Softalk magazine 10/82 issue cover

Sohodojo - 'War College' of the Small Is Good Business Revolution
Three Days of Peace & Music... and Technology
The US Festival - Steve Wozniak Throws a Party
Softalk magazine, October 1982 cover story
by David Hunter

[ Woz Cranks It for Us ] [ Thoughts from the Crowd ]

Related pages: [ US Festival '82: Birth of the Creative Class ] [ Book Review/Info: The Rise of the Creative Class ]

Two-page spread panorama photo of US Festival crowd
Panorama photo of the crowd at the 1982 US Festival as it appeared in the Softalk magazine
cover story of the October 1982 issue. Click for enlargement.

"The old world, the world to which I belong, was and in my universe alas still is, the world of the Crowd, the world of that detestable crawling mass of un-featured, infected human beings.
"You have never seen a Crowd, Crystal; and in all your happy life you never will. You have never seen a Crowd going to a football match or a race meeting or a bullfight or a public execution or the like crowd joy; you have never watched a Crowd wedge and stick in a narrow place or hoot or howl in a crisis. You have never watched it stream sluggishly along the streets to gape at a King, or yell for a war, or yell quite equally for a peace. And you have never seen the Crowd, struck by some Panic breeze, change from Crowd proper to Mob and begin to smash and hunt. All the Crowd celebrations have gone out of this world; all the Crowd's gods, there is no Turf here, no Sport, no war demonstrations, no Coronations and Public Funerals, no great shows, but only your little theatres... Happy Crystal! who will never see a Crowd!"
Mr. Barnstaple in H. G. Wells' Men Like Gods

Woz Cranks It for Us

The solidarity of the crowd surprised Ray Davies of the Kinks. Late Saturday afternoon, September 4, 1982, attendance at the Us Festival had swelled to more than two hundred thousand. A hopping and bopping sea of hot and dirty bodies, this extra army that Lee could have used at Gettysburg raised their voices in unison with the music.

Davies: "I'm on a low budget. What did you say?" (He points the microphone at the crowd.)

Crowd: "Low budget!"

Davies (visibly impressed if not a little frightened): "You don't have to shout."

The song "Low Budget" was released on an album of the same name two years ago when times were thought to be rough. This summer the album would have sold millions if anyone had had the money to buy it. It's no wonder that there was a ferocity in the way the crowd shouted "Low budget!" at Davies on the stage and at his image projected on a huge video screen high above. No one has been hurt more by the current recession than the fifteen year old through twenty-five year old age group. Try finding an unskilled job. Fat chance. It's slim pickings.

Montage of US Festival photos

Clockwise from top left: Ray Davies of the Kinks on the screen over the festival stage. Wandering minstrels play at the technology fair. Woz plays Defender. Keeping snakes cool. Mickey Hart, Bob Weir, and Billy Kreutzmann of the Grateful Dead at an aquatic press conference. Youngsters play Cavalier's Teleport. An enterprising musician plays human jukebox. Center: Cooling off in a stream under a shade tree.

U.S. Blues

US Festival Gives Birth to Creative Class
Learn more about the creative class here...
US Festival attendee and Sohodojo Co-founder Jim Salmons makes the case for looking at the US Festival as the public birth of the creative class, an emerging economic development life force composed of an odd mix of geeks, artists, musicians and other social misfits chronicled by Carnegie Mellon Professor of Economic Development Richard Florida in his current top selling book, The Rise of the Creative Class. This Softalk article does a great job of capturing the techno-art-musical interplay at the US Festival.

There's only one cure for the low budget doldrums and that's a good party. You get together with friends and carouse away the specter of joblessness and the shadow of poverty. After all, recessions go away, given time. As Tom Petty would say: "It's the waiting that's the hardest part."

Three cheers for Steve Wozniak and his grand party! Three cheers for Steve Wozniak and his twelve million dollars that made it all possible! Surely the event of the year, it's far too early to call the Us Festival the event of the decade. But an event it was, long to be remembered by those who attended.

The big story at the Us Festival was that it all worked. You could even say it worked smoothly. Sure, there was dust - a whole lot of dust (not just of the angelic variety). Sure, the temperature was more than one hundred degrees all three days. Sure, the distances between things meant trekking like Lawrence of Arabia across the Sinai Peninsula every time you wanted a drink of water. Sure, you were liable to be cornered by a half dozen drunken, mostly naked concertgoers asking for a light or directions to the nearest beer garden.

It was worth it. Dust, heat, and blisters were only minor distractions from an otherwise enjoyable and enriching weekend in the desert-like foothills of Devore, California.

All Day and All of the Night

Some attendees complained of the heat, blaming the concert promoters for insisting on the lucrative Labor Day weekend to hold the festival. Actually, the temperature at night dropped just enough to be comfortable. This was fortunate because many attending the Us Festival came dressed in bathing suits to watch the music acts. Some even whisked those off to be as comfortable as possible. If the concert had been held later in the year, the weather might have been a much more serious problem than it was.

Through the whole weekend, about two thousand people were treated at the festival's medical tent. The problems ranged from sprains and drug overdoses to asthma-like attacks caused by the swirling dust. Sixty-seven people were treated at local hospitals. The only death associated with the festival occurred the morning before it opened. A man was killed on the freeway in a car accident near the site.

For the most part the attendees were law-abiding, except for drugs and nudity. There were only thirty-six arrests, mostly for vehicle theft, drugs, and carrying concealed weapons. A T-shirt salesman was abducted at gunpoint and robbed. There was one reported rape and several cases of assault. That's it. In a city of more than two hundred thousand inhabitants such good behavior for a holiday weekend is a minor miracle.

Sprawling over five hundred acres, the Glen Helen Regional Park the evening before the opening of the festival was a scene to remember, like Yorktown before the arrival of Cornwallis. Frenzied activity was evident most everywhere except in the concert area, which was remarkably peaceful. The massive grass and dirt amphitheater was silent and empty.

Later Thursday night the crowd began pouring into the area. They came in trucks, vans, cars, helicopters, and buses. They rode motorcycles, hitchhiked, and walked. They came from all over the North American continent and farther, mainly to hear the music acts. They would find much more.

Seen and Not Seen

A decision was made a month before the festival to advertise it primarily as a rock show. Wozniak's original idea was to have a spectacular technology fair that would complement the entertainment and add punch to the philosophy behind the Us Festival. There was a technology fair, housed in five huge circus tents, but one got the impression that many people were more thankful for the air-conditioned environment than for the content of the exhibits.

A wildly diverse group of exhibitors spread their wares for the steady stream of sweaty bodies. Fox Video Games unleashed their "Games of the Century," including Worm War I, Deadly Duck, Beany Bopper, and Fast Eddie. Produced by Sirius Software, the games are compatible with the Atari Video Computer System and the Sears Tele-Games machine.

Montage of US Festival photos

Top (left to right): Woz wraps up the weekend on the speaker's platform. Herbie Hancock on new frontiers in music. Bob Moog on the history of music synthesis. Young dancers on another speaker platform. Center: The mountains, the stage, the multitudes. The audience beating the heat: hosed off from above. Bottom: The spotlights at night. The beer garden wading pool: wet T-shirts and cool water. A tightrope walker enhances the carnival atmosphere.

Fox Video, a wholly owned subsidiary of Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, must have been pleased at the attention awarded their new games at the Us Festival. Jerry Jewell of Sirius was in attendance and actually smiled once or twice.

Computers, computer games, video arcade games, science, music, and science fiction were the main themes of the technology fair. Apple, Atari, and Quantel Computers all had respectable displays. Exhibiting products for the Apple were Link Systems, Softape, Novation, R.H. Electronics, FMJ, Passport Designs, and Syntauri, to name a few. Three of the tents had several dozen standup arcade games each. Old and young alike tested their skills against Defender, Tempest, Zaxxon, Red Clash, Centipede, Krazy Kong, and others.

Kittlevision had a small booth where they imparted information on various components for home satellite receiving stations. There were brochures for Television Receive Only, TVRO, billed as the "finest home entertainment system available today." From United Satellite Systems, TVRO features more than fifty television channels and they're predicting one hundred and fifty by 1985.

Life during Wartime

Claiming to be the "biggest SF novel ever published," L. Ron Hubbard's soon to be published Battlefield Earth was the recipient of a lavish spread. A ten-foot-tall replica of one of the aliens in the novel, called Psychlos, was chained between two walls. Booth attendees dressed in Scottish garb explained what was going on. Besides being more than nine hundred pages long, Battlefield Earth is going to have its own soundtrack album written by Hubbard along with jazz talents Chick Corea and Stanley Clark.

In the speaker tent, Chick Corea gave a demonstration of the Fairlight computer synthesizer, which allows sounds to be recorded, stored, and then played through a keyboard. The music for Battlefield Earth is being called Space Jazz, where real sounds are used for melodies and rhythms with a jazz beat. The sound in the speaker's tent was loud and raspy, eliciting howls of pleasure from the music-hungry crowd of shade-seekers.

Other guest speakers included jazz great Herbie Hancock, also playing Fairlight. When asked whether he was completely abandoning more traditional instruments for the computer variety, Hancock said he would never do that, but sophisticated synthesizers like the Fairlight were fascinating and revolutionary. Bob Moog, the father of the synthesizer, gave a presentation on the history of electronic music. It was difficult to see slides in the sunlit tent, but Moog gave an interesting talk.

Give the People What They Want

The wizard Woz himself made a much publicized talk about the history of the Us Festival, where he candidly discussed some of the problems encountered. Scheduled to speak on the first day, Wozniak cancelled once and then again. He finally spoke on Sunday to a packed tent, receiving several standing ovations.

It all started when he was driving down the freeway listening to the radio. How neat it is, Wozniak thought, to hear several different types of music at one sitting. From these humble beginnings began all the rumors and legends. Having been beat up worse than Muhammad Ali's punching bag by the press and doomsayers, Wozniak seemed pleased and very confident on Sunday.

He made it clear he was throwing a party for a few thousand of his friends. This was not meant to be some political statement or great cultural showpiece. The theme of the festival, for Wozniak, was people working together. Despite some difficulties between Unuson and Bill Graham Presents, Wozniak proclaimed the ambitious endeavor a certified success as far as he was concerned. The crowd agreed.

Another much delayed event was the opening of the Sensonics Theater. Thursday afternoon, the power went off around the exhibition area and the sixty-foot inflatable dome that housed the theater collapsed. Two days later the video and audio display was still not working, but on Sunday it was finally up and running. The waiting made expectations soar. Unfortunately, the promoters didn't make full use of the dome as a circular video screen, projecting a standard rectangular image on two sides of the dome's wall.

The Sensonics theater uses the dome structure as a parabolic reflector for eight channels of discrete sound. Needless to say, the audio portion was somewhat better than the visuals, though marred by the boisterous audience, who quickly discovered that any sounds they made were amplified by the dome just as well as the eight-channel sound was. Illuminated at night, from the outside, the Sensonics Theater resembled half of a giant crystal ball.

Catch Me Now, I'm Falling

The sale of tickets to the Us Festival went through several phases. At first only three-day tickets costing $37.50 were announced, but, despite a solid lineup of music acts, sales were slow. Then one-day tickets costing $17.50 were announced, with promoters still claiming that no tickets would be sold at the festival site. The final agreement was to sell tickets at the door, though the wait would surely be long.

There were remarkably few hassles in this regard. Everybody who showed up willing to pay got in. The camping areas were large enough and the facilities adequate, though nowhere near the Ritz. Port-A-Potties numbered two thousand and were strategically placed all around the festival site and the camping areas. There were never lines. Hundreds of drinking water outlets brought water to the dehydrated masses. There were both drinking fountains and faucets for those wanting an improvisational mini-shower.

Two communal shower areas were popular, as was a shallow and fantastically cold pool in one of the beer gardens. The promoters were always thinking of the attendees during the preparations. One nice touch was a good sized sound system at the far beer garden (half a mile from the stage) bringing the music live and loud to those punishing brews or relaxing in the pool. Many attendees grumbled about the two lakes being off limits to swimming. Wide and deep, the main lake was wisely fenced off for safety reasons. The other lake was in the backstage area and very few people got anywhere near it.

Water was the most precious possession of the weekend, but food in great quantities was also needed. Though open campfires were banned, many attendees brought their own food. There was plenty at the festival site for those with only cash in their possession. Hot dogs, hamburgers, corn, and other munchies kept the hunger pangs at bay. The longest lines were for the sweet and sour pork at the one food stand offering more than the usual ballpark delicacies.

From Small Things, Mama, Big Things One Day Come

Late Friday afternoon, a special press conference was held with Steve Wozniak and Bill Graham in attendance. They announced the first direct television broadcast ever between the Soviet Union and the United States to occur that night. Plans for this had been alive for more than a year and Wozniak thought the time was right. Graham reportedly went along but protested that this kind of thing was inappropriate for a rock show.

That night, between Talking Heads and the Police, a broadcast from Moscow was beamed to the three large video screens around the stage. The content of the first broadcast was less than exciting. It consisted of a short travelogue around Moscow. The next day, portions of Eddie Money's set were beamed to the Soviet Union and snippets of a crowd attending a rock show in Moscow were shown to the Us Festival crowd. It was a brief but historic encounter, and Woz made it happen.

One of the measures of success in an event the size of the Us Festival, according to Wozniak, is how the end product is received. In the case of the Us Festival, the most important end product was the music and it was an unqualified success. Sure, there wasn't a superstar act like Bruce Springsteen, The Who, the Rolling Stones, or Stevie Wonder. But heck, Betty Boop on that stage with that sound system would sound like a million dollar act.

In terms of presentation, the festival stage and sound system were unparalleled. Measuring in at three hundred feet by sixty-seven feet, the stage area was easily big enough to hold a chained-up King Kong and twice the usual amount of Radio City Music Hall Rockettes. The sound system was loud and clear, three times the size of the typical Rolling Stones setup.

Two fifty-foot Eidaphor screens on either side of the stage and a twenty foot by thirty foot Diamond Vision screen above the stage provided a front row view of the music acts almost anywhere in the fifty-seven acre amphitheater. Several video cameras set up around the stage and one on a swinging boom in front of the stage provided a variety of angles. Unfortunately, the same image had to be projected on all three screens at once during the live broadcasts. Still, the total effect, enhanced by spectacular spotlights and the awesome sound system, was a religious experience.

Almost Saturday Night

Between music acts all three days and nights, video images were projected on the Diamond Vision screen, usually in time with music. Janek Kaliczak of the "World's Largest Apple System" (December 1981 Softalk) used a font generation program he's been working on for a year and a half to display graphics and text on the Diamond Vision screen. Usually given two to three minutes between acts, Kaliczak and two Apples were responsible for displaying the Us Festival logo and brief messages.

"Sometimes we had a lot more than three minutes," explains Kaliczak, "because the regular video equipment would break down from the heat. The Apples were not down at all, even when we ran them fourteen to sixteen hours a day."

Hidden behind a door with the sign "Applefex" stuck on it, to let people know where he was, Kaliczak also digitized images of notables like Wozniak for displaying on the Diamond Vision screen. "This was a good field test of the system," Kaliczak said. "Everything worked perfectly, though this wasn't what the system is designed for. It's meant to be used in regular studio broadcasting and industrial displays."

Saturday night, between Pat Benatar and Tom Petty, the crowd of two hundred thousand was treated to the most spectacular laser display this side of Star Wars. A dozen or so bright green slivers shot off in all directions, blinking on and off and swiveling in time to music. Other lasers projected fantastic geometric and hyperbolic patterns on special screens next to the stage. If there hadn't been so much dust and if the night sky had been clearer, the effect would have been even more stunning.

Crawling from the Wreckage

Every night after the show was over, concertgoers would stream from the amphitheater, a human tide in the dust and trash. Many helped clean up as they left. There were no stampedes, no mad rushes, no serious altercations between attendees and security. The crowd was good, because the music was good. The end product reached and surpassed expectations.

In this age of telecommuting and pay TV, it's good to know that large crowd gatherings can still come off with relative ease. The Us Festival is a crowning achievement for the promoters and planners. The list of those responsible is long, much too long to mention all. But special kudos are due Stanley Kephart, responsible for land development and public safety; Otis Swanson, construction coordinator of the festival site; Craig Tocher, in charge of architectural design and land restoration planning; and Pancho Rodriguez, head of the production team for site development.

Wozniak, Unuson president Peter Ellis, and Bill Graham were the inspired generals of this strategic effort. Unuson may produce another festival next Labor Day weekend or sooner. This year's Us Festival will live long in the annals of rock and roll and Apple Computer lore.

Mr. Barnstaple, you don't know what you're missing.

Thoughts from the Crowd

The following vignettes and impressions were gathered during the three day festival by Al Tommervik (AT), David Durkee (DD), Matthew Yuen (MY), and David Hunter (DH).

Countering the counterculture: Seen Sunday on the concert grounds was a rotund, elderly man with a T-shirt carrying the legend, "If you want to get stoned, drink wet cement." AT

Sign: "Jim from Laytonville, where are you?" MY

Planned pickups: Despite possible ideological shortcomings, the festival was very well planned and executed for an event involving more than two hundred thousand people. Parking was reasonably well organized, even to having shuttle buses running from the outlying parking lots five miles away. DD

In-tourist service: Sweatshirt and T-shirt legends indicated that just about every state in the union was represented by attendees. Canadian and Texas flags represented the foreigners. AT

Bikers: Four men dancing under and waving a Canadian flag came down from Edmonton, Alberta, on three motorcycles. For them, the Us Festival "is just the beginning of a month-long party. We're going back home in October." MY

Comparative Review: First speaker of the festival Stewart Brand, editor and publisher of Coevolution Quarterly: "What's the difference between the Us Festival and the Nuremberg Rallies? The music's better." DD

Exhibition blues: More than half the exhibitors were associated with microcomputers, but it was the music exhibits that got the most and biggest play - among them Syntauri and Passport Designs, who use Apples in conjunction with their keyboards. AT

Tech talk: Although more heterogeneous than Applefest, the technology fair was no more exciting. Some exhibits successfully got across the point of what new technologies are doing and can do for mankind. The L-5 society is a national organization for promoting and supporting space development from the grassroots level. Their small booth had posters, pamphlets, and people willing to talk about the present and future of our involvement in space. DD

More acreage? Concerning the cancellation of the announced robot marathon, one disgruntled exhibitor said: "They didn't give us enough room." DH

Where were the Moonies? The booths that really had something meaningful to say were the hardest to find. They had to compete with the bigger, flashier exhibits of the mass-market organizations like Atari with their home video systems, Mattel Electronics with their electronic drums and games, and L. Ron Hubbard's people, who were hyping Hubbard's latest science fiction opus and its soundtrack album. DD

Eye-opening sights: Computer shows were never like this. The high temperature caused the flower of southern California youth to come dressed as scantily as is legal. The following week's Miss America contest was hard-pressed to match the pulchritude on display. AT

Reach for the sky: By Sunday afternoon, sheriffs in the security towers and sound engineers in the light and speaker towers were sharing their high-perched viewing areas with bikini-clad women who danced to the audience's delight. MY

When you're hot, you're hot: Despite free showers and misters to keep the audience cool, the hundred-degree temperatures probably had a lot to do with the tameness of the crowd. Standing in that kind of heat for six hours will take the aggressiveness out of anybody. AT

Hey, mister: The most popular concession offered by the organizers was a simple plant sprayer with the festival logo that became a way of sharing comfort with others. Mist a stranger; make a friend. DD

All seasons: Three retired couples from San Jose, California, who decided to attend the festival together the same day they returned from a vacation in Hawaii, loaded up their motor home, drove more than three hundred miles, and bought tickets at the door. "Our kids go to these shows all the time; we wanted to see what it was all about." DH

A bit commercial: The concessions for Miller and Tecate beers and Coca-Cola were hefty money earners but welcome alternatives to water even at the somewhat inflated prices. Us Festival T-shirts in many forms, some official, some home-grown, were sold at stands and by itinerant vendors. DD

Messages from above: Skywriting filled the sky all three afternoons. The messages were mainly commercial in nature. "E.T. Phone Home" and "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" advertised popular movies. "It's a Boy" alluded to Wozniak's newborn child. DH

The pub with no beer: One of the two beer gardens actually went dry Saturday. With a more rowdy crowd, that could have been an invitation to disaster. At Glen Helen, it merely resulted in miscellaneous grumbling. AT

Wet ones: Jerry Garcia, during the Grateful Dead's set: "At Woodstock we all had to help each other keep dry. Here we have to help each other keep wet." In the hundred and ten degree heat and the almost choking dust of the amphitheater, Garcia had neatly encapsulated the feeling of togetherness at the Us Festival. DD

Breakfast with the Dead: The Grateful Dead are legends from the sixties, but they exhibited considerable pulling power Sunday morning. More people came from outside southern California to hear the Dead than any other group. AT

Counterpoint parables: A barefoot Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead crossing a stream backstage: "Watch the Dead walk on water." DH

Lead singer Sting of the Police: "This is the largest audience we've ever played to, but it doesn't mean anything unless we all act together. We must have cohesion." MY

Red, white, and blue: Near the end of Jackson Browne's set, an American flag was carried through the crowd to great cheers. And when, except for the Olympics, have two hundred thousand people gathered in one place cheered Old Glory? AT

The beat goes on: Toward the middle of the concert area gathered a crowd of more than a hundred who clapped and bounced off each other as one man provided rhythmic drive on a set of congas. It wasn't long before other spectators joined the act by setting up an impromptu limbo dance, moving in unison to the crowd's continuous chanting of "Us! Us! Us... !" On the outside of the circle, you couldn't see what was going on in the middle, but you didn't care. You just picked up a rock and a cup, or two sticks, or anything that would make noise, and joined in the fun. MY

Fistful of dollars: Close to two hundred thousand people waited for something to happen before the Ramones played on Saturday afternoon. Suddenly the title track of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, one of Clint Eastwood's spaghetti westerns, boomed on the mammoth sound system. Hollywood would have paid a lot more than twelve million dollars to capture such scenes. DH

We're all together: But what was all this "us" business about anyway? The message was getting through, if not verbally, then emotionally. If you were looking for an "us" answer, nobody told you. You just felt it. You did it. It was the people staying after the show each night to help pick up trash. It was the security guards offering rides in their golf carts to festival-goers who had long walks back to the campgrounds. It was the mutual spraying of water at each other in efforts to keep cool, or just to say hello. MY

Another Apple Seed: Bill Graham's looking to take credit for the Us Festival, even to the point of obnoxiously croaking "My Way" with piano accompaniment after Fleetwood Mac closed the show. Fact: Graham is merely a booking agent; the warmth and generosity of spirit that pervaded the attendees was another manifestation of that special feeling that is Apple. What Woz proved is that Apple esprit de corps is portable to other environments. AT

This article is copyright by Softalk Publishing and originally appeared as the cover story of the October 1982 issue of Softalk magazine, Volume 3 No. 10, pages 128-140.

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