That time Steve Wozniak threw a party
Three decades plus later, not many remember The US Festival (which took place again in 1983, with the two shows reportedly losing more than $24 million combined.) Why the show slipped away into history isn't clear--though the monumental, two-continent, live-broadcast of Live Aid following just three years later certainly could be the primary culprit. However, as noted in this film--in a very meta way--Woodstock's legend grew because of the film that documented it, and this film tries to do the same for Wozniak's creation, gathering together a host of archival footage, and building the story of the festival around several performances and modern interviews with several of the folks involved, including Wozniak and a number of the performers, like Mick Fleetwood (Fleetwood Mac), Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead, Kate Pierson of the B-52s, The Police's Stewart Copeland and Eddie Money.
Considering how insane Wozniak and company's plan was, it's not surprise that the creation of the festival is dotted with a number of entertaining stories and characters, including run-ins with the booker that was hired to bring the show together: Bill Graham. Among the highlights of the film is the clash between Wozniak's tech-skilled circle of friends and Graham's efforts to keep them out of the backstage area, and the attempt to create a satellite link between the festival and a studio in Russia (an unheard-of technological feat.) There's not much in the way of drama in the film (it's very obviously a love letter, not an investigation) but there are interesting things to learn about the festival throughout (including the innovations the show pioneered), with Copeland's interview clips being particularly enjoyable and insightful.
For any music fan, the draw here is the performances of the bands. Unfortunately, only a select few full songs are included: The B-52's "Strobelight", The Police's "I Can't Stand Losing You", Eddie Money's "Gimme Some Water", The Cars' "Bye Bye Love", Santana's "Black Magic Woman", Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' "Refugee" and Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain". These are all solid songs, with the B-52s' lesser-known tune and Fleetwood Mac's dramatic nighttime performance among the standouts. Other bands are only heard in short clips, and it's disappointing to see bands like English Beat, Talking Heads and Oingo Boingo get the same brief reference as country act Jerry Jeff Walker. Even worse, some performers aren't represented at all, like the Dead, Pat Benatar, The Kinks and Jackson Browne (for one reason or another.)
Watching the film, the only real issue is the structure. It feels very much like a television presentation, broken up into vignettes and segments, with graphics and fades to black serving as mile markers along the way. The result of all this artifice throughout the presentation is a lack of flow to the film, which only becomes more obvious when it doubles back and starts repeating clips. A bit less aggressive structure may have freed up some time for another performance (if they could have afforded it) and would have kept things moving.
Can't deny that getting a Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track on a music festival Blu-ray is a disappointment, but on the plus side it sounds good, with solid separation between the voices in the interviews and the music bed behind them. The performances sound solid, if unspectacular, keeping everything clean. Don't expect high-end, and you won't be disappointed.
Three extended interviews are included, featuring Wozniak (16:29), Fleetwood (6:26) and Copeland (19:30). The good stuff in here made it into the film (obviously) but there are bits and pieces worth checking out, as Fleetwood attempts to deal with noise in the room and Copeland honestly reflects on The US Festival's legacy.
The Bottom Line