"An event that will catalyze music trends of the next ten years..." "The social ramifications of Woodstock..." These were just a few of the claims made by promoters Larry Weinstein and John Brower for "Heatwave '80." the one-day festival of new rock and roll that took place at Mosport Speedway, 75 km. east of Toronto on August 23. They planned to bring these Utopian predictions to life with such "unique pieces of documentation" as a full-length film and the inevitable soundtrack album. But the film crew from Toronto's Lauron Productions hired to immortalize the event spent most of the weekend asleep on the floors of their trailers when every participating band (except for The Kings and Teenage Head) refused to permit either filming or recording of their performance. And instead of the 75-100,000 paying customers the promoters anticipated, the stadium held only an estimate 50,000 fans.
John Brower claims that Heatwave would have been a far greater (financial) success had the original invited headliner, Blondie, accepted his company's $250,000 guarantee. Out of a total talent budget of $800,000, Elvis Costello & the Attractions (for their only North American appearance of the year) received a reported $125,000. Another top-drawing name was that of the Clash, who backed out of their performance only a week before the date because (as a Heatwave spokesperson announced during a New York press conference) they weren't ready to perform before a crowd this size. (With Mick Jones at work on Ellen Foley's next LP in New York, Joe Strummer producing the Little Roosters in London, and Paul Simonon filming in Vancouver, was the group ready to play before a crowd of any size?) Two announced replacement acts, Third World and Dexy's Midnight Runners, also cancelled on the afternoon of the show.
And the show? Well, Vladimir Rogov (WHO?...ED.) began the day just a bit too early (8:30 AM) and went virtually unnoticed. Toronto's Teenage Head were handed the task of waking up the 20,000 fans who'd been drinking and sleeping at the site through the previous night. The Rumour (without Graham Parker) performed like a good bar-band should, warming up the crowd for the first really noteworthy set of the day, by Rockpile (with Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds). It wasn't great music — the sameness of the group's material can be irritating — but it was good enough for the Heatwave crowd.
Holly & the Italians, a last-minute substitution for Third world and Dexy's, delivered a ho-hum set that left no lasting impression, giving way (finally) to the Pretenders at 4:30 PM. A somewhat nervous and uptight Chrissie Hynde gave her all in the day's most stylized performance, from "Private Life" (beautiful) to "Brass to Pocket" (humorous) to "Louie Louie" (different!) and finally the intriguingly complex "Talk Of The Town." But the sunburnt hordes didn't really come to life and participate in what was originally supposed to be
their show until the B-52's took the stage. Fred Schneider announced that three babies had been born in the course of the festival, "all of them named Heatwave," and the band went on to turn in the best I've heard from them in a long time.
After twelve hours of heat, dust and sweat, no wonder Talking Heads came as a breath of fresh air when no less than nine musicians took the stage. It was an astonishing performance, with the four originals Heads (including a mini-skirted Tina Weymouth, hopping from bass to synthesizer, and a dancing David Byrne displaying his best falsetto chops) complemented by guitarist Adrian Belew (ex-Frank Zappa and David Bowie), keyboardist Bernie Worrell (of Parliament/Funkadelic), bassist Busta Cherry Jones, and a female backing vocalist (Nona Hendryx) and extra percussionist. When the band's churning funk/reggae/Latin rhythms brought a surprised and delighted audience to its dancing feet, It made Heatwave worth every minute of waiting. A fierce "Life During Wartime" ended the set, followed by an encore of "Take Me To The River" that sent 50,000 hearts into 50,000 throats.
No wonder Elvis Costello appeared tense and helpless as he faced the crowd and shouted "Hello, we're the Clash." Despite solid renditions of "Accidents Will Happen," "Watching The Detectives," and "The Beat" (among other favorites), Costello's performance just didn't cut deeply enough — it was more than competent, but lacked real excitement. Nonetheless, he and the Attractions were called back for three encores in the festival's final musical moments.
From the viewpoint of most listeners, Heatwave was a success. The massive sound system functioned smoothly and clearly, and the refreshment stands provided food and beverages in fresh and ample quantities. Despite the heat and debris, the festival medical service treated only some 200 fans, mostly for minor complaints such as dehydration, cuts and heat exhaustion. The only acts of violence appeared backstage, when various members of the press collided with massive bodyguards intent on making sure that no one got what they wanted. Planned press conferences with the performers and promoters were never held, and relations between the promoters and their financial backers appeared cool — understandable in light of the announcement by a production company executive that Heatwave had come close to $1,000,000. As Costello/Rockpile manager Jack Riviera confided to a CBS press officer, "...the lack of organization and bullshit going on here is ridiculous. I'm just glad we're getting good money for it."
Isn't that usually the case?