Music Moments that Move Us: Dave Grohl and Brené Brown at ACL
The minute I saw the lineup for the 2023 Austin City Limits Music Festival and spotted Foo Fighters, I knew I had to be there. I love Dave Grohl and I had seen a livestream of Foo Fighters performing a few years back, and it was incredible. Out of the hundreds of performances planned over two weekends, this was the one I cared most about attending. I had to see them live.
Just three days before heading to ACL, I received an email in my inbox that I could’ve easily overlooked. When I clicked on it, I couldn’t believe what I saw. Was it a lucky coincidence? Or maybe our recent article, The Magic of Music Festivals by Cheryl Ursin, somehow manifested this message to appear? However it happened, it sure seemed meant to be. The message read: “Just added to the Bonus Track Stage – Brené Brown and Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters to discuss music that moves us and why music is the most powerful driver of shared connection.” I couldn’t believe it. The legendary musician and storyteller paired with the inspirational author and speaker? Done.
I’ve been to ACL multiple times but hadn’t previously known about the Bonus Tracks programming. The Bonus Track stage is small and intimate (at least by ACL standards), meant to be a hub within the festival for alternative programs.
Kicking off the discussion, Brené shared how the event quickly came together. Just a few days before the festival, she called a contact at ACL and posed the question: “Wouldn’t it be cool if I could talk about my research on music and the s*** that brings us together . . . with Dave Grohl?” She said she pitched the idea half-jokingly, but was met with “Are you available on Friday?” Brené said she’s a big Foo Fighters fan and, along with her research on the effects of music – and Dave’s passion for music and storytelling – the pairing made sense.
Dave shared a powerful, thought-provoking monologue he had written earlier that day on the topic: “I often wonder what music is for. What is its purpose? Why does it exist and why do we need it in our lives so desperately? Furthermore, what is it about the sound of an instrument that stirs a specific emotion? Without even a single word to explain its intention?
“How could the frequency and tone of that instrument make us feel a certain way without any implied direction? Why does a minor chord inspire sadness while a major chord brings happiness? Why are we drawn to certain songs when we feel a certain way? I mean, I wouldn’t put on Leonard Cohen at a dance party just as I wouldn’t play Abba’s Dancing Queen at a funeral. But why not? Or rather, why the f*** not?
Is it that our hearts and minds serve as some sort of sonic semiconductor to the sound of someone’s joy or pain, ultimately aligning and bridging the souls of two human beings, reminding us that we are not alone in this life. Is that the purpose of music? Or is it just to drown out the noise?”
Throughout, his musings were met with audible “yesses!” from the crowd. After, he was met with a round of applause. It was a beautiful way to open a fascinating discussion between the two icons.
For the next hour, Brené and Dave rocked the informal, lively interview discussion and singalong. She asked the crowd: What happens when strangers or people who hate each other get together for power of music? She demonstrated example after example of how a group of strangers can, in an instant, come together and belt out familiar lyrics. Brené played a range of the great hits from her iPad, including We Are the Champions by Queen, You Shook Me All Night Long by AC/DC, I Will Survive by Donna Summer, Don't Stop Believin' by Journey, Stand by Me by Ben E. King, Friends in Low Places by Garth Brooks. (Note: Dave was embarrassed to admit he had never heard Friends in Low Places: It’s a safe bet that he was the only one in the crowd that didn’t know the classic country song.)
Then Brené brought it back full circle and said to Dave, “This one should be familiar….” Coincidentally (or so she claims!), she had tech trouble right as she was trying to play Foo Fighters’ Best of You. Dave laughed, “Did you do that on purpose?” He launched into the intro of the classic song, a cappella style. It was a moment that was sure to bring any Foo Fighters fan to tears (including this one). It was truly unforgettable.
The experience of hearing their discussion interspersed with classic hits we all know and love – creating a singalong experience – was the ultimate demonstration of Brené’s research. It was a crowd full of strangers instantly brought together over music.
The next day, following the compelling conversation, was the main event: Seeing Foo Fighters live. It was one of those bucket-list experiences that will be hard to beat. They performed hit after hit, including Times Like These, My Hero, One of These Days, and more.
It was particularly moving since it’s Foo Fighters’ first time touring since the death of drummer Taylor Hawkins. Josh Freese, a longtime friend of Dave's and former member of Devo, joined them for the 2023 World Tour.
I thought the performance couldn’t get any better until there was a surprise visitor on stage: Shania Twain. The country superstar had been performing on the opposite side of the festival at the same time. Once she finished her set, she had a golf cart escort her on stage with Foo Fighters, clad in her signature red wig and cowboy boots, and joined Dave to perform a duet performance of Best of You. It was remarkable.
The experience of seeing Brené and Dave in discussion, followed by Foo Fighters live, really brought it all full circle for me. Lately, the topic of the power of music has been top of mind. In our October issue, we published the aforementioned article on the magic of music festivals – a subject that’s near to my heart, as a newer festivalgoer. My first festival experience – which was at ACL – was in my 50s.
I didn’t know what to expect, but I know I didn’t expect to fall in love with the energizing experience. Yet, I have. In addition, in our September issue, we ran an article on Bruce Springsteen fans, which includes reflections and research on the power of music.
Research aside, you can’t beat listening to your favorite songs, live and in-person, alongside good friends (like my college roommate Teri Gerber) and other fans. That feeling is truly incomparable, emotional, and just so much fun.
Foo Fighters are also headlining Saturday night of ACL Weekend Two. See the full lineup and ticket information here.
Editor’s note: See past stories on ACL from Joni here: Highlights from ACL 2022: A ‘Landslide’ of Nostalgia and ACL 2019: Lessons from a 55+ Year Old Rookie Festival-goer.
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