Rolling Stone, October 2, 1980

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Rolling Stone

US rock magazines


New wave festival artistic success, commercial flop

James Henke

Heatwave promoters lose $1 million

Even though initial reports indicate they might have lost as much as a million dollars, the promoters of Heatwave, a day-long New Wave music festival held near Toronto on August 23rd, declared the event a success and said they might stage a similar show next year.

"We're waiting for the final figure to come in, but I've heard attendance estimates ranging from 50,000 to 80,000," said Larry Weinstein, who coproduced Heatwave with John Brower. "And that's huge for this kind of show. You have to remember that the superstars of New Wave have never played to crowds that size before."

In fact, probably none of the bands on the bill — which included Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Talking Heads, the Pretenders, the B-52's and Rockpile — had played to half that many people before. Even so, many had expected the festival to be a sort of New Wave Woodstock; the promoters admitted that at one point they hoped to draw as many as 140,000 people to the site at Mosport Park, a race track about fifty miles outside Toronto. According to Weinstein, a crowd of 85,000 to 90,000 was needed to meet the festival's production costs of $1.8 million.

Generally, those involved with Heatwave blamed the lower-than-expected turnout on four factors: a limited advertising budget that didn't penetrate U.S. markets deeply enough and didn't include a sufficient budget for print ads; the lack of a big-name crossover artist like Tom Petty or the Cars, which would have attracted a broader audience; the riot that broke out a few days before the festival when Alice Cooper failed to appear at a concert at the nearby Canadian National Exhibition (see Random Notes); and lack of support from record companies, which, according to Weinstein, were reluctant to help with advertising costs and even wanted to charge the festival for photos and biographical material.

But even if Heatwave wasn't a smashing commercial success, it was an artistic triumph. Particularly noteworthy were performances by Talking Heads and Elvis Costello (his only North American appearance so far this year). The Heads appeared with an expanded — and funk-infused — lineup of nine musicians, including keyboardist Bernie Worrell from Parliament-Funkadelic and guitarist Adrian Bellew, who's played with David Bowie. Costello appeared friendlier than usual as he chatted and joked with the crowd ("Hi, we're the Clash" were his opening words), which brought him back for three encores.

Even area law-enforcement officials were pleased. According to Durham Regional Police Superintendent Ernest Barker, only about thirty concertgoers were arrested, the bulk of them for drug-related offenses "For the number of people involved, I think it was very good," Barker said. "When you have a group of 70,000 to 75,000 people, you're going to have some incidents."

A full report on Heatwave will appear in an upcoming issue of Rolling Stone.

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Rolling Stone, No. 327, October 2, 1980

James Henke reports on the Heatwave Festival, August 23, 1980, Mosport Park, Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada.


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