Farm Aid stemmed from a comment that Bob Dylan made on-stage during his 1985 Live Aid performance with Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood.
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.
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.