US Festival memories still rock, 40 years later – San Bernardino Sun

The US Festival of 1982, wow.

Rumored to be the West Coast’s version of Woodstock, this weird blend of music and technology was the creation of Steve Wozniak, one of the co-founders of Apple Computer, Inc., as a thank you to friends who helped him become successful in the home computer industry.

I have to admit my ignorance 40 years ago, that the buildup for the US Festival was a bit confusing to me.

All this talk about a big techno-musical extravaganza produced by Unuson Corporation and Wozniac. Frankly, I didn’t know what an Apple was — except for the one I eat with my lunch.

Compounding the confusion for me and probably 100,000 other concertgoers was the show’s theme; something called the “US” decade. According to the organizers who came up with the moniker, it was a promotional idea of working together for the common good.

Nick Cataldo and sister Kathy (Cataldo) Lee at the 1982 US Festival at Glen Helen Park in Devore. (Courtesy of Joanne Dreese)

My understanding is that Wozniak paid for everything, including a $1 million fixed fee to San Bernardino County, the grading of the land, the building of the temporary stage and all additional costs to the county.

Nine months went into planning the event. To address the intense triple-digit heat, water cannons were placed at the foot of the stage, blasting concertgoers.

More than 400,000 people had a great time listening to 30-plus hours of music sitting on blankets resting on a recently carved out amphitheater at Glen Helen Park in Devore on Labor Day weekend in 1982.

The three-day event — September 3-5 –was an attraction of some 20 rock bands, including some of the biggest names in rock ‘n’ roll from the 1960s to 1982, including Santana, The Grateful Dead, The Kinks, Fleetwood Mac, Jackson Browne, Tom Petty and The Police.

Tickets for all three days were $37.50, a bit high for the time but well worth the price. My sisters, Joanne and Kathy, and I drove from our north San Bernardino home each day and endured the traffic at night. Many of our favorite bands were performing so we didn’t regret it one bit.

The gates opened at 9 a.m. each day with a technology fair. The opening day’s festivities featured technological demonstrations until 4 p.m. and then the music started. A lineup of seven “new wave” bands — Gang of Four, The Ramones, The English Beat, Oingo Boingo, The B-52’s, Talking Heads, and The Police — played until past midnight.

The 1982 US Festival was held at Glen Helen Park in Devore over three days in September. (Courtesy of Nick Cataldo)
The 1982 US Festival was held at Glen Helen Park in Devore over three days in September. (Courtesy of Nick Cataldo)

The music was classic rock ‘n’ roll on Saturday. In addition to the ongoing technology fair, a plethora of talent took the stage beginning at 10 a.m. and what a lineup. Dave Edmunds, Eddie Money, Santana, The Cars, The Kinks, Pat Benatar, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers rocking until the wee hours.

On Sunday, everyone woke up (except for my sisters and me) with “Breakfast in Bed with the Grateful Dead.” We were still catching up on our sleep from the previous night as it took us more than two hours to get home.

Anyway, we made it back to the US Festival in time to catch Jimmy Buffet’s celebrated “Margaritaville.” Other bands that played until closing — around 5 p.m. — were Jerry Jeff Walker, Fleetwood Mac and Jackson Browne.

Looking back, that US Festival scene was really something.

Thousands of people getting squirted by water bottles and hoses (the temperature was over 110 degrees each day), more than a few drugs circulating, some girls taking off their tops (that was interesting), and a staggering assortment of music.

There were some little fights and disturbances but there really weren’t many problems with people getting out of hand.

Everyone seemed to have a wonderful time and it certainly looked like a rousing success to me. However, when the US Festival was over, it was estimated that Steve Wozniak lost about $12.5 million.

The Apple guru tried again with a sequel over Memorial Day Weekend in 1983 with three days of heavy metal and the following Saturday one full-day of country music. We skipped the heavy metal part, but our whole family (our parents included) went on June 4 to see Waylon and Willie, Alabama, Emmylou Harris, and other outstanding country musicians.

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