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Remember A Day



The Early Eighties

Together with Live Aid, the two US Festivals are the most outstanding rock festivals of the 1980's; the size of these festivals was unprecedented at that time, and while the US Festivals were a complete failure, Live Aid was the most successful festival ever. For the most part, however, the pre-Live Aid festivals had been relatively small gatherings for the sole purpose of generating money or interest in a certain cause. These cause have ranged from refugee relief to multiple sclerosis. Around the world, prominent members of the rock community have used their talents to make money for charity.

Christmas week of 1979 a series of concerts in London were presented to raise money to help the needy in war torn Cambodia. Promoter Harvey Goldsmith, who would later promote Live Aid, said that the Concerts for Kampuchea (Cambodia) was "the greatest superstar jam for charity London has ever seen." (1) Paul McCartney, the Pretenders, the Clash, the Who, and Robert Plant all took part.

Like the MUSE concerts, these shows are symbolic of the end of the old type of festival, while paving the path for the large charity events of the eighties. Unlike most of the other festivals, however, the impetus was two-fold:

Goldsmith, other managers, and several bands were kicking around the idea of a series of concerts to end the seventies. World-wide publicity about the refugee's situation gave them a theme. (2)

Similar to the MUSE concerts, the shows were not profitable. The strength of the concerts was its intentions.

Unfortunately, a bunch of Bay Area rockers decided to have the same type of concert series a few weeks later. The five CERF (Cambodian Emergency Relief Fund) shows grossed only $215,000, even though is was called "a chapter in Bay Area music history," (3) with Joan Baez, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Starship, and Santana performing with other lesser known bands. "Despite the diversity of the artists, the shows had one thing in common, a conspicuous absence of overt political statements." (4) Although not as political as the Amnesty tours of the late eighties, the MUSE concerts were very political for this stage in festival history, and they only were able to break even due to the non-political nature of Bruce Springsteen, who was the main attraction of the 1988 Amnesty tour. It would seem that if the nature of the event is constantly referenced, more money is raised: this is one reason why the laid-back charities of the early eighties did not succeed.

The ARMS benefits were one of these concert series that had good intentions and an incredible group of artists but was barely profitable. The main key to all of the festivals of the early eighties has been the TV and movie rights. Monterey, Woodstock, and Altamont along with the MUSE concerts have a related movie. The Concerts for Kampuchea and ARMS benefits had video compilations released, due to the increasing popularity of videocassette recorders. The video release would be much more profitable than any theatrical release.

The US Festivals were the beginning of a new era of rock festivals because they were broadcast live on the cable network MTV Music Television. The first US Festival was labor day weekend 1982. It was sponsored by Steve Wozniak, one of the co-founders of Apple Computer, Inc., as thank you to his friends who helped him become so successful so quickly during the home computer explosion. "The US Festival was a bizarre marriage of the world of music, computers, pop psychology and crowd control." (5)

Over 400,000 people attended the three day event to hear 34 hours of music. For the first time in festival history, large television screens helped to show what was happening on stage to those who were far away from the stage. It was estimated that there were approximately 340 arrests and about 12 drug overdoses. When it was all over it was estimated that Wozniak, who was the US Festival's sole investor, had lost as much as $12.5 million.

These festivals were notable for several reasons, however. The US Festival was like Woodstock, in the sense that a fair went along with all of the music. Although most attended because of the music, a good amount only attended the technology fair. "The US Festival symbolized the arrival of computers to a mass audience." (6) More importantly,

the Us Festival put Woodstock to rest once and for all. There ain't gonna be another Woodstock. From the instant that thousands of people streamed into US, it was finally clear that the children of the eighties were in no way interested in a Woodstock experience. Woodstock was free-style lunacy, breaking rules, bringing society to a standstill; at the Us Festival, avoiding hassles was paramount. (7)

Another aspect that separated the US Festival from all other festivals, especially Woodstock, is that it was the only festival to have a sequel.

Memorial Day weekend 1983 Wozniak decided to try again with US '83. Over 800,000 people were needed to break even but only 300,000 people showed up, which was only half of what was expected. Between the two festivals, Wozniak incurred a loss of at least $20 million. Presented in the exact same style as the first US Festival, less than a year earlier, 1983's US Festival was doomed to fail. As a matter of fact, nothing noteworthy even occurred:

Although the concept behind the festival was to bring technology, music, and nature together in a peaceful coexistence, it was too hot, too physically demanding, and too many youthful bodies came scantily clothed to ponder such matters. (8)

In some ways, events like the US Festivals were going to happen sooner or later. There was no real basis for these festivals except for Wozniak's personal gratification; no sense of community or charity. Although it should have been evident after the first festival that a second would fail even more miserably; still it needed to be tried. The poor organization and control of Woodstock and Altamont led to the small charity events that were much easier control. Once the small events were somewhat successful, a larger scale event, like the US Festival needed to be attempted to see if the large festival was possible in the eighties. The next step would be to have an all-around successful large scale event. Two years later Live Aid proved that it was possible.


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Copyright 2005, Adam Stanley