Live Aid concert turns 10 quietly

July 13, 1995|By Dan DeLuca | Dan DeLuca,Knight-Ridder News Service

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 Irish musician 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.

No 'Son of Live Aid'

But unlike Woodstock, which spawned both 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 ZTC 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 trans-Atlantic event was.

"These are once-in-a-lifetime things," says Larry Magid, the head of Electric Factory Concerts and co-promoter 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."

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 Mr. 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.

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.

Geldof was driving force

Mr. Magid credits Mr. Geldof -- and his role as dreamer -- with much of the success of Live Aid. "His sheer audacity was incredible," he says.

"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."

Mr. 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 nation.

But despite the naivete of its organizers and the cynical opportunism of some acts, Live Aid offered 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.

Good time was had by all

The spirit of camaraderie on stage was also evident behind the scenes, says Mr. Magid. "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."

These days, activist-musicians tend to set their sights on more modest targets. 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, 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 included Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John and Paul Simon -- the show is not taped.

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

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