The Woodstock of the ’80s? In a way. The US Festival was Steve Wozniak’s “brainchild,” in quotes because the Woz didn’t quite know what he was doing when he decided he wanted to put on a bigger-than-Woodstock festival to “unite us in song.” But somehow he put together a crew that was able to avoid most of the issues that plagued the iconic ’60s rock fest. The US Festival: 1982 The US Generation is a documentary film that tells the story of the ’80s event, which was attended by some 400,000 people over three days. The doc also features a few artists performing complete songs, including Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (“Refugee”), The B-52’s (“Strobe Light”), The Police (“Can’t Stand Losing You”), The Cars (“Bye Bye Love”), Santana and Fleetwood Mac.
Benefiting from the participation of a number of the people who helped put the festival on, like Wozniak, Bill Graham and associates, and numerous members of bands who played at US, this documentary is a complete look at everything and everyone that made it a one of a kind event. Performers like Stewart Copeland of The Police, Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead, Mick Fleetwood and Eddie Money are included in recent interviews, and many more of the musicians and event coordinators are featured in contemporary interviews shot during the festival.
Besides the music, technology was a big part of the event, too. Remember, in 1982 big overhead DiamondVision screens were still new to rock shows. A satellite linkup to bring the show to Russia was also a new thing, though Bill Graham – who helped get the bands onto the bill and stage manage it – thought it was “bullshit,” that the video put up on that big screen was originating not from the USSR but some studio somewhere in California. (I guess he didn’t believe man had walked on the moon, either.) Some of what they did for US has been incorporated into today’s Bonnaroos and Coachellas.
Regarding the complete band performances, The Cars and Tom Petty do solid versions of the songs already mentioned in this review. But, it’s kind of a bummer that Fleetwood Mac’s take on their own great “The Chain” includes flubs by bassist John McVie (during the iconic bass riff, no less). And it should be noted that Stevie Nicks seems to be streaming Yoko Ono during some of her vocals. To be fair, Fleetwood Mac probably performed in the middle of the night and who knows what drugs the band were on.
If you’re looking for the concerts themselves, you’ll have to go elsewhere. But if you’re interested in the nuts and bolts of how it got put together, The US Festival documentary is worth checking out. I’m not sure why it comes in a combo Blu-ray/DVD pack (maybe it’s cheaper to just produce one set instead of having two separate SKUs?), but that’s the way it comes and it appears to be reasonably priced, so give it a go. The handful of complete performances certainly adds a little frosting to the cake.
3/5 (MVD Visual ICONTVMUSIC 3, 2018)