US '83 Turned Out to Be a Riot of a Rock Festival—but a Financial Bust

UPDATED 06/13/1983 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 06/13/1983 at 01:00 AM EDT

It was supposed to be something of a high-tech Woodstock—a three-day rock festival at a state park 60 miles east of L.A. with a little computer technology thrown in—and despite stifling heat, smog alerts and choking dust, most of the fans enjoyed themselves. Featured performers Stevie Nicks and David Bowie wowed the crowd, as did acts like Men at Work, the Pretenders and Oingo Boingo. But on Sunday the weekend turned sour. With the murder of a 23-year-old man over a busted drug deal (another man was found dead of unknown causes, but foul play wasn't suspected), the second, and maybe last, US Festival began to resemble the nightmare that was Altamont, the 1969 Rolling Stones concert that ended an era of serendipitous feeling. "It was a zoo," said the San Bernardino County sheriff. "I didn't see any peace or love about it."

By Monday, however, the mood was mellow again. A few questioned the astronomical prices paid to some of the performers—Bowie, making his first U.S. appearance in five years, got $1.5 million for a two-hour set—and some griped about the absence of black musicians, notably Michael Jackson and Prince, who apparently turned down invitations. But trouble among the 600,000 attendees was limited to scattered rock-and bottle-throwing in the parking lots. Police made 247 arrests, mostly on drug charges, and 2,467 people were treated at the site's overtaxed aid stations.

The event was the brainchild of Steve Wozniak, 32, co-founder of the Apple computer firm, who is worth $100 million or so. After losing an estimated $4 million on the first US concert last year, he spent about $8 million of his own money on this one—nearly half the total $18 million budget. But Wozniak, surveying the end of US II, sounded unlikely to do US III. "My life is designing computer equipment," he said wearily, estimating losses this year at between $1 million and $7 million. "I'm not a rock promoter."

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