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Woodstock of the 1980s?
The US Festival: The 1982 US Generation is a new rockumentary from filmmaker Glenn Aveni that delves behind the scenes into the extravagant music festival started by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. This is an in-depth look at one of the most influential music festivals of all time from the people behind it.
Providing an authorized glimpse into the festival’s creation with unearthed archival footage of key performers and new interviews, it showcases a handful of smoking musical performances in rarely seen concert footage. However, it should be made clear that it’s more documentary than concert. Some of the acts highlighted include the Ramones, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, The Police, Fleetwood Mac, Carlos Santana, The B-52s, and The Cars.
Capturing many of these legendary acts at the height of their touring careers, it is one of the more interesting concert events in music history. Covering the festival in chronological order, the documentary attempts to mention every single act that played over the three memorable days. Some acts receive more attention than others. Sadly, some of the bigger performers are no longer with us. That leaves living performers like Eddie Money to pick up the slack in new interviews.
It’s hard to believe that a major music festival sold over 600,000 tickets and still managed to lose $12 million dollars in the process. Musically the festival was a smash success, but financially it was a disaster for its investors. That didn’t bother the man behind the festival in the slightest. It was a success in musical terms, which is what mattered.
As a young man, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak had yearned to attend iconic music events such as Woodstock and the Monterey Pop Festival, missing out on the mythic musical memories they provided. He apparently was too busy creating Apple when it was still only a little computer company. But the success of Apple enabled him to do whatever he dreamed, and set about funding his own music festival.
Beginning in 1982, Wozniak handed a $2 million dollar check to two people he had barely met, Peter Ellis and John Collins, to create a lavish music festival in California. San Bernardino would eventually be chosen as the site for the three-day music festival, hosting some of the biggest acts of the day in scorching California heat. A makeshift amphitheater built on the hillsides, including a temporary highway exit, handled over 400,000 concertgoers in three days. Famous West Coast concert promoter and booking agent Bill Graham was brought in to run the logistics of staging the massive live event.
It’s a happy, positive look at the US Festival
It’s a happy, positive look at the US Festival
The documentary starts out slowly, interviewing Steve “Woz” Wozniak and associates about their memories of the US Festival’s beginnings. Soon the documentary gets stronger as it starts introducing the musical acts that played each of the three days with rare archival footage and a few concert performances. Interspersed between the songs are new interviews with several big-name musicians that played at the festival, including Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead, Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, Marky Ramone, and Stewart Copeland of the Police.
One consistent feature of the US Festival is how great many of the performances turned out. For many of these acts, the US Festival would be the biggest crowd they would ever play before and also their richest payday as musicians. Some acts were paid over a million for their set. The event was supposedly split into themed days, starting with New Wave and moving to Rock. Wozniak had wanted a third day devoted exclusively to country music, but had to settle for the Grateful Dead and others when infamous concert promoter Bill Graham said it wouldn’t work.
Only a handful of the classic song performances from 1982 make it in the documentary. Some will complain the documentary could have featured even more complete songs, as much of this footage has never been licensed before. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers perform Refugee, Fleetwood Mac perform The Chain, Santana performs his classic Black Magic Woman, the Cars perform Bye Bye Love, Eddie Money sings Gimme Some Water, the Police sing I Can’t Stand Losing You, as well as songs from New Wave groups like Oingo Boingo and the B-52s. These are all tight performances, as many of the groups were already on tour when they flew in to do the US Festival.
The focus remains almost squarely on the 1982 US Festival. A second festival was mounted in 1983 with acts like the Scorpions and U2 to similar success. So if you are specifically looking for insight and information on the 1983 US Festival, you should probably wait to see if a similar documentary is produced for that year.
While not a perfect documentary, Aveni’s celebration of the 1982 US Festival with rare concert footage of popular groups and all-new interviews casts a spotlight on an underrated musical happening that deserves more attention. It’s a happy, positive look at the US Festival. Come for the great live music, but stay for the behind-the-scenes maneuvering by Bill Graham and the musicians.
The picture quality for this Blu-ray is decidedly mixed. The concert footage is all sourced from standard-definition videotape from 1982, filmed in a square 4:3 aspect ratio. The modern talking-head interviews have been filmed in crisp HD video. Expect frequent switches between the two aspect ratios.
Distributed by MVDVisual, there’s no reason to believe this 1080P presentation is anything less than a perfect transfer limited by issues in the source material. The documentary runs a relatively spare 103 minutes, encoded in AVC on a BD-25.
The AVC encode smoothly handles the newer footage, and even the older concert footage, without artifacts. Black levels are pushed to the brink of crushing in some of the poorer concert footage shot at night. Generally the video’s contrast and colors remain bright and perky. Clarity remains fairly high even in the SD footage, excepting the low-resolution crowd shots. Most footage of the bands performing are steady with excellent consistency, some of the better raw concert footage shot in the 1980s.
While one could make allowances for the mixed video quality, one unforced error is the lack of lossless audio for a music-related documentary. A surround mix would have also been wonderful. The only option is a 2.0 Stereo Dolby Digital soundtrack, which sounds fine with clear transparency in the abstract.
It’s evident the musical performances were recorded in excellent fidelity. They come through loud and clear in a nice stereo mix. I just wish I could have heard performers like the Police and Tom Petty in lossless audio.
No subtitles are included.
The two-disc set from MVDVisual includes a DVD version. The Blu-ray is coded for all three regions, so it’s region-free across the world. I’m guessing licensing restrictions prevented the inclusion of bonus performances from the festival.
Interview With Steve Wozniak (16:29 in HD) – The full, uncut interview with Woz that is seen in bits and pieces throughout the documentary.
Interview With Mick Fleetwood (06:22 in HD) – This new interview with the drummer of Fleetwood Mac covers his experiences at the Festival.
Interview With Stewart Copeland (19:30 in HD) – The Police’s drummer discusses his regret at closing the Festival’s opening night, learning everyone goes home after the last act performs.
Audio Commentary With Director Glenn Aveni – A solo discussion filling in pertinent details that helps provide more context for the documentary.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray release was provided to us for review by the studio. For information on how we handle all review material, please visit our about us page to learn more about DoBlu’s editorial policies.
The US Festival
More a document of the music festival’s happenings behind the scenes than a pure concert presentation, it covers an interesting and unique moment in music history.
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