US Festival

From Academic Kids

The US Festivals were two early 1980s music and culture festivals sponsored by Steve Wozniak of Apple Computer, and broadcast live on MTV. The first was held Labor Day weekend in September 1982 and the second was Memorial Day weekend in May 1983. Wozniak paid for the bulldozing and construction of a new open-air field venue as well as the construction of an enormous state-of-the-art temporary stage at Glen Helen Regional Park in San Bernardino, California. (This site was later to become home to Blockbuster Pavilion—now Hyundai Pavilion—the largest concert venue in California as of 2004.)

In the years after the confusion of the Woodstock Festival and the crowd-control debacle of Altamont in 1969, most attempted festivals in America were small-scale affairs, usually centered around a humanitarian cause, such as the 1979 Concerts for Kampuchea. The 1982 US Festival was the first major festival since that time that was not a charity concert—it was intended to be celebration of evolving technologies; a marriage of music, computers, television and people. It was the first large concert to include video screens to bring the action on stage closer to the audience at the back, as well as to MTV viewers at home.

The two festivals also included large air-conditioned tents featuring the US Festival Technology Exposition—a dazzling display of then-cutting edge computers, software, and electronic music devices. (See the Softalk article linked below for a walk back in the history of computing.)

Each of the two festivals had hundreds of thousands of people in attendance, but were resounding commercial failures. It is estimated that sponsor Wozniak lost nearly twenty million dollars over two years.

Van Halen received an upfront sum of $1,000,000 to headline the 1983 US Festival. It was the highest amount an artist had ever been paid to perform at a single concert.

"It was the day new wave died and rock n' roll took over" - Vince Neil, in a famous quote regarding the overwhelming attendance on Sunday, "Heavy Metal Day", at the '83 US Festival. It set the single day concert attendance record for the US with an estimated 375,000 people.

Lessons learned at the US Festival contributed to the much greater success of the enormous Live Aid charity benefit shows in 1985.


Labor Day Weekend, 1982

Three days, 34 hours of music, 400,000 in attendance, 105°F (40.5°C) weather; 36 arrests, 12 drug overdoses, $12.5 million lost. (Bands are listed in the order they appeared.)

Friday, September 3

Saturday, September 4

Sunday, September 5

Memorial Day Weekend, 1983

Three days (plus a fourth Country Day a week later), 670,000 in attendance, $7-8 million lost.

Saturday, May 28

Sunday, May 29 (Heavy Metal Day)

Monday, May 30

Saturday June 4th (Country Day)

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