Skip to content

Do you ever dream of the thrill of attending a music festival at a time when rock and roll dominated the music industry? Imagine feeling the rhythm of the drums beneath your feet as you become entranced by the sounds of electric guitars blaring through the speakers. Standing among thousands in a roaring crowd, you are captivated by the ground-breaking performances playing out in front of you as you attend one of the greatest rock festivals of all time. On April 6th,1974, one such experience took place in the Greater Ontario California, and it was called Cal Jam.

California Jam Festival, or Cal Jam, was a record-breaking festival that happened 50 years ago at the Ontario Motor Speedway in Ontario, California. A venue originally created for NASCAR and Formula races, it sat right off the 10 freeway between Haven and Milliken. It was an unassuming spot to hold such an event. Yet, in the era of rock and roll festivals, it set a record for the largest paid attendance with over 250,000 tickets sold. A Coachella of its time, in competition only with Woodstock, it remains one of the greatest events in history. 

Headlined by Deep Purple and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, the lineup was filled with rock musicians that are still appreciated globally today. Earth, Wind and Fire, Black Sabbath, and The Eagles are only a small collection of the artists who performed that day under the sweltering California sun. 

The day was hot but the performance continued through the night as Deep Purple refused to go on stage until dusk hit, as their contract demanded. Nightfall providing the perfect ambiance to their set, Deep Purple’s act was so extraordinary it became the first full length concert performance to be sold on vhs tape in the 1980’s. ABC Television was a founder of Cal Jam and broadcasted several clips of the festival. However, Deep Purple’s set remains the only full-length portion that was widely distributed. Even now, they continue to sell 50th anniversary editions of this once in a lifetime performance.  

With all the success that came with Cal Jam, a second festival brought rock music back to Ontario, California only four years later on March 18, 1978. This time showcasing the talents of Aerosmith, Santana, Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood. Not only did the lineup grow but so did the crowd as over 300,000 people enjoyed listening to the most popular music of the time. The musicians that played at Cal Jam are now some of the world’s most renowned artists. From Grammy winners to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, these performers have earned their place among the music industry’s best. 

Today, music remains an integral part of the heart of Greater Ontario, California. Past attendees of these festivals remain active on social media in Facebook groups commemorating a time when the music was louder and the tickets were cheaper. Though don’t be disheartened by nostalgia. In venues like the Toyota Arena, music continues to thrive. Built where the old motor speedway used to stand, Toyota Arena is a locale for every type of entertainment. The creation of this venue proves that the roots of Ontario, California’s love for music run deep. And so, in remembrance of the greatest rock festival the city has seen, the Arena houses two walls filled with photos and memories of what took place in 1974 and 1978. A few of the artists that performed at Cal Jam have even returned to the area to perform at the Toyota Arena, including Earth, Wind and Fire and the Eagles. The stage has also played host to the likes of Elton John, Bob Dylan and Metallica. 

The popular music of today may no longer be rock and roll; but, the performers that play at the Toyota Arena are just as dynamic and entertaining. Artists like Carrie Underwood, Bad Bunny, Pink, and Cher have all chosen Ontario, California as the perfect location to bring the community together for a night of fun and great music. You may not be able to travel in time to experience the electrifying Cal Jam festival, but you can still go to the same site to experience the most talented musicians of our time. Toyota Arena, is where the history of great music continues to live.