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?
What was the US Festival?
We need to start by nailing down what, exactly, the US Festival was.
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.
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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.
Wozniak’s vision for the US Festival
Imagine you very suddenly had more money than you knew what to do with. Now imagine you were fed up with the selfishness of your generation and wanted to try and bring people together? What would you do?
If you were Steve Wozniack, you’d throw a huge party. You’d throw the biggest, most ambitious party you possibly could and hire all of the top bands to play it.
But was that all the US Festival was? Was it a failed crash grab, or was it more? And did it leave any meaningful impact on culture?
Who played the first US Festival in 1982?
So, you might have noticed that the bands on the lineup might not be indie bands as we typically know them today. Wozniack invited big, mainstream names to the festival for the most part. However, especially if we look at day one, you can count a handful of major inspirations of the indie world who are present on the list.
Take a look, and let us know in the comments who you’re inspired by! Which day would you attend?
US Festival 1982 lineup
Friday, Sept. 3 (Our top pick!)
- Gang of Four
- The Beat
- Oingo Boingo
- The Talking Heads
- The Police
Saturday, Sept. 4
- Joe Sharino
- Dave Edmunds
- Eddie Money
- The Cars
- The Kinks
- Pat Benatar
- Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Sunday, Sept. 5
- Grateful Dead
- Jerry Jeff Walker
- Jimmy Buffet and the Coral Reefer Band
- Jackson Browne
- Fleetwood Mac
Was the US Festival indie?
On its face, when you ask if the US Festival was indie or not, the answer would probably be a no. Let’s think about it a little more deeply, though.
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.
Basically, any band from the first day could be classified as a major influence on indie bands that came after them. Even if you’re a total purist when it comes to the definition of the word indie, you would probably kill to be at day one of the US Festival in 1982.
What was the US Festival 1983 lineup?
The US Festival 1983 took place only nine months after the first one, and it’s tough to say why. Maybe Wozniack was trying to double down quickly to build interest and momentum? Maybe he thought the temperatures wouldn’t be so bad in May? Either way, the lineup saw some changes.
The US Festival in 1983 had a diversity of artists and genres – everyone from Ozzy Osbourne to Hank Jr. Organizers split the festival up over four days by genre: New Wave, Heavy Metal, Rock, and a bonus Country Day a week after. New acts were added, and old acts from the 1982 lineup came back again as well.
Take a look at the bands listed. Notice the names are all, for the most part, huge stars. It was interesting to us how in 1982, Fleetwood Mac played, but in 1983, only Stevie Nicks showed up. This is likely because things for the band weren’t so great in the 80s – or the 70s, honestly.
US Festival 1983 Lineup
Saturday, May 28th – New Wave Day
- Oingo Boingo
- Flock of Seagulls
- Wall of Voodoo
- The Beat
- Stray Cats
- Men at Work
- The Clash
Sunday, May 29th – Heavy Metal Day
- Quiet Riot
- Motley Crue
- Judas Priest
- Ozzy Osbourne
- Van Halen
Monday, May 30th – Rock Day
- John Cougar
- Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul
- Missing Persons
- Stevie Nicks
- The Pretenders
- Joe Walsh
- David Bowie
Saturday, June 4th – Country Day
- The Thrasher Brothers
- Hank Williams, Jr.
- Ricky Skaggs
- Willie Nelson
- Riders in the Sky
- Waylon Jennings
- Emmylou Harris and The Hot Band
How were the two US Festivals different?
The two US Festivals are spiritually very similar, but there are some differences to mention.
First, the US Festivals were different in terms of their scope. In 1982, Wozniack tried to do a video broadcast to the USSR that fell through. However, they took international politics off the table in 1983 and avoided those issues altogether.
They also held the festival during a cooler time of year. Spoiler…it was still hot. And the air quality was not great.
The second US Festival also saw the lineups broken up each day by genre in an effort to deliver what fans wanted more precisely. It was easier to go on only one day and catch more of the bands you really wanted to see this way.
The name of their game was always organization, and even though they achieved it, the sheer scale of their losses was what ended the dream. Many cite Wozniack’s generous contracts with the headliners as the reason they went broke.
$1.5 million was ridiculous even then, but maybe that was the price of bringing Van Halen together with so many other stars on heavy metal day.
Why did the US Festival stop?
The US Festival was a massive undertaking. Steve Wozniack spent loads of money on bulldozing the grounds and building stages, paying his acts, and so much more. So, why were there only two?
The US Festival stopped after two years because backers ran out of money to fund future concerts. Steve Wozniack has not gone on the record to say just how much money he personally lost, but estimates put the number somewhere around $20 million. He also may have lost interest in the project and moved on.
In a 2020 interview with Berlin, one of the bands that played the festival, Wozniack admits that he’s never considered putting on another US Festival for financial reasons and lends weight to the $20 million estimate (13:49 minute mark).
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.
Controversy at the US Festival
Let’s get into some of the juicier parts of the US Festival, the things that didn’t go according to all of the organizers’ careful planning.
The US Festival billed itself as the Woodstock of the 80s, but try as they might to keep it clean, the spirit of the 60s lived on. Let’s talk about drugs, death, and communism at the US Festival.
Wozzies at the US Festival
Some of the issues with the festival stemmed from Steve Wozniack himself and his posse of tech dudes, who were so pleased with themselves and their backstage passes that they apparently went a bit mad with power. It was such a problem that organizers eventually confiscated passes from some of Woz’s friends.
Deaths at the US Festival 1983
Two people died at the 1983 US Festival. One person died of an overdose, and the other was beaten to death with a tire iron in the parking lot.
In the grand scheme of what can go horribly, horribly wrong with a crowd of that size, unfortunate incidents are bound to take place. This is especially true when you mix alcohol and drugs into the mix, but it was a tragedy nonetheless.
USSR controversy at the US Festival
Perhaps one of the craziest stories of all was the controversy between the USSR and The Clash.
A digital broadcast was planned, and it would have been the first time the USSR received a remote feed of that kind. But, when officials from the USSR found out they would be receiving The Clash’s broadcast, they vetoed the idea until organizers agreed to show Men at Work to the Soviets, instead.
Cultural impact of the US Festival
Though many people couldn’t tell you a single thing about the US Festival today, with that much money and star power, surely we can point to some kind of impact in society today?
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 success with supplying food and clean water for everyone, and generally improving the fan’s experience was something that spilled over into many festivals that came after.
The technology, too, can’t be counted out. 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.
Check out our article on the first Coachella to read our discussion of this year’s social media and VR experiences.
At the end of the day, Wozniak is a businessman, right? So, did he have any ulterior motive in putting on the US Festival?
If the US Festival had any corporate leaning, it was the customer experience. A businessman like Woz knew he needed to give them a dignified experience to get their money, and now festival-goers in 2022 won’t expect any less.
It’s safe to say that because he took such a financial hit if Woz had any agenda, it didn’t come to fruition.
US Festival lineup 1982: Final thoughts
One of the things we love about the US Festival 1982 and 1983 as indie pop fans isn’t necessarily the bands themselves, although day one would be amazing. It’s how Wozniack came to hire them in the first place.
In that interview with Berlin, Wozniack talks about how he listened to a friend’s radio show and wrote down suggestions that callers had for who they’d love to see in concert. He seemed to really care about what people liked, and what they thought, and he wanted to tailor the concert to the people.
That’s probably why the setlists look so very, very mainstream, but we’ll tell you why we don’t mind. As indie fans, the heart of the issue is the love of music, not the love of money or fame.
To lose $20 million putting on a show for the love of good music by actually listening to the community you want to serve makes Wozniack and the US Festival pretty admirable in our books.