The US Generation: Steve Wozniak’s 1982 US Festival was meant to be an ’80s Woodstock

By on July 4, 2019

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak believed the Seventies had represented the “Me” generation,” and felt the Eighties should tell the story of “Us,” and so, in 1982 — with help from promoter Bill Graham and many others — Woz organized the very first US Festival, combining chart-topping superstar acts with examples of cutting-edge technology.

Watch US Festival: 1982 The US Generation — subtitled “A Documentary Film about the Making of the 1982 US Festival” — on Night Flight Plus.

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Wozniak’s original vision was that his US Festival — held on Labor Day weekend in early September 1982 at Glen Helen Regional Park near San Bernardino, California (now the San Manuel Amphitheater) — would unite young people by getting them excited about the future.

He saw his “we-are-the-world” event as one that would help cultivate positive vibes and build a deep sense of community through the power of technology and music.

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Woz planned to show off some of the latest scientific innovations in air-conditioned tents, housing a technology expo of what was then cutting-edge and state-of-the-art computers, software, video games and electronic music devices, from exhibitors like Apple and some of his competitors too, including Atari.

He even planned to link via satellite to the Soviet Union during each fest, and indeed this would be the first outdoor concert to use jumbo video screens to provide spectators unobstructed views of the 300 x 67 foot stage as their eardrums were assaulted by 400,000 watts of power.

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Woz also originally only wanted to feature what he described at the time as “progressive country music,” which he’d recently gotten into at the time (more about this below).

He was told that he’d sell more tickets if his US Festival featured some of the well-known new wave and rock acts of the day, which is why he turned to Bay Area impresario and promoter Bill Graham for help.

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Here’s the line-up of the performers from the entire spectrum of popular ’80s acts, playing over the course of three epic days for an estimated 400,000 music fans:

Friday, September 3rd: the Police, Talking Heads, the B-52s, Oingo Boingo, English Beat, the Ramones, and Gang of Four.

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Saturday, September 4th: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Pat Benatar, the Kinks, the Cars, Santana, Eddie Money, Dave Edmunds and Joe Sharino (!).

Sunday, September 5th: Fleetwood Mac, Jackson Browne, Jimmy Buffet & the Coral Reefer Band, Jerry Jeff Walker and the Grateful Dead.

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Unfortunately, not every band/artist listed above is featured here, but this 2017 DVD blends rare concert footage with insightful interviews from several organizers and performers.

Read more about US Festival: 1982 The US Generation below.

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In our post about the 1983 US Festival, we told you how it was Wozniak’s hope that the US Festival would become a “Woodstock of the 80s.”

Just thirty-two years old at the time and super rich, Woz had taken a leave from his job at Apple after surviving a plane crash which had left him shaken and unable to form memories for half a year.

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Woz’s original musical concept was that his US Festival be a true celebration of what he called “Americana,” which used to mean historical artifacts representing our country’s folkloric and cultural heritage.

This was long before country music radio programmers began using Americana as a way to describe the new alt-country rock acts blending country-rock and punk. Unfortunately, today Americana is usually applied to right-wing conservative country acts.

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We’re posting this on “Independence Day,” which President Trump has changed the meaning of by obnoxiously hijacking July 4th for his “Salute to America,” in order to show a demonstration of military might.

A lot of Trump followers are waving American flags around today to show how fucking patriotic they are, but once again the meaning of “patriotism” has been changed, stolen by right-wing nutjobs.

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Back in the Sixties, hippies waved their American flags around too, and some even brought them to the original Woodstock too, so we’d just like to remind you fucking hypocrites out there that we all love this country and you don’t get to change the meaning of words and symbols.

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Woz spent eighteen months working on what he began calling a “A New Festival for a New Age” and “the Super Bowl of Rock Parties.”

We’re not sure if Woz and the promoters succeeded in their attempt to turn the US Festival an ’80s Woodstock, although they all get A-plusses for at least trying to re-capture Woodstock’s “3 Days of Peace & Music” vibe.

Wozniak — in a post-festival press conference — said he felt the timing for his festival was right, and he also said he felt there was “a spirit, a push for unity starting to spread. We tried to capture it. I think we did it.”

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He ended up losing an estimated $5-12 million dollars on the US Festival (reports vary), which meant that despite the fact that it was a memorable event, it also was a huge financial disaster and personal failure for Woz.

Ticketmaster did quite well for themselves, though, in this, their first entrée into the Southern California marketplace.

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Overall, the 1982 US Festival is today considered a rousing success, even though the 115-degree record heat and/or high ticket prices — $37.50 for a 3-day ticket, and a one-day pass would set you back $17.50 — may have actually kept some young concertgoers away because it happened to have been held the same weekend when many college-age students were traveling on to their schools.

1983’s US Festival was changed to Memorial Day weekend.

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Watch US Festival: 1982 The US Generation on Night Flight Plus.

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.