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US Festival – May 1983

US Festival - Heavy Metal Day - May 29, 1983

It’s been 25 years since the second US Festival. I had just finished my second year at the USC School of Law and was very much in the mood for big crowds and loud music.

The US Festival was a three-day show. Larry and I went to days two and three, making our way to San Bernardino in my black 1968 Mustang. This is considered a classic car with quaint triangle-windows separate from the front windows. The (cheap) model I owned had three-on-the-floor and no air conditioning. Temperatures would go above 100 degrees both days.

May 29 was the Heavy Metal day. Quiet Riot was the opening act. Larry had been the band’s photographer back in his Hollywood High days. The band was at its commercial peak on this day. I was highly entertained by Judas Priest. The spectacle of these totally un-tanned white boys coming out in black leather, astride big motorcycles, on a hundred-plus degree afternoon…well, I thought it was hilarious. I loved their version of “Diamonds and Rust.” I admit I was a bit astonished and amused by how seriously this band was taken by much of the audience. Ozzy came out, fat and drunk, and without Randy Rhoads, who had recently died in a stupid plane crash. Fans rushed the stage and there was a sense of real danger in the air, along with massive clouds of tobacco and pot smoke.

Things did not get totally out of hand, probably because the promoters had the sense to segregate the alcohol drinkers, and to require them to stay within their own little holding pen, far away from the stage. By far the most impressive set of the May 29 show was the Scorpions. Those German guys really taught the Brits and the Americans a few things about musicality and showmanship. Van Halen co-headlined the show, but they were too wasted to maintain any kind of musical or emotional momentum. Larry and I spent several hours trapped in the parking lot after the show, waiting for the jam to clear.

David Bowie was the headliner on the 30th. Los Lobos was the opening act. The Pretenders played their first show with a new guitarist, the previous one having died of drugs. U2 was on the bill, self-important but good – and lower on the bill than the Pretenders. Joe Walsh and Stevie Nicks each had pleasant sets. After the Bowie set we discovered that the Mustang had been towed, along with hundreds of other cars. Larry and I had to walk several miles in the middle of the night and hand over virtually every cent both of us had to get the car out of the impound lot. We made it back to Hollywood just before the morning rush hour.

The US Festival saw one of the most fabulous performances ever – by business lawyers! Van Halen signed for One Million US Dollars. That was quite impressive in and of itself, but the lawyers were able to get a “Most Favored Nation” clause in the agreement, which guaranteed that Van Halen would make as much money as any other artist on the bill. When the promoters agreed to pay David Bowie $1.5 Million, our drunk and stoned friends from Pasadena got a cool half-million dollar raise!

You’ll notice that there have not been any US Festivals since 1983. That’s because the promoters lost millions on these shows. Think about that for a minute. You’ve really got to concentrate pretty hard to lose that kind of money when you put on a show that draws more than half a million people!

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