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The US Festival, from L.A. Punk Rocker


by Brenda Perlin

The US Festival was a big deal in 1983. It was organized by Apple’s Steve Wozniak with the intent to “throw a big party in the middle of nowhere.” Despite the attendance of about 670,000 people, millions were lost. Some of the most famous bands in rock & roll attended. Van Halen and Bowie played. So did the Clash, Berlin, and an up and coming band called U2 who had just released their third album, which included the song “Sunday Bloody Sunday.”


My girlfriend Samantha’s older sister, Rochelle, worked for a record company and was in with the label’s bands. She partied with everyone, showing musicians a good time. She was close friends with Madonna, even attended her wedding to Sean Penn and knew just about everyone! This was all new to Samantha and I, and it felt like Christmas. The two of us were not at all graceful or cool like Rochelle. We acted like children running amuck with all these musical idols.


After we gained access to U2’s trailer, we were like kids in a candy store. We walked around laughing, listening to great tunes being played through the big speakers and joking about the outfits and the attitudes. There was so much to see. So many different looks and styles imitating an alternative fashion show.


While we were there, we decided to enjoy some of the food. I mean, there was so much of everything. Everything but booze since the band were strict Christians and did not encourage alcohol. I thought that was unusual since most musicians are known for their partying ways and drunken stupors. Not with them. I was so jazzed I couldn’t contain myself. 


“There’s Bono over there.” My excitement must have been obvious. There was no holding back, and I was practically jumping up and down because of all the energy pumping through my veins.


“He is so darn cute, Samantha. Don’t you think so?” 


Giggling, and looking like a love-struck puppy dog, Samantha replied with a glint in her eye, “He is dreamy. I think I am in love.” It was as if she was hypnotized. We were both exhilarated as we made our way towards the grassy area around U2’s trailer. 


“Check out all the snacks,” I screeched. “Let’s get some cokes and look, there are tons of sweets, too!” I noticed all the other band members hanging around with each other. Laughing, smoking and appearing cool. I recognized a few actresses who I was certain were as smitten as we were. Mona Lisa’s smile was nothing compared to ours on that day.


I mean, hey, this was U2 we were talking about. Not only were we backstage with one of the hottest bands on Planet Earth, there were tables full of sodas and sweets all around us. This was Heaven. Pure Heaven. We were determined to enjoy every second of it, and it seemed like nothing could rain on our parade.


Of course, that was exactly when Rochelle caught us with two big sodas in our hands. And faces as red as beets.


“What are you two doing? You shouldn’t be in here eating the band’s food. Unreal, you guys!” Rochelle gave us the dirtiest look, which made me feel like crawling under a rock. It was so humiliating to be treated like we were clueless.


My smile turned into a half frown. The grin was still there, but at the same time I knew we were in trouble. Rochelle was well liked by everyone in the scene, but to me, she was always a bit daunting. Frankly, she scared me. Rochelle was a strong female with an attitude, and I was no match. I didn’t say a word. I let Samantha do all the talking.


“Gee, Ro, we got thirsty. No one said we couldn’t help ourselves.” Samantha appeared to have a little fear in her eyes, too. We were very much alike, and we didn’t enjoy getting punished.


“You girls better calm down or I am sending you out.” As Rochelle said this, Bono came walking up to us with a big beautiful glowing smirk on his face. He was quite a sight with his chiseled features and full head of wild hair. 


“Hello,” Bono said in his deep Irish accent. He wore a smile that made me feel instantly at ease. 


With big eyes, I muttered back. “Hi. My apologies for drinking your soda. So sorry.” I felt like such an idiot being scolded like a child. All I could do was look towards the floor with my shoulders slumped down; my insides were on fire. I had never been so close to someone that I had admired so much. From the corner of my eye, I could see other snooty-looking girls checking us out. They must have been wondering how we knew each other.


“How are you girls getting on? Good to see you, Rochelle dear. You look as lovely as ever.” As Bono said this to her, he was smoothing back his hair, which amplified the sexual attraction. I was melting inside even though we were in the shade.


Rochelle acted rather nonchalantly, gave him a friendly hug and whispered who knows what into his ear. She was just so cool.


“You girls stay as long as you like,” Bono said in a friendly tone. “Eat and drink whatever you want. Happy to have you two lovelies here. See ya all after.”


I could have died! Samantha and I had the biggest grins on our faces. Bono was pleased to have us here! Could I have been dreaming? After he walked away, we gave Rochelle a kind of a “told you so” look and then we carried on with what we were doing.


We were on top of the world and the fun continued. We met so many people from all parts of the world, and we even were permitted to watch the show from the side of the stage. Then, when I thought things couldn’t get any better, right before the show started, I found myself standing next to David Bowie! While he was preparing to go on stage for his performance, we managed to eke right next to him. Even though I wanted to tell him what a fan I was and how much I loved his music, instead, I stayed mute. Couldn’t get a word out. My face held a big grin from ear-to-ear and nothing more. It didn’t matter because this was a dream come true. Not everyone was as lucky as we were, being able to hang out backstage. Most people were stuck out in the heat of the day, far from the musicians and any of this kind of excitement. A three-day event like this could have been hectic as there were some obnoxious people acting out and starting fights, but that wasn’t our problem, we had it really good not having to melt in the hot sun all day with angry kids. It could have been a drag dealing with some of those strong personalities but instead, we were the privileged few, and it showed in our smug expressions and our new found attitudes.


We were thankful we could hang out with the bands. It made us feel important for a change. We were amongst friends, and the music set the stage.

Previously published in L.A. Punk Rocker. Copyright © 2015 by Brenda Perlin. Reprinted with permission. 

Not yet The Saviour of Africa at the time this photograph was taken, Bono confers with two innocent bystanders about matters to which REET was of course not privy.

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