May 1983: The Second US Festival Rocks Southern California

(MANDATORY CREDIT Ebet Roberts/Getty Images) UNITED STATES - MAY 01: Photo of US FESTIVAL; 5 Day festival in San Bernardino, California organised by Steve Wozniak of Apple Computers (Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns)
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(Ebet Roberts/Redferns)


San Bernardino, California was ground zero for rock fans over Memorial Day weekend, 1983. The brainchild of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, the second US Festival featured the hottest musical acts of the day: David Bowie, Stevie Nicks, Van Halen, the Clash, Ozzy Osbourne, and U2 were just some of the artists slated to perform over the three-day event.

Like any massive concert boasting such high-profile egos and attitudes, drama ran high throughout the 1983 US Festival, which would be the second and final time it would ever happen. Let's break down this momentous occasion into five easy pieces.

1. The headliners fought over money
Wozniak was a guy with money to burn, and he blazed through plenty trying to pull off the 1983 US Festival. When Van Halen discovered that David Bowie was being paid the same amount to play the show--$1 million dollars--they pointed to a "favored-nation" clause in the band's contract, stipulating that they be the highest-paid act on the bill. So Wozniak threw them another $500,000 when the group threatened to pull out of the show. It was enough that the Guinness Book of World Records created a new category — the highest amount paid to an act for a single performance — in order to feature them in the new edition.

2. The Clash felt like they were ripped off
When word of the huge paydays given to David Bowie and Van Halen, fellow headliners the Clash felt ripped off, as they'd agreed to play for $500,000. It was enough for singer Joe Strummer to rage in the press that Wozniak, Van Halen and Bowie donate some of that money to charity. When Strummer griped about the money situation onstage, show producers actually showed a photo of the band's $500,000 performance on the big screen while they played. It would prove to be a breaking point in the band, as it was the last time guitarist Mick Jones ever played with the Clash.

3. The weekend was broken up by genre
Day One was dubbed "New Wave Day," headlined by the Clash and featuring the likes of Men at Work Oingo Boingo, Stray Cats INXS, and Flock of Seagulls. Day Two was "Heavy Metal Day," topped by Van Halen with Scorpions, Motley Crue, Judas Priest, Ozzy Osbourne, and for some reason, Joe Walsh. Walsh might have been a better fit on "Rock Day," alongside Bowie, Stevie Nicks, John Cougar, the Pretenders, and Quarterflash. There was strong dose of New Wave, though, with Missing Persons and Berlin playing earlier in the day. There was even a "Country Day," featuring Willie Nelson, Hank William Jr., Emmylou Harris and Alabama, but it happened on the following weekend. Watch rare crowd footage from "Country Day" below.

4. "Heavy Metal Day" was the clear winner
Turns out Van Halen and company earned their keep, despite singer David Lee Roth being clearly wasted throughout the band's set. More than 375,000 tickets sold of the total 670,000 for the four full days were for "Heavy Metal Day." Still, none of it was enough to save Wozniak from losing a staggering $20 million dollars after the dust cleared on the two US Festivals.

5. Us Festival 1983 was a huge out of control party
Things got pretty crazy over the weekend. San Bernardino Sheriff Floyd Tidwell told the OC Register at the time that the scene was “an absolute zoo … everything you can eat, smoke, snort or poke in your arm is out there.” One Pomona man was beaten to death with a tire iron by a 22-year-old from Stanton, apparently over a drug deal gone bad in the parking lot.

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This week on Totally 80's: The Podcast, accomplished songwriter Sam Hollander (writer/producer for Fitz & The Tantrums, Weezer, Panic! At The Disco) returns to the show to talk about being hardcore Durannies with host Lyndsey Parker and John Hughes.
Roger Ressmeyer/CORBIS/VCG via Getty Images; Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images
"Heartlight" turned on record sales in late 1982.
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A boon to the Bay Area from 1986 to 2016.

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