US Festival 83: The story of the historic day heavy metal killed new wave

It’s memorial weekend in 1983, and the US Festival is about to change the musical landscape forever. By the early 80s, a sea change began unfolding in mainstream music, with the radio-friendly New Wave acts finding themselves in competition for airplay with the emergent siege of metal bands from both sides of the Atlantic.

By 1983, the metal revolution was well underway and, powered by heat seeking new releases from the likes of Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Dio and Ozzy Osbourne, it showed little sign of abating. The deciding battle, both literal and figurative, would occur at the 1983 US festival.

With a budget of $12.5 million, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak put on the first US Festival on Labor Day weekend in 1982. The festival drew over 400,000 people to the dusty Southern California town of Devore to hear bands like the Grateful Dead, Talking Heads and Tom Petty.

When Van Halen learned that David Bowie was promised the same $1 million fee as they were, they pointed to a clause in their contract that stipulated they would be the highest paid act at the event. Woz then shelled out an extra $500,000 which resulted in the Guinness Book of World Records creating a new category for Highest Amount Paid to an Act for a Single Performance.

Approximately nine months later, over Memorial Day weekend, Woz put on the 1983 US Festival at the same site, attracting even bigger names such as David Bowie, U2, The Clash and Van Halen.

This time around, the festival was carved up into three genre-specific days: New Wave Day on May 28, Metal Day on May 29 and Rock Day on May 30. A fourth day, Country Day, was scheduled for the following weekend. Early trouble emerged when the Clash – the New Wave Day headliners – threatened not to play after learning that Metal Day headliners Van Halen were being paid a cool $1 million for their appearance, twice as much as their own fee.

Ultimately, the Clash did play – behind a banner that said “The Clash Not For Sale.” Festival organizers responded by flashing an image of their $500,000 pay check on the giant video screens during a portion of their set. The band looked worn out, and Mick Jones left four months later…. read more >

US Festival 1983 F/B Vintage Men’s T-Shirt

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