As it was originally imagined, the original US Festival was supposed to be a bridge between old and new. Organised by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and concert promoter Bill Graham, the three-day concert series carried a philosophy of uniting groups of people from all different generations. This carried over to the lineup, which included some of the greatest bands of the 1970s rubbing elbows with up and coming generational talents. Woodstock veterans like The Grateful Dead and Santana mingled with new wave pioneers like Talking Heads, The B-52s, and Oingo Boingo.
Also, there were punk legends The Ramones. Even though there were punk-adjacent acts like Gang of Four and The Police on the bill, The Ramones stood out like a sore thumb within the crossroads between hippie idealism and gloosy futuristic synth pop. They were in neither camp and to see them on that big of a stage was a strange sight considering how they could barely sell out clubs on their normal tours.
The ’80s represented a decidedly new attitude for The Ramones towards their career. After having spent most of the ’70s trying to break their signature style of punk rock into the mainstream, the band were dejected to see that they were continuously failing to sell large amounts of albums. It was around this time that Johnny Ramone infamously started dating Linda Daniele, a former girlfriend of Joey Ramone. The two central figures of the band largely stopped communicating, and the band’s new philosophy was largely about gritting their teeth and bearing whatever came their way. They were never going to be rich, they were never going to be majorly successful, but they could continue to make a living if they toured like crazy and kept taking the opportunities afforded to them.
The saddest part about the band’s appearance at the US Festival is how painfully obvious it is that The Ramones could have been a great stadium rock band. Joey works the crowd like a seasoned professional, while the road-worn band runs through their 20-minute set with incisive precision. In under half an hour, the band tears through ‘Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Radio?’, ‘Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment’, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll High School’, ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’, and ‘Beat on the Brat’ without even stopping to breathe.
Joey calls for the audience to drop their inhibitions before ‘The KKK Took My Baby Away’ and says that the audience will remember ‘Here Today, Gone Tomorrow’ if they had the Rocket to Russia. Tellingly, the California crowd remains relatively muted while the skinny punks from Queens assault them with their signature blend of pop melodies and punk energy. ‘Chinese Rock’ and ‘Teenage Lobotomy’ close out the set, and the band exit the stage as quickly as the came on.
The band end up playing nine songs in 20 minutes, which is a land speed record that still holds today. In comparison, the Grateful Dead’s combined versions of ‘Shakedown Street’ and ‘New Minglewood Blues’ took the same amount of time. To get a crowd that large, The Ramones would have to venture outside of their home country for festival appearances in Latin America and Europe during the second half of their career. In the United States, the band would be forced to return to the dingy clubs after the US Festival.
Check out The Ramones’ performance at the US Festival down below.