On its 39th anniversary, we look back at the biggest concert of Van Halen’s extravagant career!
The footage embedded above is a segment of Van Halen’s appearance at the US FESTIVAL in 1983. Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth “drop in” by helicopter at the venue ahead of US Festival ’83. Acclaimed inventor Steve Wozniak, the organizer of the festival, comments on preparations and bemoans record-high fees for artists’ performances. Includes video of workers setting up the world’s largest stage and most powerful sound system ever for the festival which took place at Glen Helen Regional Park located in the County of San Bernardino, California.
The footage is shared by “TV Crew Guy,” who has procured 1980’s Hollywood entertainment footage, including interviews with popular actors and actresses, musicians, directors and producers, and behind-the-scenes video of film, television, and music production of the ’80s! He has videotapes stored for more than three decades containing a treasure-trove of ’80s American pop culture, which have been digitized and are being edited and uploaded regularly. Check out all of his ’80s interviews on YouTube.
On May 29th, 1983, Van Halen headlined the US Festival, a music festival held from 5/28/83 through 5/30/83 at Glen Helen Regional Park in San Bernardino, CA. Van Halen performed on “Heavy Metal Day” (5/29/83) as headliners for the record-setting fee of $1.5 million. The 1984 Guinness Book of World Records created a new category based upon the price of this performance.
“This is the biggest backyard party in Van Halen’s history!” — David Lee Roth
In every possible sense of the word, Van Halen understand extravagance. They embrace, respect, and deliver it at every available opportunity. As the summer of 1983 approached, band members had nearly recovered from the monstrous Diver Down tour—their most extensive to date. Riding high on a wave of success that had taken them half-way across the world, they were barely keeping pace with their increasing enormity. They wanted a few months of relaxation to rejuvenate their creativity. The rest would do them good, allowing the fame and fortune to sink in to the framework of a normal life. Inevitably, Edward holed himself up in his studio (his favorite place on the planet) and began experimenting. 1984 recording sessions were underway within months and they began working (finally) at a comfortable pace. The entire band seemed happy with the hiatus. Then came the US Festival…
US Festival Pre-Show Party
Billed as “The Musical Event of the 80s,” the ’83 US Festival was like a gift from the heavens. For four days, music lovers would flock to Southern California’s Glen Helen Regional Park, enjoying everything from Oingo Boingo to Ricky Skaggs. The event was organized by Apple Computers wizard Stephen Wozniak, who put put together the previous year’s show. As a follow-up, he was determined to make the ’83 event the biggest show in history. Utilizing the latest in technology, he hoped to draw over a million people to the 500-acre site. Two large video screens would afford spectators unobstructed views of the 300 x 67 foot stage as their eardrums were assaulted by 400,000 watts of power. On paper, an impressive array of artists and bands were scheduled to participate. In reality, one band would steal every newspaper slipping, headline, and soundbite. It almost seems like Wozniak planned it that way.
Wozniak made history by offering Van Halen $1.5 million to headline “Heavy Metal Day.” The Guinness Book of World Records even created a category for VH’s big paycheck: “The artist or band receiving the most money for a single performance.” When news of this unbelievable figure began to circulate, the ball really got rolling. The mere enormity of it was enough to draw unparalleled media attention. David Lee Roth would capitalize on this later.
Meanwhile, the band scrambled to organize their stage gear and polish performing chops. They had recently completed a tour of South America and their equipment was still aboard a boat to California. Rehearsal space had to be arranged, the crew had to consolidate, Dave had to return from the Amazon jungle—the list went on and on. The band eventually spent $500,000 on their two-hour performance. This huge sum also paid for an entire line of Van Halen tour merchandise devoted to the US Festival, including a “Van Halen Memorial Day” jersey, a classic poster, and a fold-out US Festival program. Much of the merchandise was designed by David Lee Roth and his friend Pete Angelus. It was expensive, but, in terms of publicity, worth it.
When May 29, 1983 finally rolled around, fans from all over the world were poised for the largest concert event in history. These people were ready to rumble. Over the course of the day, more than twice as many arrests were made as any other day of the festival. Van Halen attracted a party crowd, themselves setting a stellar example as to how it should be done properly. Backstage was Van Halenized in every way possible. A giant tent was constructed to hold the pounds of food and gallons of drink arranged for the band and crew.
MTV was there in full force, represented by VJ Mark Goodman. During Goodman’s infamous backstage chat with David Lee Roth, who was wearing a shirt made of some sort of fish netting, it was hilariously obvious that Dave was well beyond the label on his first bottle of Jack Daniel’s. The interview took place sometime during the afternoon.
MTV’s Mark Goodman Tries to Interview David Lee Roth
Dave: Originally, what we were going to do was turn all of the equipment around backwards and show our behinds to the audience. That way everybody would be backstage!
Goodman: Eddie has been doing some producing on his own. Is there any talk of him co-producing a Van Halen album?
Dave: I don’t know what he’s been producing, man. You’d probably have to ask Val that. (laughs)
Goodman: How’s the show going to be?
Dave: The show is a cakewalk. I’m serious—I can do that shit in my sleep.
Dave: I’ll tell ya, backyard parties used to do us in, just like this one’s doing to me! (holds his beer up to camera)
Eddie Van Halen’s US Festival Solo
Valen Halen’s Complete US Festival Concert
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