My 1982 US Festival Trip
While living in South Florida, I went to about a dozen concerts each year. If a band I liked toured anywhere within a couple hundred miles, I went to the show. Returning to Southern California in late 1981, I was quite the concert aficionado. When word that an "US Festival" would be held in Glen Helen Regional Park started spreading shortly after I got back to the area, me and a couple of my concert-going buddies knew we wouldn't miss it.
Originally, tickets were only sold for all three days together on one ticket. We bought tickets early there was no way we would let the show sell out before we got ours (we naively assumed half a million others would want to spend almost forty dollars to camp in the desert three days in the middle of the summer to watch a bunch of rock bands). When tickets didn't sell as fast as Woz planned, they later started selling tickets to single days of the festival. It didn't matter, we wouldn't have settled for anything less than the full experience anyway.
We prepared thoroughly for the festival. We packed a few cases of beer and a couple of coolers full of ice. We packed pancake mix, orange juice, and bacon & eggs for breakfast, steaks, hamburgers & hot dogs (with all the fixings) for lunch and/or dinner, and a couple of camp stoves. We also packed a six-man tent and a pup tent. All of it went into a full-sized Chevy van. Most importantly, we packed an ounce of sinsemilla and an ounce of freeze-dried psilocybin mushrooms.
Devore is a sleepy little desert town at the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains adjoining the Glen Helen Regional Park. I don't know the exact size at the time, but you could count its population in triple digits. The Thursday night before the festival, the number of people there swelled far into the six digits. As you might imagine, the traffic was atrocious.
A seasoned hustler, I made short work of the traffic. I drove the van off-road, bypassing the traffic on the access road at a standstill for miles alongside the freeway. Upon entering the campgrounds, rather than looking for open space to pitch a tent, I drove straight towards the entry. Squeezing the van between the tents crowding the campground, I suddenly encountered a sizable clearance about twenty yards from the entrance to the amphitheater. In a sea of tightly-packed tents, it was large enough to comfortably house the van and both of our tents. The four of us were sprawled out quite nicely.
Friday morning dawned to me and my concert buddies cooking pancakes and bacon & eggs over our camp stove. With the delicious aromas of our breakfast wafting in their noses, we watched hundreds of thousands of dusty, bedraggled concert-goers file past our campsite to get inside the amphitheater so they could buy five-dollar sandwiches (which was quite a lot of money at the time) for breakfast. After breakfast, we each downed a couple of Coronas, toked a couple of bong hits, and choked down a gram of mushrooms and headed into the amphitheater ourselves.
I was in no hurry on Day One. The first band I was interested in was Oingo Boingo. That left me plenty of time to troll the Beer Gardens for chicks. I had just turned 21, so I could get in. Sadly, I was frying too hard to impress any women, so I headed for the mosh pit when Oingo Boingo started playing. I recall how amazed I was that no one was seriously injured by the slamming going on at the foot of the stage. The B-52s and the Talking Heads were also well-suited to dancing. I backed out of the mosh pit by the time The Police hit the stage. Tired out from slamming, I thought the best way to enjoy the final act was to eat some more mushrooms, smoke some more sinsemilla, and kick back in the lawn under the stars.
Day Two dawned blazing hot. Breaking well into the triple-digits, the weather withered most of the concert-goers. We regularly ducked back into our campsite for the beer we had on ice. There were also football field-sized overhead open-air showers where hundreds would hang out. Everyone was spritzing strangers with the US Festival-labeled water bottles that were given out particularly the numerous women running around topless. Being totally clueless about technology at the time, all the Career & Technology Expo meant to me was a place to escape into air conditioning for a few minutes. Of course, Santana rawked, Pat Benatar was hot (even though the sun had already gone down), and Tom Petty hearkened me back to my Florida days.
Our campsite had become quite the epicenter of kewlness by that time. We had all of our valuables locked up in the van, to where we would retire frequently over the course of the festival for beer, buds, or 'shrooms. We could cook a great lunch in the campsite rather than having to buy the exorbitantly priced food in the amphitheater. We had an after-hours party in our big tent late Friday & Saturday night and the pup tent was the private place me or my buddies would retire if we needed to get alone with a babe.
By Day Three we were beginning to burn out. Even at age 21, the heat and the buds wore me out. The beer was running dry (although it was getting warm anyway). We were dusty and unbathed. The outhouses were getting to the point where they were hardly suited to take a dump. But when Jimmy Buffet started playing, I was again reminiscing about my days in the Florida Keys. I caught a second wind and ate the last of my 'shrooms. When Fleetwood Mac started playing, Stevie Nicks started spinning around on stage as she does. Her skirt was leaving the most colorful trails as I started peaking on my trip.
Fortunately, we could drive straight home that night after the festival. We were back in the O.C. by the early hours of Monday morning. With a week's work staring me in the face, I took a shower as soon as I got home and crashed out for a few hours sleep. The only disappointment was that one of my buddies threw his conditioner into the same bag as my camera without screwing the lid on tight on the way home. It leaked out and destroyed the film (not to mention my camera). With no photos, I was left with only my memories of the weekend but oh what memories! To this day, the US Festival ranks as the greatest concert experience of my lifetime.