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Three Days of Peace & Music... and Technology

The US Festival 1982 - Birth of the Creative Class

Steve Wozniak, Creative Class Hall of Fame

A Personal Reflection by Sohodojo Co-founder, Jim Salmons

The US Festival '82 poster"It was twenty years ago today, Woz taught us all to play..."

Paraphrasing the Beatles is not inappropriate when referring to the huge party Steve Wozniak threw for 'us' in the remote Southern California desert September 3-5, 1982. The 'us' in this case was the as-yet-unnamed cultural phenomenon now called the creative class.

Steve Wozniak's US Festival 1982 is arguably the public birth of what Carnegie Mellon professor of economic development Richard Florida chronicles in his provocative new book, The Rise of the Creative Class.

The Rise of the Creative Class bookcoverThe US Festival 1982 was a perfect reflection of that loose tribe of musicians, geeks, artists, gays and other counter-cultural misfits that Professor Florida now champions as the bedrock of local economic vitality.

Ironic isn't it? That the once-despised deadbeats of the economy are now seen as its life force!? Quoting another bunch of Creative Class Hall of Famers and US Festival performers, The Grateful Dead, what a long, strange trip it's been. Here's what I remember about our three days of peace and music... and technology.

The US Festival - Woodstock Meets Comdex

When you visit the US Festival Memorial web pages at, you'll miss the sense of one of the most important features of this giant post-Woodstock music event. Folks contributing to the memories page are mostly participants (or kids of participants contributing family folklore) reflecting the music consumer contingent at this monumental event.

The author's US Festival 1982 spritzer bottle

The music consumer folks were mostly looking for the Woodstock experience that they missed the first time around, or that they wanted to revisit if they had been at the original "Three Days of Peace & Music" in a field in upstate New York.

Don't get me wrong. The music was central, and the US Festival 1982 show was truly three days of killer music. But there was something much more radical than listening to music going on during that scorching weekend (see sidebar) at the Glen Helen Regional Park in the San Bernardino desert.

Woz, the Man Behind the Music

Steve Wozniak – the Apple Computer co-founder and, in 1985 after he left Apple, an early adopter of the entrepreneurial free agent lifestyle that is now common among the creative class – wanted to use a huge chunk of his Apple-generated personal fortune to give something back. He wanted to thank the world that had made him rich beyond his wildest dreams.

Steve Wozniak, photo courtesy of MacDirectory. Click to go to a link for the associated article...Woz, being the epitome of geek cool, didn't need to be rich to be happy. He didn't need to surround himself with a personal entourage of financial counselors and wheeler dealers bent on turning his fortune into a mega-fortune. No, he wanted to throw a party that reflected the world that he saw shaping our future.

Woz wanted to showcase a world just starting to swirl with cross-currents between the arts and sciences, a mix that was giving birth to a cultural climate of innovation not seen since the Renaissance. He wanted to capture the moment that reflected the cultural movement from the selfish focus of 'me' to the social focus on 'us'.

Expo, the Tech Behind the Music

Folks forget that besides the music festival amphitheater and its requisite support facilities of beer garden, campgrounds, public toilets, first aid station, food service stands, field hospital, security office, etc., there were five large tents housing the US Festival Technology Exposition! And it was, quite literally, the tech behind the music. The tents of the Tech Exposition were in an area behind the music stage. It was Woodstock meets Comdex (the long-running computer industry trade show held annually in Las Vegas).

Poster blow-up showing US Festival Technology Exposition

Comparing the US Festival Technology Exposition to Comdex is a bit of journalistic hyperbole. The US Festival Technology Exposition was not a commercial affair. This exposition was a celebration of technology and its roots in the emerging geek culture. The Technology Exposition was a public soiree that Woz arranged to introduce the artistic side of the nascent creative class to their geek counterparts. The music and art folks needed to see that geeks were pretty cool, too.

And what the art and music folks learned at the US Festival Technology Exposition was that the geeks' toys – our computers, software and early electronic musical devices (like Yamaha's then radical drum synthesizers for the consumer market), etc., – were really potent tools for creative expression and could be used in ways that weren't only about spreadsheets and rocket science.

The Tech Expo tents were full of all kinds of booths and displays that reflected the emerging microcomputer and consumer electronics industries. Any geek or geek wannabee needed no persuasion to head over to the expo tents. Whether by design or happenstance, festival organizers brilliantly ensured the expo's attraction to non-geeks by air conditioning the tents.

Hordes of festival attendees slipped into the seductive draw of the expo's oasis away from the blistering desert sun. Many who entered seeking only a break from the heat were infected with an introduction to microcomputers and associated electronics products which until that moment had only been on the outer bands of their radar.

As you strolled in the cool breeze of the expo tents you could see the infection process at work. Artists, musicians and their fans surrounded computer monitors to see graphics and music program demonstrations. Drum synthesizers beat with a tribal passion. It was a foreshadowing moment that rocked with the rhythm of interaction between the art and science communities that is finding its increasingly powerful expression in today's creative class.

Reflections On The US Festival - Then and Now

I attended the US Festival as a member of the tribal ranks of Softalk Publishing, an innovator in the evolving computer magazine industry. Softalk spearheaded a movement that broadened editorial coverage beyond its techno-bible roots to include coverage of the people, events and social impact of technology. This was uncharted territory before publishers Al Tommervik and Margot Comstock Tommervik set a new standard for tech industry reporting.

Read the October 1982 cover story about the US Festival as it appeared in Softalk magazine...

Al and Margot presided over a diverse collection of editors, writers, artists and production folks who were among the wackiest and most talented people I've had the pleasure to work with. Our offices in North Hollywood meant there was no way that the entire Softalk staff wasn't planning to head out to the San Bernardino desert for Labor Day weekend in 1982 whether it was a work assignment or not.

When it was announced that Softalk would have a major exhibit and editorial office at the US Festival Technology Expo, there was a stampede to sign up for booth duty and reporting assignments. Everyone who wasn't sick or incapacitated that weekend went to the festival, and we all had a blast. With so many folks attending, our booth duties were light and we were able to easily fulfill our editorial assignments covering the events of the festival which ran as the October cover story of the Apple-focused Softalk magazine.

We didn't know it then, but we were among the contributors of a brewing multi-cultural stew. We were participant/observers helping to create and tell the story of the community that Richard Florida would celebrate twenty years later in The Rise of the Creative Class And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life.

The music was incredible, the parties non-stop. Geeks, artists and musicians mixing it up, fomenting a social revolution that's just starting to kick in. This isn't a time for cynical dismissal of what was happening in the Southern California desert that Labor Day weekend twenty years ago. The gestation is over. Whatever your creative inner-self is telling you to do. Just do it.

Creativity: Not a Job, It's a Life-long Adventure,
--Jim Salmons--
Author and Graphics
--Timlynn Babitsky--
Editor and Encouragement
Sohodojo Founders and Research Directors

22 September 2002
Raleigh, NC USA

Best of the US Festival and Related Links

Author and Sohodojo co-founder, Jim Salmons, has hung onto two US Festival artifacts featured in the above story; a promotional poster and his official water spritzer bottle (that Timlynn once suggested we throw out until she heard all about what it was and meant to me:-). While researching this article, it appeared that neither of these items are showcased on the web. For the curious, here are links to higher-resolution versions of the images in the article:

Here are the best of the on-line sources of information about the US Festival, mostly about the 1982 incarnation, some covering both the '82 and 1983 events. There are also a couple links to info about Woz and the early years of Apple Computer and about Softalk Magazine. If you have a resource you'd like to see included, don't hesitate to suggest a link.

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