Tech Time Warp: Woz dabbles in music festivals
In this week’s Tech Time Warp we discuss how we all know Steve Wozniak as the co-founder of Apple—but did you know Woz also dabbled in rock festivals?
Forty-one years ago, while on hiatus from Apple after a plane crash, Wozniak decided to produce a three-day concert in San Bernadino County, California. Modeled after Woodstock and funded using his personal fortune, the US Festival began Sept. 3, 1982, and featured some of the biggest names in music from the early 1980s: The Police, Fleetwood Mac, the Talking Heads, and the B-52s. Over the course of three days, an estimated crowd of 400,000 gathered at the 500-acre Glen Helen Regional Park to hear Santana and Pat Benatar, among others, despite temperatures topping 100 degrees.
“US Festival” was pronounced “us,” not “U.S.” This was meant as an antidote to the “Me Decade” mores of the 1970s. Wozniak and entrepreneur Peter Ellis created the company “Unite Nations Using Singing Over Network,” or “Unuson,” to produce the festival. They tapped rock promoter Bill Graham to book the festival’s impressive line-up, and Woz financed a massive regrading and landscaping project at the concert site, as well as construction of a temporary off-ramp for Interstate 15 to handle traffic.
Wozniak envisioned the US Festival as not only a musical event but also a technology showcase. Technology tents offered a glimpse at new software and hardware, and thanks to equipment left behind by NBC following the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, the US Festival featured a live satellite link-up with the USSR.
At the end of the day, Wozniak lost an estimated $5 million to $10 million on the first US Festival. This didn’t stop him from planning and executing a second festival on Memorial Day weekend 1983. After losing up to $15 million on the second US Festival, he decided to leave his rock festival days behind, minus a brief flirtation with an US Festival revival in 2009. Financiers for that concept backed out, which is probably for the best.
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