohl is the most exemplary of this in 2015, finishing a show despite a broken leg from falling off a stage. I hung a story about his broken leg in my cubicle after he broke his foot, to remind me to keep going despite my slight inconvenience of being in a cast.
For those of us who have been around since 1996, of course, we hope that the remaining members of the band will show resilience and return to the stage. But otherwise, a note to our hero: Take care of yourself and your family. You will always be our hero.
Jenny Porter Tilley is Digital Producer for the USA TODAY Network’s Midwest Region. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @jennylynne.