Coachella Before Coachella: The 1983 US Festival
US Festival 1983: Days 1-3 Directed by Glen Aveni MVD Visuals, 135 minutes, $19.95
In 1982, flush with cash, Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak wanted to throw "a big party" and create an '80s version of Woodstock that would combine a music festival with displays and demonstrations about emerging technologies, with a not-surprising emphasis on computers. The first US Festival did well enough that Wozniak went for a repeat on Memorial Day weekend the next year -- single-handedly dumping $10 million of his own cash to fund it.
This new DVD features highlights from that weekend, 23 songs from 14 acts booked on "New Wave Day" (Divinyls, INXS, The English Beat, Stray Cats, Men at Work, the Clash), "Metal Day" (Judas Priest, Triumph, Scorpions), and "Rock Day" (Berlin, Quarterflash, U2, Missing Persons, Stevie Nicks).
And while the relationship of some acts to their ascribed description is sometimes tenuous, it's interesting that Wozniak sought to include so many genres into one festival. (A "Country Day" was held a week later.)
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Interspersed with shots of the crowd in sunny, 100-degree San Bernadino -- shirtless men, impossibly well-built women in bikinis -- are some interesting visuals: the Stray Cats' suited rockabilly cool, Judas Priests leather and studs, Dale Bozzio of Missing Persons' spandex and plastic bra, and the shawls and heels of Stevie Nicks.
The DVD is also of some historical importance, as the Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go" shows the last performance of co-founder Mick Jones before he was booted from the group.
Other performances stand out as well: INXS on an energetic "The One Thing"; Brian Setzer ramming through the Cats' "Rock This Town" and "Double Talkin' Baby"; and the Priest on two of their biggest hits, "Breakin' the Law" and "You Got Another Thing Comin'."
And, of course, it's easy to see how powerful a group U2 would become with Bono perfecting his front-man moves...and an Edge with hair!
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Due to limitations, there are only one or two songs from each act, though an inexplicable four from Canadian power-rockers Triumph. And while some acts who played that year are not on the DVD at all, likely due to licensing fees (Van Halen, David Bowie, Motley Crue, Ozzy Osbourne, The Pretenders), what is here is a perfect '80s time capsule.
Contemporary interviews with Steve Wozniak, MTV VJ Mark Goodman (who was at the Festival), and Men at Work singer/guitarist Colin Hay add some perspective, though fans of any of these acts (and the ones not on the DVD), can't help but salivate at what is left in the vaults since the entire Festival was filmed and recorded.
In the end, reports say that 670,000 people attended the '83 US Festival, and Wozniak ended up losing millions. But he doesn't seem to have a single regret at being the forced behind the shows which set the template for later Festivals from Bonnaroo and Coachella to German metal bonanza Wacken.
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