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Us Festival 1983

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You’d have thought, after losing upwards of $5million the previous year, Steve Wosniak would have had enough being a festival promoter but far from it. Indeed, his thirst to lose even more money was apparently unquenchable. This Us Festival 83 was born.

It was to be a similar format to the previous one, with a day dedicated to different music genres across 3 days. Held again in San Bernardino, day one was new wave, day two heavy metal and the third day rock. A fourth day of country was held a week later.

The Clash headlined the new wave day but were fed up that they were receiving a decidedly un-punky $500,000 when the other day’s headliners – David Bowie and Van Halen, were trousering a cool and frankly ludicrous $1.5million. These were unprecedented fees and off the scale for 1983, in fact, they’d be off the scale now. After pointing out that they’d sold a lot less records than the other two headliners and fed up with The Clash bitching and moaning, the promoters put images of their contract on the jumbo screens to show the fans how much they were getting for an hour’s work, presumably in an attempt to humiliate them. Not that the Clash were punks or new wave by then, anyway.

375,000 turned up for Heavy Metal day "...dude, whose on stage?" "Err...where's the stage, man?"
375,000 turned up for Heavy Metal day “…dude, whose on stage?” “Err…where’s the stage, man?”

 

Over 600,000 people turned up across the four shows but it was day two, heavy metal Sunday that pulled in 375,000 alone. Featuring Quiet Riot, Motley Crue, Judas Priest, Ozzy Osbourne, Triumph(metal, are you sure?), Scorpions and Van Halen, it was a stellar line-up and Van Halen were in peak form.

Van Halen top off the metal day with some serious kicking of ass
Van Halen top off the metal day with some serious kicking of ass

The rock day was more unfocused with acts like the Pretenders and Quarterflash and Berlin rubbing shoulders with U2, Stevie Nicks and Joe Walsh. Stevie Nicks set is all on youtube and, coming on the heels of the death of her best friend, it’s an emotional performance. Waddy Wachtell hammers the living daylights out of the guitar and Russ Kunkel is giving it the full Kunkel throughout. No-one looks particularly sober, and at times during Stop Dragging My Heart Around, it threatens to fall apart – which is why it is so brilliant. It’s raw and messy and that’s rock n roll – not pristine reproductions of the studio tracks.

Stevie Nicks captivates a few hundred thousand people like a White Winged Dove
Stevie Nicks captivates a few hundred thousand people like a White Winged Dove

Bowie rounds it all off but Nicks was clearly the star of that day.  

Weirdly the country day was a week afterwards, headlined by Willie Nelson. Almost a separate one-off festival, really.

Estimates reckon the gig lost up to $15million dollars. But Wosniak had money to burn, though judging by the pictures, not on nice trousers. One magazine dubbed it the most expensive backstage pass in rock history.

The Us Festivals were the first to have video game tents and the first to have huge TV screens too, so their place in history is guaranteed for one reason or another.

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