March 17, 2017

Flagpole at SXSW: Sammy Hagar Talks Guy Fieri, Cabo Wabo, Pussy Riot


Photo Credit: Gordon Lamb

I don't know what I was thinking.

Sure, I knew in my heart that Sammy Hagar was a little corny, and it's a fact of the universe that he singlehandedly split hard-rock fans in two during the 1980s. Even so, because he's still always playing music and forming bands—not to mention his "Rock & Roll Road Trip" reality show—I was under the impression that he was still all about the music business. 

Wrong. He's in the Sammy Hagar business. 

His conversation with USA Today writer Mike Snider revealed a Hagar that is, in actuality, a pretty down-to-earth dude (emphasis on "dude"), but in stark contrast to most artist-speakers this week, he's one for whom music wasn't some grand, life-saving force, but just a thing he did and does.

It could have been anything. If he'd made his fame via one hell of a cheeseburger instead of being the Red Rocker, his life would have been pretty much the same. His foodness dudeness was revealed when he referred to Guy Fieri as his "brother from another mother." I mean, come on! 

He spoke a lot about "reaching people" with his "message," but that message always seems to be what a chill and rad dude Sammy Hagar is. His wildly successful Cabo Wabo Tequila, which he sold for $100 million—in his words, "life-changing money," as if that weren't obvious—is how a huge portion of folks know him. "I'll be walking down the street and meet people and they'll say, 'Hey, Sammy, I love your tequila!' he said.


Photo Credit: Gordon Lamb

In all fairness, Hagar is just so… normal. And maybe that's where the rub really comes in, because artists are supposed to have some pain, some poetry, some tragedy, some… SOMETHING. Hagar's got his tequila, his family, his chain of cantinas—all proceeds from which are donated to charity (Which ones? "I like local," he said)—his new bands, his shorts, bare feet and good times. 

He's like Mr. Perma-Uncle who's really nice and generous but occasionally unnervingly behind the times. On Wednesday, he and Snider went to see what Snider called Pussy Riot. Actually, it was Pussy Riot Theatre, a new project by the revolutionary Russian arts collective, with its new show, "Revolution." Snider asked Hagar what he thought, and the answer was so goddamned Salt Life I almost puked. "I thought the name was misleading. I was expecting something else! Ha ha!"

The assembled crowd chuckled audibly, and I'm wondering now if my groan matched their volume. I certainly heard it. "But, no," Hagar continued. "They're very European, and it's not my thing. Normally there's some subtly in what you say, but they just put it out there… it's music that's never heard rhythm and blues."

When there was finally an audience Q&A, I hoped some superfan would get him to talk more about his time in Montrose and Van Halen. Well, the first question was from such a fan who asked about his biggest "takeaway" (ugh) from his life and success, and how that could inspire others. Hagar mentioned his huge sale price for Cabo Wabo and how he could now make decisions now based solely on exactly what he wanted.

So, if anyone needed inspiration, the message was to get $100 million. At this point, I'm barely hanging on, but I'd already spent an hour with this, so I waited. The next question was about his appearance on "Celebrity Ghost Hunters."

Over and out.