It would have been very difficult for Bob Dylan to decline an invitation to perform at the inaugural Farm Aid concert in Champagne, Illinois on September 22nd, 1985. The entire event was inspired by his onstage comments at Live Aid earlier that year: “I hope that some of the money . . . maybe they can just take a little bit of it, maybe . . . one or two million, maybe . . . and use it it, say to pay the mortgages on some of the farms.”
Bob Geldof later said that Dylan’s comments were “crass, stupid and nationalistic,” but they inspired Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson to come together and form Farm Aid. In just two months they assembled an incredible lineup that included the Beach Boys, Johnny Cash, John Fogerty, Billy Joel, Randy Newman, Carole King, Loretta Lynn, Roy Orbison, Eddie Van Halen with Sammy Hagar and many others.
With the exception of a five-week European stadium tour in the summer of 1984, Bob Dylan had been off the road for four years at this point. He didn’t have a backing band, so Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers agreed to take on the task. Their six-song set was heavy on material from Dylan’s new albums, but it wrapped up with the highly fitting “Maggie’s Farm.” Much of the set was broadcast on TV, and it proved that Dylan was back in fighting shape after his disastrous Live Aid set.
Just a few months later, Dylan and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers kicked off a triumphant world tour. The next year he played a six-date American stadium tour with the Grateful Dead, and then went on a victory lap through Europe with the Heartbreakers.
The constant touring reinvigorated Dylan. In 1988 he kicked off his Never Ending Tour, and 24 years later, he’s still at it. It’s been an amazing journey, and the whole thing got going at Farm Aid way back in 1985.