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Flashback: AC/DC Play a Scorching ‘Highway to Hell’ at Coachella

The 2015 edition of the festival featured the first AC/DC concert in five years, along with the unveiling of the band’s new lineup

The team behind Coachella surrendered to the inevitable this week and canceled the 2020 edition of the festival. It was originally booked for early April, weeks after the COVID-19 lockdown began, and they initially pushed it back to October in the hopes that the world would return to normal by then. As the months ticked by, however, they realized that was an overly optimistic projection and they pulled the plug until next year.

The first Coachella was held in 1999 with Beck, Tool, and Rage Against the Machine headlining. The fest skipped 2000, but it’s been held every single year since 2001, and by 2012 it was so successful that it expanded to two back-to-back weekends. Throughout most of its history, the bookers have tried to line up a single heritage act each year to headline one of the nights. Over the years, those have included the Cure, Depeche Mode, Prince, Paul McCartney, the Stone Roses, and even a reunion of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg.

In 2015, the fest surprised some people by booking AC/DC. Seventies and Eighties hard rock had never really been Coachella’s thing, but the band hadn’t played a single show in five years at that point and they wanted to use the festival to launch their Rock or Bust tour. It was a significant musical event that Coachella couldn’t turn down. They also hadn’t toured since rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young stepped aside for health issues and drummer Phil Rudd was forced to take a leave of absence due to legal problems in his native New Zealand. Here is a fan-shot video of “Highway to Hell” from the second weekend of the festival.

AC/DC stayed on the road for the next year and a half, though hearing problems caused frontman Brian Johnson to step aside near the end. Axl Rose helped them finish out the tour, but by the time it was over bassist Cliff Williams announced that he was retiring as well. They had all five members of the Back in Black lineup on their previous tour, but by the time this one ended they were down to just guitarist Angus Young.

It seemed like the end of the road for AC/DC, but there are strong rumors (supported by photographic evidence) that Johnson, Williams, and Rudd all traveled to Vancouver in 2019 to cut a new AC/DC album with Angus. Reports of a 2020 tour circulated through the press, but the COVID-19 pandemic put an end to that idea and the band has yet to comment on any of this publicly.

Coachella, meanwhile, has changed its approach to booking headliners in the past couple of years. The closest thing they had to a veteran at the top of the 2018 bill was Eminem and in 2019 they didn’t even come that far, bringing in Childish Gambino, Tame Impala, and Ariana Grande. The fest did plan on bringing back longtime Coachella friends Rage Against the Machine this year (along with Travis Scott and Frank Ocean), but it wasn’t to be. We’ll see if they manage to pull it off in 2021. There also might be an AC/DC tour next year, but don’t expect them to stop by Coachella. That was almost certainly a one-time deal.