Remembering 1985's Fabulous Live Aid Concert The Famine-relief Benefit Raised Millions. So Why No Live Aid 2?

Posted: July 12, 1995

It was the biggest charity event ever, and certainly history's most outsized rock concert.

On July 13, 1985 - 10 years ago tomorrow - 90,000 people at JFK Stadium in South Philadelphia and 72,000 more at Wembley Stadium in London were eyewitnesses to Live Aid, the African hunger-relief benefit seen by an additional 1.5 billion television viewers in 160 countries.

The philanthropic effort - initiated by Irishman Bob Geldof, who wrote the all-star Band-Aid single "Do They Know It's Christmas?" after seeing a BBC- TV report about the Ethiopian famine - was fabulously successful. Together, Live Aid and Band-Aid collected more than $100 million.

But unlike Woodstock, which spawned both official and unofficial anniversary clones last year, there will be no concerts to commemorate the most elaborate entertainment spectacle of the '80s. The closest you'll come to nostalgia is the eight-hour Live Aid 10th Anniversary Special, to be shown by VH-1 at 4 p.m. Saturday.

It's not often that so obvious a marketing opportunity goes unused. The absence of a Live Aid 2 underscores the way in which the music industry has changed its approach to philanthropy. And it demonstrates how daunting a logistical feat the transatlantic event was.

Live Aid set off a rock-for-a-cause boom: Willie Nelson's Farm Aid, Little Steven's Sun City protest, and two Amnesty International tours, including the Human Rights Now! concert at JFK in 1988. In the downsized '90s, rock's charity efforts remain widespread and varied; they're small-scale and localized. The only behemoth to survive is Farm Aid, which will return in September.

"These are once-in-a-lifetime things," says Larry Magid, the head of Electric Factory Concerts and copromoter of the Philadelphia portion of Live Aid.

"So many factors have to come together. With Live Aid, there was the urgency of the situation: 'People are starving. We have to do something now.' And we only had five weeks to make it happen, which worked in our favor. When you have too much time to plan and postpone these events, they get too difficult, and they never occur.

"Plus," Magid said, "you can't underestimate the importance of the dreamer. Geldof was the dreamer. His sheer audacity was incredible.

"He was no big name, but he got every big name to play. That's one reason why it hasn't ever happened again. It would be silly to do it without Geldof, and I don't think he wanted to be Mr. Live Aid and continue that as a lifelong pursuit."

Geldof's effort to "feed the world" broke down when food and supplies were delivered to Ethiopia. Live Aid's "trustees of compassion" encountered innumerable difficulties, including theft, in the civil-war-torn Third World nation.

But depite the naivete of its organizers and the cynical opportunism of some of its acts, Live Aid provided indelible images of rock royalty rallying for a cause.

There was Phil Collins, performing at Wembley, then crossing the Atlantic on the Concorde to drum with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. Teddy Pendergrass singing "Reach Out and Touch Somebody's Hand" with Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson in his first public appearance since being paralyzed in a 1982 car accident. Mick Jagger and Tina Turner swaggering through their duets of ''State of Shock" and "It's Only Rock and Roll." And an incomprehensible Bob Dylan joined by Keith Richards and Ron Wood in an acoustic set.


The spirit of camaradarie on stage was also evident behind the scenes, says Magid. "There was politicking by the managers, but the acts were all very congenial. Backstage, one thing that impressed me were the merchandise stands. There were no breaks and no gimmes for anybody, so Mick Jagger and everybody else had to stand in line and buy T-shirts and souvenirs for their friends and

families. We did more business per capita there than anywhere in the building."

At last year's New Music Seminar in New York, Colin Medlock - a British producer and president of the umbrella organization World Aid Relief! - announced plans to produce a 24-hour global telecast of live music to coincide with the 10th anniversary of Live Aid. But Medlock has had to delay his plans indefinitely, he said this week, because of difficulty raising the millions in ''seed money" necessary to bring it off.

"We want to do something bigger and better than Live Aid," Medlock said. ''I'm going to see if I can get the music industry behind me, but it has been an uphill battle."

Activist-musicians tend to set their sights on more modest targets now. They try to achieve their goals through smaller events or with projects that have a shelf life.

"We try to remain manageable," says Laurie Parise, executive director of the Rainforest Foundation (RFF), which was founded by Live Aid alum Sting.


The RFF keeps it low-key. For five years it has put on a spring fund- raising concert at Carnegie Hall. Despite its A-list participants - April's program featured Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John and Paul Simon, among others - the show is not taped.

"We have a small mission, and we've been able to expand that way," says Parise, whose concert this year raised $1.5 million. "If you do it too big, you lose focus."

"I would love to do a big concert with lots of rock stars, because we could raise a lot of money," says John Carlin, cofounder of the Red Hot Organization, which has raised money for AIDS groups on all-star albums starting with 1991's Red Hot + Blue Cole Porter tribute.

"But we made a deliberate attempt to get away from the old-fashioned live- music approach," Carlin says. "We wanted something younger and hipper. And we wanted to avoid the Live Aid generation of rock stars who had lost credibility with the younger audience."

Andrew Ross, director of American Studies at New York University, says that one reason mega-benefits are out of vogue is that the Lollapalooza-generation bands are suspicious of overhyped spectacles.

"The corporate rock-star circuit that drove Live Aid seems a little exhausted," says Ross. "And these young bands are probably a little embarrassed about elevating themselves into that aristocratic rock pantheon. Also, artists are putting their pro bono efforts into more single-concern politics, like AIDS research or pro-choice benefits."

The size of a Live Aid-style event would also be a turnoff, he said. "The alternative-rock community . . . thinks in more specific terms than something as big as Live Aid. That doesn't make Pearl Jam's battle against Ticketmaster of any less value. It's just that a lot of bands have close ties to independent scenes and local communities. They're anti-spectacle and anti- glam. There's not a diminution of political effort. It's more like a redistribution."

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