When Covid-19 shut down the live music industry and screwed Pat Finnerty out of his job as a working musician, the 40-year-old Scranton, Pennsylvania, native started fucking around on Instagram live. For the first two months of quarantine, he challenged himself to see if he could learn every part to classic songs by Billy Joel, Huey Lewis, and Peter Gabriel — in under an hour — in his West Philadelphia bedroom studio, where he’s lived for the past decade.
For selections by ELO and Marvin Gaye, Finnerty summoned his group, the Full Band, and threw a socially distanced concert for quarantined neighbors on his roof. Video of the gig went viral and Finnerty did a few more, including one on the rooftop of popular Philly club Johnny Brenda’s, where he hosted live-band karaoke nights before the pandemic.
But his fears about fans spreading the virus on the sidewalks below drove him off the roof and back into his bedroom, where the confessed Dunkin’ Donuts addict had a crazy, hyper-caffeinated idea: record Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” — and get Dave Grohl to sing Sting’s iconic “I want my MTV” vocal.
“My whole fucking life has been spent looking at Grohl,” the loquacious Finnerty tells Rolling Stone, explaining why he set his sights on the multitasking musician. “In high school, all I did was listen to Nirvana. And if I want to watch a documentary now, there’s Grohl. And he plays with the Beatles. He plays with Led Zeppelin.”
Last Saturday afternoon, Finnerty kicked off his ridiculous “Grohl-A-Thon,” 24 hours of Instagram livestreaming with the expressed goal of locating and persuading one David Eric Grohl to join him on “The Pat Finnerty Show” (his Instagram handle). Nine hours later, the host snared his target, thanks to a grassroots social-media campaign, a cardboard cut-out of the Foo Fighters leader, and what he calls “friendly stalking.”
“A friend of mine who watched my [Instagram Live] show every day sent me that Grohl cut-out,” says Finnerty, who is never without the likeness. (It even joined him for a concert on Johnny Brenda’s roof.) “Everywhere I went, Grohl came with me.”
While Finnerty was readying the Grohl-A-Thon — booking guests like Jon Wurster and the director Ben Berman, arts-and-crafting a backdrop, and enlisting his roommates to man a phone bank — he tasked his pals with photographing the cut-out around Philly. Flat Dave “ran” the Art Museum’s “Rocky steps,” showed up at the Liberty Bell, and posed in front of John Coltrane’s house. Finnerty’s only rule was that it had to be handed off between friends at a Dunkin’.
But it was the “friendly stalking” that paid off. Through his makeshift network of thrice-removed contacts (e.g., a dude who had Jack Black’s email; an acquaintance who knew Grohl’s niece), he connected with a guy who knew a guy who was supposedly going to a dinner party at the Nirvana drummer’s house on Saturday night.
Around 10:30 p.m., Finnerty received a video request from the dinner guest, actor Andrew Sikking. He accepted and merged the calls, but only saw a drum kit. Then he heard playing.
“I was like, ‘Wow, we got Grohl,'” Finnerty says. “He peeks up and he sees me with the cardboard cut-out and he goes, ‘What the fuck are you guys doing?'”
Finnerty submitted his “Money for Nothing” request. “That’s it? That’s all you wanted?!” Grohl asked, going on to pound out the song’s beat on the drums. The pair talked for nearly 20 minutes — about their shared love of Jeff Lynne, Grohl’s history in Philly, and about Finnerty’s outrageous plan to have him helicopter onto the roof of Johnny Brenda’s to sing “I want my MTV” before dramatically flying off. “Helicopters and rock bands don’t really [mix],” Grohl replied.
“Is it good to be Grohl?” Finnerty finally asked him. “Oh yeah, it’s the fuckin’ best,” he deadpanned, adding that when he learned Finnerty was streaming for nine consecutive hours, “There was no way I was not going to call in. Just so you could take a fucking nap.”
And then, the ubiquitous Grohl — who by now is the Bill Murray of rock — was back to his wine and dinner guests, including Survivor’s Jeff Probst, who makes a cameo.
“Grohl was as cool as I knew he would be,” says Finnerty, a natural conversationalist, who says his Instagram shtick is fulfilling dreams beyond his Nirvana fandom. “I’ve always wanted to host a talk show and corona has kind of given me one. I want it to grow so that I could do cooler shit, because I have ridiculous ideas that I think will all work.”
Getting Grohl was an undeniable thrill, but the lifer musician is most happy with the way his wild Grohl chase united people and gave them some respite from the doldrums of pandemic life. Finnerty’s phone and DMs were blowing up on Sunday with words of congratulations and gratitude.
“The messages that I’ve been getting all day were, ‘It’s so inspiring what you did, because you set a goal and you achieved it,'” he says. “Like, I’m this fucking nobody and I got to Grohl in nine hours because I believed in it.”