No company has done more than Apple, Inc., to bring the world of technology together with the world of music. But those who are too young to remember the world before the iPod may never appreciate how just how far apart those worlds were back in 1982, when Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak hatched an ambitious (and expensive) musical plan: Committing a sizable chunk of his sizable fortune to a musical event billed as the biggest thing since Woodstock, Wozniak staged a three-day concert in the mountains of San Bernardino County that featured some of the day’s biggest names in music. The “Us Festival” kicked off under scorching conditions on September 3, 1982.
The temperature was over 110 degrees when the first band took the stage on the opening day of the Us Festival. The group was Gang of Four, a radically political and hugely influential British band followed on Day One by a lineup of punk, post-punk and New Wave heavies: The Ramones, The English Beat, Oingo Boingo, The B-52’s, Talking Heads and The Police. The torrid conditions persisted as a mainstream rock lineup including Santana, The Kinks, Pat Benatar and Tom Petty took to the stage on Day Two. Day Three brought 60s legends The Grateful Dead and a headlining performance by Fleetwood Mac. Relief from the heat over the course of that Labor Day weekend came in the form of giveaway spray bottles, a half-acre of free showers and roving tanker trucks mounted with water cannons. And for those still suffering under the sweltering conditions, there was relief in the form of the Us Festival Technology Exposition, housed in five tents behind the main stage and offering not just a glimpse into the future, but the only air conditioning on the concert site.
Inside those tents, you still couldn’t find an Apple Macintosh. That groundbreaking machine, developed by Wozniak’s Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, was still 18 months away when the Us Festival kicked off. You could, however, find treasures that would cause today’s hipster nostalgia enthusiasts to swoon as much as the kids at the 1982 Us Festival did: props from the movies E.T. and Empire Strikes Back; arcade games like Zaxxon, Defender, Krazy Kong and Centipede; and newly introduced “Games of the Century” for the home such as Worm War 1 from Fox Video Games, fully compatible with the Atari Video Computer System and the long-forgotten Sears Tele-Games machine.