A Moment in Time: The US Festival 1982

Today we look back at The US Festival 1982!



"Woodstock set the bar impossibly high for rock festivals. Ever since, people have expected nothing less than majesty and transcendence, although merely mind-blowing will do in a pinch. So we pay princely sums and slog to giant expanses in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of strangers, to watch days of music on a stage that’s so far away, it’s in another zip code. Sometimes, though, they deliver. Think of the Summer Jam at Watkins Glen, Live Aid, early Lollapaloozas, or even some Coachellas, and how they earned their own breathless paragraphs in the cultural mythology. Thirty-five years ago, on September 3, 1982, the US Festival took its shot at the pantheon, ambitiously plotting an updated version of utopian bliss. Set in the San Bernardino town of Devore over Labor Day weekend , the mammoth three-day gathering was billed as Woodstock reincarnate. It was to be a mass cleanse of the narcissistic ’70s—out with the Me Decade, in with…US. Reagan was in the White House, and the MTV generation was starting to coalesce, so the time seemed right for a return to ’60s idealism.

The man behind it? Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak, fresh from a life-changing plane crash that prompted his leave of absence from the company he started with Steve Jobs. At 32, Wozniak wanted to turn on a new generation by putting on the most spectacular rock festival in history. He booked some of the biggest acts of the day, including Talking Heads, the Police, Tom Petty, and the Grateful Dead, drawing a cumulative crowd of 425,000, with a peak of 200,000 on day two. But rock was only part of the inspiration: Wozniak also put the bold new future on display. To that end, the grounds would be home to five air-conditioned tents in which people could escape the 110-degree heat and find video games like Krazy Kong, an Atari computer (the Mac was more than a year away), and props from The Empire Strikes Back.


Fueled by pixel-eyed idealism, Wozniak spent a year and $12.5 million to create the 1982 US Festival, forming the company UNUSON—as in Unite Us in Song—for the purpose. Then Woz and Co. brought in Bill Graham Presents, an outfit that had been putting on rock shows since the mid-’60s, to handle the heavy lifting and ensure that the Wozzies stayed out of their own way. 'They had a lot of ideas about what they wanted to do, but they really didn’t know what they were doing,' says Bob Barsotti, then-director of operations for Bill Graham Presents.

Together Graham and Wozniak formed a fairly visionary tandem. Moments after Gang of Four kicked off the weekend on a scorching Friday afternoon, it was apparent this was not your hippie dad’s rock festival. Powered by 400,000 watts, the audio was crisp and clear, and attendees could see the stage from anywhere, thanks to strategically placed video screens—an innovative concept that offered pristine viewing even during the daytime. 

'If you went to Watkins Glen or Woodstock and you were the 148,000th person, the chances that you would hear or see the show were actually pretty slim,' says Barsotti. 'But if you’re the last person at the US Festival, you could hear it, you could see it, you could buy some food at a concession stand; there was a toilet that wasn’t overflowing, and there were water spigots to get clean water out of, and it was all within walking distance from where you were. That had never been done before.'" (Los Angeles Magazine)


The idea behind the first US Festival was to bridge state-of-the-art technology (computers were still a long way from being in everyone’s homes) and new music. Classic rockers like Santana, the Kinks, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Fleetwood Mac joined new-school groups like the Police, Gang of Four and Talking Heads in the lineup.


US Festival 1982 Lineup: Indie History or Corporate Rock?

"The US Festival featured some incredibly popular bands at the time, bands that are considered classics by modern standards today. The US Festival 1982 lineup presented not only popular music but bands that would later be classified as punk or alternative. So, why is it a relatively little-known event in American musical history?

The US Festival was an ambitious, expensive music and cultural event created by Steve Wozniak of Apple in 1982. It was held in San Bernardino, California, and was dubbed the Woodstock of the 80s. It featured big acts with less of the typical festival chaos thanks to careful planning and execution. 

This isn’t to say that there was no chaos. There was. And, a second US Festival was held a mere nine months after the first, in the same place. There was even more trouble at that one.

The US Festival featured a ton of popular, mainstream bands, but many of them are the inspirations for modern indie artists. Bands like Fleetwood Mac, The Beat, Ramones, and Gang of Four inspired generations of indie artists with their songwriting or their attitude toward the music industry or culture as a whole.

Technology at the US Festival 

One of the really interesting things about the US Festival was the pioneering aspect of integrating technology into the weekend. Vice has a great article about that, but let’s break it down here. 

The US Festival was the first to use technology to broadcast the stage to the audience, meaning that even people at the back of the crowd could see the stage. They also had air-conditioned tents where festival-goers could play Atari and other games. The quality of the audio, too, was some of the best at the time. 

The expert planning of the festival meant that there was plenty of food and clean water as well as sanitary restrooms. This is definitely a departure from previous attempts at putting on shows of that magnitude. 

The US Festival had a huge impact on the culture of festivals as a whole. The US Festival taught other organizers better ways to run a show. They paved the way by showing other festival promoters how to project a large stage to a very large audience, for instance.

The US Festival was one of the first festivals to integrate technology into a concert on a larger scale. Now, it’s rare to see a festival without some kind of tech piece." (indiepopscene.com)



Voices Inside My Head 

Message in a Bottle 

Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic 

Walking on the Moon 

Spirits in the Material World 

Hungry for You (J'aurais toujours faim de toi) 

When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around 

The Bed's Too Big Without You 

De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da 

Demolition Man 

Shadows in the Rain 

I Burn for You 

Bring On the Night 

Driven to Tears 

One World (Not Three) 

Invisible Sun 


Don't Stand So Close to Me 

Can't Stand Losing You / Reggatta de Blanc 

So Lonely



Psycho Killer 

Love-> Building on Fire 


Big Blue Plymouth (Eyes Wide Open) 

(David Byrne song) 

Once in a Lifetime


My Big Hands (Fall Through the Cracks) 

(David Byrne song) 


(Jerry Harrison song) 

Big Business / I Zimbra  


Houses in Motion 

What a Day That Was 

(David Byrne song) 

Life During Wartime 

Take Me to the River



Party Out of Bounds 

Give Me Back My Man 

Planet Claire 

Throw That Beat in the Garbage Can 




Big Bird 

52 Girls 

Dance This Mess Around 

Private Idaho 

Rock Lobster 

Strobe Light



Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio? 

Do You Wanna Dance? 

Blitzkrieg Bop 

This Business Is Killing Me 

All's Quiet on the Eastern Front 

Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment 

Rock 'n' Roll High School 

I Wanna Be Sedated  

Beat on the Brat  

The KKK Took My Baby Away 

Havana Affair 

Come On Now

Suzy Is a Headbanger 

Let's Dance 

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow 

I'm Affected 

Chinese Rocks  

Rockaway Beach 

Teenage Lobotomy 

Surfin' Bird 

Cretin Hop 

California Sun 

Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World 



"On the opening day of US '82 alone, capped by the Police before more than 100,000 fans  presented a staggeringly strong lineup from start to finish. In order of appearance: Gang of Four, the Ramones, the English Beat, Oingo Boingo, the B-52's, Talking Heads and the headliner, mid-tour behind their fourth album, Ghost in the Machine, and in ripping form." (www.djtees.com)



The Waiting 

A One Story Town 

A Woman in Love (It's Not Me) 

Kings Road 




So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star 

Even the Losers




Around the Dial 

The Hard Way 

Where Have All the Good Times Gone 

Play Video 

Catch Me Now I'm Falling 





Low Budget 

Back to Front 

Art Lover 

Celluloid Heroes 

Come On Now 

A Gallon of Gas 

Till the End of the Day 


All Day and All of the Night 

You Really Got Me

"The crowd doubled in size for Day 2, with thousands parking as far as a dozen miles away to bake and dehydrate in near-record 112-degree heat, accompanied by reversed Santa Ana winds and water shortages. Heavy weather. Beer went for $1.50, cheeseburgers for $2.75, ham and eggs $4.50." (www.djtees.com)



Good Times Roll 

Bye Bye Love 

Touch and Go 

Misfit Kid 


Since You're Gone 


Moving in Stereo 

Night Spots 

Let's Go 

My Best Friend's Girl 

Dangerous Type 

Just What I Needed 

Shake It Up 

You're All I've Got Tonight




SET 1: 

Playing in the Band 

Shakedown Street 

Minglewood Blues 

Samson and Delilah 

China Cat Sunflower 

I Know You Rider 

SET 2: 


Man Smart, Woman Smarter 




Not Fade Away 

Black Peter 

Sugar Magnolia 

Encore 1: 

U.S. Blues 

Encore 2: 

(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction


Attendees awoke on Day 3 for breakfast with the Grateful Dead (who encored with the Stones' "Satisfaction") before Jimmy Buffett, Jackson Browne and Fleetwood Mac wrapped it up. One can only imagine how much cocaine was hoovered up across the weekend.

"'They said we couldn't do it,' Wozniak told a press gathering at the conclusion of the first fest. 'They said it was too expensive, too unwieldy. We proved them wrong. The timing was so right for this type of festival. There is a spirit, a push for unity starting to spread. We tried to capture it. I think we did it. 'We may just have to do this again,' Wozniak concluded, despite having ultimately lost $5 million on the venture. And they did so, the following year, spending even more money and making an even bigger loss. 


In a way, this had the same aims of many of the counterculture events 15 years earlier, but instead of trying to deliver them through music and flowers, they threw money at it instead. It was hard to see this in the altruistic way that Steve Wosniak did at the time really. Though his ability to lose epic amounts of cash was certainly part of the old school festival promoter tradition." (www.djtees.com)


The 1982 US Festival drew an estimated 450,000 fans, and was largely without any serious incidents. Its losses were $12 million, but that didn’t deter Wozniak from funding a second four-day US Festival the following year.


The Us Festival 1982: The US Generation Documentary 









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