It has been thirty years since the July 4 Grateful Dead, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, and Bob Dylan concert outside of Buffalo, NY. I traveled a long way with two friends to get to that show and have subsequently met a bunch of people from my neck of the woods who also went.
I have many crystal clear memories from that event while other moments have faded. For example, although I have absolutely no memory of this twenty minute drum solo, I can totally recall—in all their sartorial splendour—each and every piece of clothing that the members of the Dead wore:
Actually, in hindsight, many questions linger about the overall fashion of that day (along with a few answers) including:
- Bob Dylan wore that iconic, red shirt that states unequivocally: “This is Buffalo; July 4, 1986.” But what kind of material was it made from? I don’t know, but I think it’s probably mentioned in the Bible.
- Was Stan Lynch a fan of Miami Vice?
- I live in Canada and over the years have done a lot of work outdoors in the freezing cold; other than that scenario, can anyone describe a solid, practical use for fingerless gloves?
- Did Tom Petty’s jeans make his bum look flat?
- Did Mr. Dylan’s outfit clash with his backing-vocal group?
- Was that one of those “radical”, PLO scarves? No.
- What happened to my shirt that day? I have no idea.
- What type of footwear, exactly, was Bob Weir wearing with his shorts and socks ensemble? CHECK ONE: a. Shoes b. Sneakers c. Slippers
A reviewer from Pittsburgh seemed to enjoy the event. (Clearly, he didn’t have to cross the border 45 minutes after it was over.)
This archive is a reflection back on an interesting and independent day.
“Who ordered these pants, man?”
Rich Stadium is now known as Ralph Wilson Stadium or “The Ralph.” It is the home field of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills football team. Its original name came from Rich Products of which the most famous one would be their non-dairy, whipped topping.
“Is this stuff kosher?”
The stadium opened in 1973 and was, according to Wikipedia, one of the first examples of the sale of stadium-naming rights. After the 25-year deal expired in 1998, it was renamed after Buffalo Bills founder and owner, Ralph Wilson. It is located at 1 Bills Drive in Orchard Park.
One of the reasons why I assembled this archive was to promote my novel, The Men Who Killed Oates. Funds from the sale of this go to a good cause. Thanks for any support!
From schemes in Nova Scotia…to the islands of Japan…
From the 1950s to the 1990s…from the beach at Daytona to muddy, European festivals…
A young, rabble-rouser from the south…helped change music in the fifties. He didn’t know it at the time.
A small-town radio announcer beams his voice out over the North Atlantic. His voice ends up in Japan.
Oates: adopted son, backroom operative, homewrecker, educator, underground businessman.
The Grateful Dead opened the concert; here is their setlist:
Dupree’s Diamond Blues
My Brother Esau
Touch Of Grey
Cold Rain And Snow
Fire On The Mountain
Samson And Delilah
I Need A Miracle
Uncle John’s Band
Gimme Some Lovin’
Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad
Turn On Your Love Light
I really enjoyed their performance; it sure suited my mental state at that moment. In retrospect, now that I know the state of Jerry Garcia’s health that week, I have pretty sentimental feelings about being present that day. There is some really great audio available from their portion of the show here:
JULY 4, 1986 RICH STADIUM: GRATEFUL DEAD SET AUDIO
So welcome! Listen to some tunes and enjoy the rest of this archive!
For the Bob Dylan/Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers part of the show: I wouldn’t have had it any other way. The cover songs are charming, the backing vocals powerful, and Dylan’s voice is strong and cuts through the haze. Whether or not it worked for someone who had taken too much LSD is another story. Thirty years later, some people would still be pissed that he’d be doing “cover” songs on his 2016 tour. Whatever. But to attribute this to some kind of “arrogance” when the act is, by definition, a gesture of reverence and humility is beyond the pale.
You’ll find a plethora of Dylan/Petty videos here.
Farm Aid stemmed from a comment that Bob Dylan made on-stage during his 1985 Live Aid performance with Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood.
Saint Bob I
Reportedly unable to hear on-stage due to poor monitor sound and backstage setup activity for the 1985 finale, Bob mumbled something between songs about donating a couple of million to American farmers who were struggling. Neil Young and Willie Nelson took his words to heart and developed the first Farm Aid concert later that year. This took place in Illinois and was a big success. They’ve held an annual concert every year since.
Here’s a video of Mr. Dylan and Lou Reed chatting backstage at the first Farm Aid show. Before the camera lights come on and interrupt them, you can hear Bob discussing—with great animation—his upcoming album. This contradicts his usual public comments about recording: he tends to minimize any great interest in the process at all.
Years ago, I lived in Japan for a year and inherited Sir Geldof’s memoir Is That It? from my apartment’s previous tenant. Despite Mr. Geldof’s tendencies towards self-glorification (or maybe because of this) it’s actually a pretty good read. Besides, anybody that Stephen Lewis hates so much can’t be all bad. Geldof complained about the quality of Dylan’s performance and was incensed at the comparison of the famine to a wealthy country’s agricultural challenges. Mr. Dylan’s ear jewelry at Live Aid did nothing to help in this regard.
Saint Bob II
The 1986 concert at Rich Stadium outside of Buffalo was linked to the second Farm Aid event which was held in Austin, Texas. They showed portions of the Buffalo show on big screens in Austin. This is the reason why there are so many professionally shot clips of the Buffalo concert available.
Apparently, the Grateful Dead were involved in the third Farm Aid event as well.
The context of this event was maybe one of the reasons why so many people traveled from all over to attend: it was a Friday, it was July 4th, the Farm Aid angle gave it some extra-cultural currency, and the location made it a central gathering point for international music-lovers. I live in the Maritime provinces of Canada and over the years have met a bunch of folks who made the trek to see this show.
McGinty O’Flaherty: Application Pending
If you attended the “Farm Aid 2” show outside of Buffalo, New York, the probability is very high that you are currently older than the musicians were on July 4, 1986:
Bob Dylan, for example, was forty-five on the day of the show. Young whippersnapper Tom Petty’s energetic strumming was no doubt aided by his sparse thirty-five years.
Jerry Garcia, who died in 1995, was almost forty-four.
On this note, I think it’d be appropriate if we mentioned some other musicians who have passed since that day…
Grateful Dead keyboardist Brent Mydland:
Heartbreakers bassist Howie Epstein:
Rest in Peace, and thanks for the memories…
And also: as a reference point in time, here are some highlights from 1956, which was thirty years prior to the Farm Aid II date:
- Elvis Presley hit the scene.
- Boxer Rocky Marciano retires.
- Pakistan becomes the first Islamic state.
- Television broadcasting commences in Australia.
- DeMille’s The Ten Commandments starring Charlton Heston gets released.
- Soviet Red Army troops invade Hungary.
- Bob Barker makes his TV debut as host of Truth or Consequences.
- The underwater, trans-Atlantic telephone cable is opened.
If you attended the Dylan, Petty, Dead concert in Orchard Park, NY on July 4, 1986 and you have a story about it, let us know in the comments.
Or drop me a line and I’ll post it on the blog: