Inside the Taylor Hawkins Tribute Concert: “A gigantic fucking night for a gigantic fucking person”

Almost 90,000 fans came together to celebrate the late Foo Fighters legend. NME meets fans and performers – from Mark Ronson to Kesha – to remember a true hero

The Taylor Hawkins tribute concert was, as Dave Grohl promised, “a gigantic fucking night for a gigantic fucking person”.

It started with the surviving members of Foo Fighters making their first public appearance together since Taylor Hawkins passed away in March. On September 3, Nate Mendel, Pat Smear, Chris Shiflett, Rami Jaffee and Grohl took to the stage of London’s Wembley Stadium to deafening cheers from almost 90,000 fans, which just went on and on. It wasn’t long before Grohl was in tears with the rest of the band huddling around him, but as the sold-out crowd started chanting the late drummer’s name, Grohl couldn’t help but break into a grin.

Dave Grohl
Dave Grohl. Credit: Andreas Neumann

“Tonight we’ve gathered here to celebrate the life, the music and the love of our dear friend, our bandmate, our brother Taylor Hawkins,” he said. “For those of you who knew him personally, you know that no-one else could make you smile or laugh or dance or sing like he could.” A line-up of Hawkins’ “closest friends, musical heroes and greatest inspirations” definitely lived up to his legacy.

Foo Fighters were joined by Paul McCartney and Chrissie Hynde for The Beatles’ ‘Oh! Darling’ – the first time it’s ever been played live, despite McCartney joking that he wrote the ‘Abbey Road’ classic “about a hundred years ago”. Liam Gallagher tapped into the celebratory tone by performing two timeless Oasis anthems (‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Star, ‘Live Forever’) backed by Foo Fighters, with the six-hour concert also featuring appearances from prog trailblazers Rush, a specially-reformed James Gang and rock royalty The Pretenders, all bands that Hawkins adored.

Dave Grohl and Paul McCartney
Dave Grohl and Paul McCartney. Credit: Scarlet Page

“Here’s one Taylor would have requested,” said Chrissie Hynde, introducing ‘Brass In Pocket’. “I know he loved me but I loved him more.” Elsewhere video tributes poured in from the likes of Billie Eilish and Stevie Nicks, with everyone saying how warm, caring, engaging and passionate this beloved musician was.

“What an amazing evening of love and music,” said Brian May, five hours in. He and Roger Taylor were joined by a series of guest vocalists for a triumphant, 20-minute set of Queen classics. The Darkness’ Justin Hawkins sang ‘Under Pressure’, The Struts’ Luke Spiller helped out on ‘We Will Rock You’ and Eurovision legend Sam Ryder took to the stage for ‘Somebody To Love’, Taylor Hawkins’ go-to Queen song.

Taylor Hawkins Tribute Gig on the cover of NME
Taylor Hawkins Tribute Concert on the cover of NME

Saving heartbreak for last, May sat at the end of the runway with an acoustic guitar for a searing rendition of ‘Love Of My Life’, echoing the Freddie Mercury tribute concert that was held in this venue exactly 30 years ago, which was the last time anything of this magnitude was held in honour of one man. But what a man.

“He was always smiling”

“As a musician, [Taylor] was sort of unstoppable,” Supergrass’ Danny Goffey told NME a few days before the concert, at which the band played a riotous, three-song set. “[Taylor’s] playing for three hours at breakneck speed was something to behold. It was almost superhuman. When we used to tour together, he’d sit behind the drum kit shouting encouragement and laughing at my terrible dynamics and sloppy drumming. He told me, ‘Don’t ever lose that, because that’s who you are as a drummer.’”

As well as a fantastic drummer, singer and songwriter, Goffey describes Hawkins as “just a dude”, adding: “He was always smiling, he was always encouraging and was always positive. He was just a bright light. Whenever we’d tour, he’d spend the whole time doing this terrible British accent. I remember being on the road with the Foos across America: every day off we had, he’d be calling up, telling us about something like a nearby theme park that had one of the biggest rollercoasters in America and saying we had to go. That was Taylor all over – he was just up for whatever was happening in the moment.”

“No-one else could make you smile, laugh, dance or sing like he could” – Dave Grohl

Supergrass were asked to take part in the tribute concert six weeks after Taylor’s death. The band were playing a warm-up show at LA’s tiny, 70-capacity No Vacancy ahead of a US tour. During the gig, Goffey looked over and saw Grohl sat side of stage, grinning at him and flipping the bird. After the show, they hung out and Grohl explained that he was getting Taylor’s friends and family together for a charity memorial gig, raising money for causes handpicked by Taylor Hawkins’ family: Music Support and MusiCares, both of which help people in the industry affected by mental illness or addiction. The band signed up immediately.

“We’ve always been a venue band really so any huge gig like this is a bit daunting,” admits Goffey. “Knowing Taylor, he’d just want us to just play really fast rock’n’roll songs, batter the hell out of the kit and enjoy it. I think that’s in the back of your mind when you do something like this. It shouldn’t be too much of a sad, depressing thing. Taylor wouldn’t really want that.”

Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders
Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders. Credit: Kevin Mazur

On the Monday before the concert, Foo Fighters invited Supergrass out for dinner, alongside a host of around 200 other artists and crew taking part in the tribute gig. Afterwards, they went back to the Foos’ hotel for a couple more drinks. It wasn’t long before people were playing the piano and singing. “It was a really lovely evening,” says Goffey. “We all knew why we were there but everyone was in good spirits. It established that this whole thing was a family affair to celebrate Taylor.”

That family vibe is one of the reasons Foo Fighters are so universally adored. Sure, they’ve been packing out stadiums and headlining festivals for well over a decade now, but as Danny, one fan, put it to NME at the concert: “They still feel like a band you could go and have a beer with. There’s just a warmth to them. They’re the rock band next door.” It’s why the gig was attended by people who’d flown in from Australia, Asia and North America, and why it was watched by a global audience via streaming.

“As a musician, he was sort of unstoppable… It was almost superhuman” – Supergrass’ Danny Goffey

Paying tribute to that family bond, many of the extended Foo Fighters family appeared onstage at Wembley. Them Crooked Vultures – the supergroup comprised of Grohl, Josh Homme and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones – reunited for the first time in 12 years for a three-song set that took in their own music and covers of Elton John and Homme’s Queens Of The Stone Age. Nile Rodgers led a David Bowie covers band that featured drummer Omar Hakim, Homme, Supergrass’ Gaz Coombes and Jane’s Addiction’s Chris Chaney, while Grohl’s daughter Violet fronted a Grohl-backed group for a couple of breath-taking Jeff Buckley songs. “Taylor Hawkins was a musicologist,” Grohl said onstage. “He knew more about music than anyone I’ve ever met in my life. He would constantly turn me onto albums that I’d never heard before – one of which was Jeff Buckley’s ‘Grace’.”

Later, Violet joined Mark Ronson for a stunning rendition of ‘Valerie’, The Zutons song made famous by Amy Winehouse. “This one’s for all the legends,” Ronson announced.

After the concert, Ronson told NME: “It was Taylor’s day but it felt like the theme of that day was very much about all the other rock’n’roll legends that are unfortunately not with us, whether that’s Bowie, Jeff Buckley or Amy. Without taking the shine away from Taylor, I was just singing about everyone who should still be jamming with us.”

Liam Gallagher
Liam Gallagher. Credit: Scarlet Page

He continued: “I knew Taylor a fraction as well as most of the other people performing, but it was amazing to be around all these other people who love Taylor, listening to stories about him, because it felt like spending a little more time with him. We were texting three days before he passed about cutting some records. He should have played on thousands more recordings. He really was so beloved across a wide spectrum of people and musicians.”

“What a cool fucking dad”

Despite a who’s-who of rock royalty stepping into the spotlight throughout the concert, it was Taylor’s 15-year-old son Shane who really stole the show.

Early on in the evening, comedian Dave Chappelle told the story of how he met Shane for the first time. On set at Saturday Night Live, Grohl invited Chappelle to sing his favourite karaoke song, Radiohead’s ‘Creep’, with them during their headline gig at New York’s Madison Square Garden last June. “I had smoked some reefer,” the comedian admitted, “so I agreed to do it.”

Right before Chappelle took to the stage at that show, though, Taylor Hawkins sang Queen’s ‘Somebody To Love’. “Let me tell you something,” the funnyman revealed to the Wembley crowd, “I never get nervous before coming onstage, but Taylor killed that shit. I was terrified.”

Brian Johnson and Justin Hawkins
AC/DC’s Brian Johnson and Justin Hawkins of The Darkness. Credit: Kevin Mazur

After the New York gig, Chappelle spoke to Shane, who told him: “I want to be a drummer, like my father.” The comedian told Wembley: “I’d seen Taylor be a rockstar many nights, but it was the first time seeing him as a dad. And what a cool fucking dad. That night, hanging out with the Foo Fighters, was the first time Dave Grohl and I even mentioned the name Kurt Cobain. It was the first time we ever spoke about our love of jazz and go-go music. Taylor’s son Shane was soaking it all in. He asked the best questions; not about fame, always about art.”

The afterparty then moved to nearby jazz club Blue Note to watch Grammy-winning pianist Robert Glasper. “I listened to Taylor and his son talk about the drummer the whole show,” Chappelle said. “Shane said to his father, ‘Dad, you can’t do that shit.’ I’ve never heard someone talk to a rockstar that way. Taylor Hawkins, as humble as he is, said: ‘Son, those are real musicians’.”

During the Foo Fighters’ urgent greatest hits set, which closed out the mammoth Wembley tribute concert, Shane took to the stage. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone hit the drums as hard [as Shane],” Grohl announced before the frantic, cathartic outpouring of emotion that was ‘My Hero’.

“Taylor was so beloved across a wide spectrum of people and musicians” – Mark Ronson

Shane was focused and phenomenal, hitting the skins with such vigour he snapped a stick but carried on regardless. Understandably, clips of his passionate performance have been watched online millions of times since; it walked the line perfectly between tragic, bittersweet and triumphant. Kesha still gets goosebumps thinking about this, describing it as “all of the emotions all at once”.

Elsewhere, viral drumming sensation Nandi Bushell (introduced by Grohl as “the biggest rockstar on the bill”) stepped behind the kit for a giddy ‘Learn To Fly’, while Rufus Taylor – son of Queen drummer Roger, a current drummer of The Darkness and Taylor Hawkins’ godson – joined the band for a thunderous ‘These Days’ and raw ‘Best Of You’.

Mark Ronson and Violet Grohl
Mark Ronson and Violet Grohl. Credit: Kevin Mazur

Ronson told NME of Shane and Violet’s inclusion in the show: “The spirit of it felt lovely and appropriate, but what’s amazing is that they really did own it. It wasn’t just, ‘Oh, isn’t this sweet. The kids are onstage’. I’ve watched that video of Shane at least 15 times since Saturday. And for Violet to take on Jeff Buckley and Amy Winehouse was fucking brave as hell because the internet can be a fucking shitty place. She really did such an incredible job.”

“A chance to come together, celebrate and grieve”

Ronson summed up the day when he told NME: “The whole day gave everybody a chance to come together and communally celebrate, grieve and feel something together. Throughout the whole of Foo Fighters’ set, I was on the cusp of rocking out and breaking down.”

Kerry, another fan, told NME before the concert: “All the artists involved are just fans of music and it feels like they just want to share that with you. It’s going to be emotional but it’s a celebration. I mean, look how many people Taylor touched with his music.”

She was at the show with her three children, hoping the electric atmosphere and a rotating line-up of rock stars will have a real impact on them: “Taylor Hawkins was always just so inspiring… If tonight inspires someone else to play an instrument, to make music with their friends, that’s the biggest tribute to Taylor, isn’t it?”

Taylor Hawkins tribute concert audience
Taylor Hawkins tribute concert audience. Credit: Bernhard Hoornaert

It’s a message echoed by Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith who, via video on giant screens at the stadium, recalled that Taylor Hawkins would hang out in the music shop near Foo Fighters’ Studio 606 in Los Angeles, giving advice and encouragement to any of the kids interested in drums. He’d quietly buy them any equipment they needed. “That’s the kind of guy Taylor Hawkins is,” said Smith.

It’s a well-known fact that Taylor Hawkins was a phenomenal musician and a show-stopping entertainer, but there was no sign of the ego you might expect to come with this talent and success. “He just loved music so much, he never stopped making it,” actor Jason Sudeikis said onstage as he introduced Hawkins’ garage-rock cover band Chevy Metal and his rock’n’roll group The Coattail Riders, both formed with pals.

The Darkness’ Justin Hawkins provided vocals on Taylor’s own ‘Range Rover Bitch’, while pop icon Kesha joined Chevy Metal for a thunderous cover of T. Rex’s ‘Children Of The Revolution’. “If Taylor was watching this,” Chevy Metal bassist Wiley Hodgden said with the biggest of grins, “he’d be laughing his fucking ass off. This band playing Wembley?”

 “It was an overwhelming day for everyone… Taylor was just a ray of light” – Kesha

A few days after the concert, Kesha told NME: “It was an overwhelming day for everyone.” She sounded like she was only just coming down from the night’s emotional high, adding: “I’ve never played anything like that. I’m sure I seemed like one of the more random choices to take part, but I’ve been friends with the band for ages.” I remember when [2009 hit] ‘Tik Tok’ first came out, I met [Foos] backstage at Madison Square Garden and I was definitely having some real imposter syndrome. Taylor, his wife Alison, Dave and Pat all really took me under their wing and reassured me: ‘You’re good; you’re home.’”

Since then, the band and Kesha hung out whenever they could, often at various festivals across the world, she told NME: “The night [2017 album] ‘Rainbow’ hit Number One, I was with them in a rock club in Japan and it was such a beautiful night. They were always so supportive and made me feel so appreciated. I’ve always felt like a misfit, first in society then in the pop world, but Taylor and the rest of the band were one of the few people that accepted me with open arms. That’s why I wanted to be there, for whatever they needed. Taylor was just a ray of light.”

Nandi Bushell
Nandi Bushell. Credit: Scarlet Page

Kesha added that it was incredible to play ‘Children Of The Revolution’ with Chevy Metal: “The first time we played through that song, it clicked. Those dudes are amazing and when I get back to America, I want to play some more music with them. They made me feel really comfortable playing music, and not every band has that dynamic. It’s really special.”

Following her performance at the tribute concert, fans have been calling for a Kesha rock album, something the star says she’s “absolutely open to with the right band” as the show was “one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever been a part of in my life”.

“This is all brought together by him”

Taylor Hawkins’ legacy is varied and will be long-lasting, “I’ll always remember to give back and be kind to new artists,” says Kesha, “because I know how much it meant to me when Taylor and the Foos were so welcoming.” After taking part in the concert, she knows she “wants to keep making a safe place for musicians that isn’t a competitive space; it’s a family and I want anybody that enters music to feel like they’re part of this community.”

The night’s wild collaborations channelled Taylor Hawkins’ love of making music with friends and strangers alike. As well as that Macca, Grohl and Hynde combo, Metallica’s Lars Ulrich teamed up with Brian Johnson for a mighty one-two of AC/DC classics ‘Back In Black’ and ‘Let There Be Rock’. Wolfgang Van Halen took to the stage alongside Grohl, Justin Hawkins and Josh Freese for a wailing set of iconic Van Halen numbers.

Dave Grohl
Dave Grohl. Credit: Scarlet Page

Midway through the concert, fighting back tears, Grohl revealed: “The last few days we’ve been asking ourselves the same question after rehearsal: ‘What would Taylor think of this? What would he think of all these amazing people making music together?’”

He continued: “We knew that even if we only invited his closest friends to take part, that’s a hundred fucking musicians because Taylor loved to jam and record with anybody and everybody. He loved to play music everyday. There aren’t too many people he’s never jammed with. This collection of friends, family and musicians, this is all brought together by him. We’re all connected here today by that one guy, bringing musicians that have never met, have never played together – all in one place, at one time, with all of you beautiful people.”

In the days leading up to the concert, Kesha recalled to NME, the rehearsal space had “a rotating door of some of the most talented people on the planet”. The likes of Brian May, she added, “have every right to have an ego but everyone was kind and had the same intention of being there for each other – it was this beautiful camaraderie.” After rehearsals, they’d all head to the hotel bar to share stories about Taylor: “Some were hilarious and totally debaucherous; others were really emotional. The whole thing was absolute solidarity.”

Despite that powerful sense of community, the whole heart-rending affair closed out with Dave Grohl alone on stage at Wembley. “I don’t know what else to say,” he admitted before dedicating ‘Everlong’ to Taylor. Throughout Foos’ set, the stool behind the drum kit had been filled by everyone from Shane to Travis Barker, but for the final song of the evening, it remained empty.

– A second Taylor Hawkins Tribute Concert is set to take place September 27 at Los Angeles’ Kia Forum.