Bob Dylan and Tom Petty perform ‘Maggie’s Farm’ at the first-ever Farm Aid back in 1985
After Bob Dylan’s wholly unsuitable on-stage comments at Live Aid in 1985, the singer would spark the fire of one of America’s proudest benefit concerts; Farm Aid. Below, we’re looking back at Dylan sharing the stage with long time friend and collaborator, Tom Petty for a special performance at the inaugural event.
The event came at the first-ever Farm Aid concert and saw the freewheelin’ Bob Dylan join Petty and the Heartbreakers for three numbers including a beguiling performance of ‘Maggie’s Farm’—it worked as a fitting reminder of their talent.
Earlier that year, while on stage in front of an estimated 40% of the global population as part of Live Aid, Bob Dylan, with cameras and spotlights trained on his gnarled face said: “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, say to pay the mortgages on some of the farms.”
It would be enough to spark the fires of Farm Aid into life and see an event quickly pulled together ready to take place on September 22nd, in Champaign, Illinois as a reaction to the increasing difficulties the farming community were facing and, of course, Dylan’s comments.
Though the Live Aid event organiser, Bob Geldof would later call the comments “crass, stupid and nationalistic,” it was enough to inspire Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson to get together and start Farm Aid. With such legacy names at the helm, the line-up quickly filled up with some of America’s finest artist. The Beach Boys, Johnny Cash, Billy Joel, Carole King and Loretta Lynn all had their place on the line-up.
Of course, Dylan, following his comments, was one of the first acts to be spoken to and naturally agreed to take a slot—putting his money where his mouth was. It was a large task for the troubadour as he had spent much of the last few years off the road and avoiding the limelight. After his somewhat disastrous Live Aid performance, backed by Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards, Dylan was keen to prove he was back in the game.
So he entrusted, as he did throughout his career, Tom Petty in providing him with the ample backing he knew he needed. Petty and The Heartbreakers would provide the much-needed support for Dylan and helped the singer perform six tracks, during which even Willie Nelson hopped on stage. But while new numbers from his upcoming album Empire Burlesque were intriguing it was his performance of ‘Maggie’s Farm’ that really captivated the audience.
The song from Dylan’s 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home was the perfect fit for the event that Dylan had unwittingly conjured. It was the moment that Dylan reemerged as the cultural titan he once was and only a few months later he and Tom Petty would be back on the road together and Dylan would be at the top of his game once again.
Watch below as Tom Petty and Bob Dylan perform ‘Maggie’s Farm’ at the first-ever Farm Aid in 1985.