Relive The Grateful Dead’s barnstorming performance of ‘The Wheel’ during Farm Aid in 1986
We’re digging deep into the Far Out Magazine vault to bring you a very special performance via satellite as The Grateful Dead beamed across the airwaves for a very special performance at Farm Aid in 1986.
The concert benefit, which was created in a bid to raise money for family farmers in the United States, was organised by Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Neil Young and became an international phenomenon and the event was spurred on by Bob Dylan’s comments at Live Aid earlier in 1985. He said that he hoped some of the money would help American farmers in danger of losing their farms through mortgage debt.
Dylan’s words and the ample backing of Young, Mellencamp, and Nelson meant the first-ever Farm Aid took place on September 22nd, 1985 at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Illinois.
At the time, most charity shows were a single affair but Farm Aid was ready to go again in 1986 and went to Manor Downs Racetrack in Texas on May 4th for the second event which would become a yearly musical moment in the calendar. The show in 1986 had a remarkable lineup that included the Beach Boys, Los Lobos, Rick James, Bon Jovi, Steve Earle, Joe Walsh, George Jones, Waylon Jennings and more.
The Grateful Dead, however, were not at Manor Downs Racetrack on that iconic night. Instead, they simultaneously broadcast their performance at Rich Stadium in Orchard Park, New York, to the audience in Texas. Jerry Garcia and the group tore through a mini-set that included ‘The Wheel’, ‘I Need A Miracle’ and ‘Uncle John’s Band’ to the audiences in Texas, New York, and those watching back at home.
The performance sees The Dead at their musically swaggering best but all was not well behind the scenes. Garcia’s health had been gradually deteriorating in the lead up to the show and just six days after the event he fell into a diabetic coma and was unconscious for nearly a week.
During the coma, his kidneys completely shut down and his heart briefly ceased beating. The Grateful Dead prepared for the worst but somehow he survived.
He came out of the coma and, aside from briefly forgetting how to play guitar, Garcia eventually found his way back into the spotlight before the year was over.
Below you can watch Garcia and the rest of the Dead in action for Farm Aid in 1986.