Woodstock II? No, but the US Festival's Hot, Happy Music Made Fans Hot and Happy, Too
We got to get ourselves back to the garden.
—from Woodstock by Joni Mitchell
Woodstock was a disaster.
—US Festival organizer Steve Wozniak
If there were echoes of Woodstock at the ballyhooed US rock festival near San Bernardino, Calif. last week, they were not so much blowing in the wind as whistling in it. Times, after all, aren’t the only thing that have a-changed in the past 13 years.
This month’s festival was widely perceived from the start as a kind of Woodstock Redux. On one level, the analogies were there. At both gigantic gatherings there were hundreds of thousands of young people, mostly white and middle-class; there were pot, dirt, music and lots of exposed flesh. But there were differences, too. As some 300,000 people poured into the 500-acre Glen Helen Regional Park in Devore, Calif., 55 miles east of Los Angeles, sandals had visibly given way to jogging shoes, love beads were replaced by baseball caps, and the counterculture had yielded to the computer culture. Most important, perhaps, the Vietnam War has not been replaced at all.
There were more practical differences, too. To the relief of fans, the problems of Woodstock’s careful-where-you-step latrines got solved at US by 1,880 Porta-Johns. Instead of the massive traffic jams of 1969, there were orderly parking lots and shuttle buses to the site. In short, US didn’t work magically like Woodstock because, unlike Woodstock, it worked.
It was a party, not a protest, and its guests were from a new generation. “I wasn’t born when there was Woodstock,” said one teenager. “I don’t give a damn about it. All I know is that I came out here this weekend, didn’t get ripped off, didn’t get bummed out, and had a good time.” Gigi Daleo, 19, a model in a pink bathing suit, was quoted as saying, “I know nothing about Woodstock except the pictures of hippies walking around in the mud. My mother was one of them.”
“I want to throw the party of the century,” boasted Wozniak, 31, a co-founder of Apple Computers and still a vice-president of the company, who spent $12.5 million to organize US. “The difference between this and Woodstock,” said Woz, as he’s called, “is planning.” What he cooked up starting last October was a tribute to his two passions and a hope: rock music, computers and togetherness. His project code name was UNUSON, “Unite US in Song.”
To unite things more efficiently, Woz hired—for a reported $800,000—no-nonsense rock promoter Bill Graham, 52, who may be known publicly for promoting peace and love but is better known to insiders for stirring up profits and intimidation. Graham ultimately took over most aspects of the festival like a general overthrowing a benevolent despot, down to arranging intricate badge systems for backstage access for UNUSON personnel as well as the press.
He also booked an impressive roster of acts in a notably lackluster year on the concert circuit. The Who turned down a reported $1 million offer, and Bruce Springsteen demurred. But Gang of Four, the Ramones, the Talking Heads and the Police were among those who played on the punky opening day. On day two nearly 220,000 heard such mainstream rockers as Eddie Money, the Kinks, Pat Benatar, Santana and Tom Petty. On the final day 75,000 turned out to listen to an old-favorites lineup that included the Grateful Dead, Jimmy Buffett, Jerry Jeff Walker, Jackson Browne and Fleetwood Mac.
All performed on a high-tech $2 million stage surrounded by three huge video screens, backed by a 400,000-watt sound system (another change from Woodstock’s comparatively primitive technology). There was also a 35-acre “modern crafts fair” with 76 titans of tech, from Apple to Atari to Mattel Electronics and Maxell tapes, showing off their wares to computer freaks. Carlos Santana’s group and the Grateful Dead were the only Woodstock bands to perform at US. Santana observed: “It’s not the same feeling here. These people are more subdued. At Woodstock, Vietnam tied us all together. The people here are just having a good time.”
For all that, more than 300,000 party-goers found their way to the US site and paid $37.50 for three days (or $17.50 for one) to swelter and soirée in a second-stage smog alert and 106° sun. If not caught between rock and a software place, fans could also enjoy a variety of sideshows by sword swallowers, puppeteers, clowns and mimes, or refreshments, such as barbecue sandwiches at $4.75 and beer at $1.50.
With most everyone on good behavior, it was the elements and the crowded conditions near the stage that kept the 170 medical personnel busy throughout the event. “People were getting crushed,” said attending Dr. Harold Duhan of the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, brought in by Graham. “It made the subway look like Wyoming.” Dean Grose, owner of UNUSON-commissioned Event Medical Services, declared, “Our biggest problem was the dust and smog. We treated more than 2,000 patients, and the usual complaints were common ones—cuts, abrasions and abdominal pains—which are the same medical problems you’d find in any city of 200,000.” There were also some drug-related problems, 38 arrests (including one for armed robbery) and one reported rape. Reports Captain Phil Skyler of the San Bernardino County sheriff’s office, “That’s less than half the usual amount of reported crimes in a city that size.”
No one seemed to enjoy the festival more than Woz, who gave himself the best seat in the house: a comfy couch set to the side of the stage. By the second day he and Graham weren’t even speaking, after Graham’s crackdown on pass privileges. Nonetheless Wozniak seemed thrilled with the outcome. As he sat watching Pat Benatar run through her rock repertoire, he beamed, “This is worth every penny. Everyone out there is having a great time.” His pride was programmed into one of his Apple computers located in the back of the UNUSON central production office. As the festival ended, across the green readout screen flowed white letters over and over: “THEY SAID IT COULDN’T BE DONE.”