As part of the team that co-founded the mega-giant in tech (and basically everything else) Apple, Steve Wozniak is a genius. His determination and intelligence setting the foundations for the biggest tech company in the world. But his name will also go down in rock history as the legend of his infamous US Festival will never, ever be forgotten.
First held during Memorial Day weekend in 1982 at the Glen Helen Regional Park outside of Los Angeles, the US Festival (or “Unite us in Song”) was a hopeful look toward the future and a needed departure from the decadence that was the 1970s. For Wozniak it was a difficult time, on leave from Apple following surviving a destructive plane crash, he was trying to find some solace in life.
The 1982 festival which Woz wanted to be the “Super Bowl of rock parties” had a quite incredible line up featuring acts like The Police, Talking Heads, The B52s, Oingo Boingo, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Pat Benatar, Fleetwood Mac, and many more held over a three day event.
Sadly, due to the heat, and high ticket prices (a whopping $37.50 for three days) the first ever US Festival was a commercial flop. But Woz, ever the determined man, pushed on with the planning of 1983’s event this time enlisting the help of Colorado promoter Barry Fey. The event would see the three-day event split by genre, from New Wave, Heavy Metal and Rock.
The Heavy Metal day was a mammoth sell-out with Van Halen headlining and receiving $1 million for the privilege, a world record for the highest amount paid for a single performance. That was until they
“The festival was completely booked,” Fey recalls, “and Van Halen had a favored-nation clause in their contract that said no one could get more than them – and they were getting $1 million. Then Steve came to me and said, ‘God, Barry, I really love David Bowie.’ I say, ‘Steve, there’s no room. Let’s put this to bed.’ And he says, ‘Well, I really do love David … could you try? It is my money and my festival.’” So Fey called Bowie, who was then touring Europe a month after the release of his blockbuster album Let’s Dance. He would return that August for two sold-out shows at Angel Stadium. “David tells me: ‘We’ll have to interrupt our tour and charter a 747 to bring our equipment and get it right back again.’ So I went to Steve: ‘David’s gonna cost you a million and a half, but it’s gonna cost you an extra half a million for Van Halen.’ He just shrugged his shoulders: ‘So?’ The addition of Bowie ultimately cost $2 million.”
Van Halen weren’t the only issue among the headliners though. The Clash were atop the bill for the first day of the three-day event and were in the middle of their own turmoil. The punks had become a worldwide smash in recent years and like all bands who “make it” were starting to find cracks in their foundations.
The first problems would start however with that old age issue, money. But unlike Van Halen, Joe Strummer and The Clash were concerned about the gratuity of the event. After hearing about the amount paid to David Lee Roth and his band, Strummer demanded that the bigger acts donated a portion of their proceeds to charity. Following the discovery of a ticket price hike The Clash refused to play unless Apple donated $100,000 to charity. Their guarantee was $500,000.
Then came their infamous performance. Strutting out on to the stage following the commercial success of their 1982 LP Combat Rock the band arrived two hours late to their headlining performance. Strummer, along with the rest of the band were in full guerilla warfare mode. They became a hostile participant in this event. Behind them the words “THE CLASH NOT FOR SALE” was projected on to a screen as the band sloppily raced through their set hurling figurative shit at every member of the event. The band were unhappy with Van Halen, unhappy with the event’s commercialisation, and unhappy with the crowd.
But as their swashbuckling, freedom fighter act continued the band had not realised that they had pushed the event’s organisers over the edge. The crew decided to change the previous projection of the band’s proclamation that they were not for sale and instead posted their $500,000 cheque for performing up on the screen behind them.
Naturally, the band was furious. They ended up in a physical altercation with the event’s crew and refused to play an encore. Little did the crowd know that only 4 months later, guitarist and founding member of The Clash, Mick Jones, would leave the band after falling out with Joe Strummer and being replaced by Vince White and Nick Sheppard.
The US Festival wouldn’t return for a third edition in 1984, and it was later reported that Steve Wozniak lost $20 million dollars of his own money on the event over two years. Barry Fey labelled it as the “The most expensive backstage pass in history.”
Watch Mick Jones’ last ever performance with The Clash below