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Friday, October 27, 2023

About That Time We Went To Farm Aid and A Bob Dylan & The HeartBreakers Concert Broke Out ...

 "Maggie's Farm"
Bob Dylan w/ HeartBreakers Benmont Tench & Mike Campbell 
photos by thrasher
 (Click photo to enlarge)

So, about that time we went to Farm Aid and a Bob Dylan & The HeartBreakers concert broke out ...  

While most of our amazing day at the Farm Aid 2023 Concert  was spent enjoying the music, food and people, a considerable amount of time went into speculating on the evening's "Special Guest" -- after Neil Young and before Willie Nelson's final slot.

"Special Guest" @ 10:04

One of the 1st guesses we heard early in the day was Bob Dylan, which we quickly dismissed as totally impossible. We also heard Our Sisters suggest The Dirty Knobs (Tom Petty's The HeartBreakers band), although we really weren't quite tuned into that one at the time. But both "speculations" turned out to be pretty spot on. 

While we had been betting on Stephen Stills -- given the slot after Neil and Stills & Young performing earlier in the year at  ‘Light Up the Blues’  and Willie Nelson's 90th Birthday Tribute -- our buddy Jim was saying Eddie Vedder and/or Pearl Jam was the leading rumor.

Neil Young


When Neil Young's set consisted of playing only four songs and a truncated time slot, we began to realize someone big was going to happen.

All day long, the music never really stopped as acts were swiftly moved on and off the stage with very brief set changes.  But after Neil's set, the lights went down, the video screens went off and the chattering of speculation began to rise. Ushers who had been pretty cool all day with cameras and folks dancing in the aisles, suddenly began to challenge everyone for tickets and their assigned seats.

As the roadies went about their work preparing, we began to closely look at the equipment for clues.  The guitars, keyboard and drums were all scrutinized for a hint.   Then a stool was brought center stage.  Someone elderly, maybe?

As we would soon learn, the lyrics are prophetic:

"Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?"

The drama and tension continued to ratchet up even higher as the set change went into 15 minutes and stage screen images of scenic farm landscapes were replaced by a stark, black-and-white photo of a windmill.
Dylan & The Heartbreakers


And then -- without any introduction whatsoever -- a band slowly emerged from the side stage, slowly one by one. We turned to our seatmate Jim and The FarmAidians surrounding us and simultaneously inaudibly exclaimed with looks of disbelief --"DYLAN?!"

Dylan played electric guitar for one of the very few times in roughly 20 years* [see comments below] for the three song set:

  • Maggie’s Farm (First Play since 2009)

  • Positively Fourth Street (First Play since 2013)

  • Ballad Of A Thin Man (First Play Since 2019)

It wasn't until after the brief 3 song set concluded did we learn that this was Tom Petty's band The HeartBreakers that Dylan had as his backup.  With Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench, and Steve Ferrone we had just witnessed Dylan & The HeartBreakers.

Dylan sang better than anytime we've ever heard him -- which is what just about what everyone said who never saw early Dylan. He clearly enunciated the lyrics and seemed to enjoy his little solo jams with The HeartBreakers.

Dylan never uttered a word to the crowd and once the 3 songs were completed, he simply walked off the stage. 

In the end, it was we -- the audience -- that was Mr. Jones. Something was happening there, but we didn't know what it was.

Looking back now, it was all somewhat logical.

Afterall, Bob Dylan's comments about family farmers being in danger of losing their farms through mortgage debt at Live Aid in 1985 inspired the very first Farm Aid concert And at that very first Farm Aid concert in 1985, Bob Dylan with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, was the first time they played together.

The day was already shaping up to be one of our all time best Farm Aid concerts ever what with Bob Weir, Lukas Nelson, Margo Price, Dave Matthews, Neil, and Willie along with so many other incredible artists. Certainly right up there near the top of lifetime concert experiences.

Obviously, we were not the only one's stunned and surprised by Bob Dylan's appearance.

From Behind the Scenes of Bob Dylan's Farm Aid Surprise | Bassist Lance Morrison explains how the shocking Dylan-Heartbreakers reunion came to be | Flagging Down the Double E’s by Ray Padgett:

Fans were just going nuts. And the secrecy— my sense is there was no rumor even among the attendees. Often with these thing, word leaks out. Someone spots a name on a dressing room door or something. It really seems to have been a shock.

Lance Morrison: Our flight from Indianapolis back into New York, there was a young guy who was in the control truck where they had the sound and the lights and everything like that. When the lights went down, they had no idea what was about to happen.

The actual Farm Aid crew didn’t know?

Lance Morrison: They had no idea. He even asked me, “Who made the decision to turn off all the screens?" Because I guess all the other acts had the screens behind them with the videos going, this big production. And I said, I just think that was Bob being like, "We don't need any of that kind of stuff."

Also I don't think Bob felt like he needed an introduction or anything like that. We just went on without introduction, didn't really speak between songs, and left. When I see videos of it, it definitely sets itself apart from the other acts, just that sparseness.

Given the lack of introduction, did people in the crowd figure it out right away what was happening?

Lance Morrison: The people up close realized that it was Bob and there was a big reaction, then it kept going back into the audience. It took a while for people a little further back to catch on.

But I mean, to be honest, at that point once we hit the stage, I am so focused on Bob it's hard to know exactly what else is going on.

From Cult Following by Ewan Gleadow:

"As far as iconic imagery of the legendary songwriter goes, there is no greater sight than a cowboy hat-wearing guitarist morphing the instrumental layover into a wild, Prince covering While My Guitar Gently Wheeps-like shot to the system as Dylan hits risible elongations of words. 

It works, though. 

That is the beauty of late-stage Dylan.

His reverence and even fear of putting a foot wrong guides him through dangerous patch after dangerous patch, and playing with the words no doubt keeps it fresh.

Does it keep it perfect and tightly wound?

Not exactly, and this Farm Aid 2023 appearance, while for all the right reasons, hears Dylan not quite hang with the all-time performances of his lengthy career. Still, the shock of this trio of songs and the appearance itself does some much-needed heavy lifting."

From The Reporter by BROOK STAAS:

"Bob Dylan’s unexpected appearance was nothing short of magical.

As he strummed the first chords, attendees flew out of their seats, utterly awestruck by the iconic musician’s presence. With every note, he proved that age is but a number, delivering a truly captivating performance. The applause that followed was deafening, with countless hands coming together in heartfelt admiration.

In essence, Farm Aid 2023 transcended the definition of a festival; it was a resonating movement with an age-old message: stand by our farmers, promote sustainable practices, and cherish the soil under our feet."

 "Positively Fourth Street"
Bob Dylan w/ Mike Campbell 


See the Full 17 Minute Performance Below:

Also, see About That Time That We Went To A Farm Aid Concert (Farm Aid 2016 - Bristow, Virginia ) ... [and Neil Young stopped concert to point out the shirts we were wearing]

More on Farm Aid 2023 ConcertAlso, see more on Bob and Neil.

Labels: , , ,


At 10/27/2023 09:35:00 AM, Blogger Joe said...

I’d also been told at 5:45 it was going to be Dylan and been sent the same schedule with “special guest”. I also didn’t believe it but my source was insistent.

The lack of screens made it difficult for those of us in the very back of the pavilion to see what was happening. I believe they left the screens on for the people in the lawn. I ended up watching the web stream on my phone and that (along with some home viewers sending me texts) helped me piece together who the band was.

It was cool to watch Dylan, for sure, but just wish Neil had played a couple more songs, that’s all. If all the board members want to cut a song out to fit in Bob, cool. But felt very much like Neil took the hit, which really stunk since he was the primary reason I’d taken my entire family to the show to sit there for multiple hours … and the curfew ended up not being a factor at all, so why did Neil need to cut his set short? So it goes, I guess. The folks behind me in Neil Young shirts left in a huff when Neil finishes and missed Bob’s set entirely.

But you’re also talking to a guy who got fed up with Phish fans and the cold and bailed on Farm Aid 1998 around five minutes before Neil Young walked out to play with them. Maybe the lesson I should be taking away is I’m just not suited for big all-day benefit concerts.

At 10/27/2023 04:49:00 PM, Blogger Alan said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 10/27/2023 04:52:00 PM, Blogger Alan said...

What a magical day that was! Dylan & the Heartbreakers were in fine form, and 1st time Dylan held a guitar in Ages! Thanks for the reports, Thrasher & All. Leaving shows early is always a bad idea, and I have rarely done it. One time Jerry & Bob came to SDSU and I had been collecting the cash at a keg party, pouring too much down my own gullet. I was seeing double by the time the show started, had to split and walk home along a dirt trail through a canyon, all the while hearing the live show pretty well, feeling not at all well! I came up with a quote to rationalize perhaps: “You can go see Jerry & Bob, but they can’t go see you.” Lame as it was, I would have felt worse if it had been that Dylan set! I saw Jerry & Bob with the dead & solo 40 times, so I can’t complain.

Bob should tour with the Heartbreakers as his band!!! It would be Epic and a Healing Catharsis for us hard core Petty / Dylan fans.

Brother Alan in Seattle

At 10/27/2023 10:30:00 PM, Blogger Alan said...

I wish you all a Happy Harvest Moon!

At 10/28/2023 06:16:00 AM, Blogger Ron said...

Must have been a great experience Thrasher - glad you were there and enjoyed it. I watched a video of it online - the sound wasn't great buy you could still tell it was a special moment.

Was that the Farmaidians I could see in the front rows on the right hand side of the stage?

I have only seen Dylan once myself and he never said a word and just walked off stage at the end on that night too. Perhaps its a thing with him. Coincidentally, that was also with the Heartbreakers including Tom way back in October 1987 at Wembley Arena. Tom and the Heartbreakers were his backing band and also did their own set. Roger McGuinn was the opening act and joined the Heartbreakers for American Girl if I remember correctly. Some nights McGuinn joined Dylan and the Heartbreakers during the encore, and on the last night at Wembley George Harrison also joined them.

I thought Tom and the Heartbreakers were a great backing band for Dylan and he really seemed to enjoy playing with them. I really enjoyed the show but there was a video came out from one of the Australian shows which I think was even better - it was called Hard to Handle. Their performance of Knocking on Heavens Door is an all time favourite of mine. Dylan's harmonica playing in the intro, the way he stops the band joining in so he can extend the harmonica part and Tom's singing complimenting Dylan's on the chorus are just perfect to my ears.

If Dylan does ever go on tour with the remaining Heartbreakers I would certainly be very keen to see a show.

At 10/30/2023 05:07:00 AM, Blogger Flyingscotzman said...

Another brilliant report and cracking photos. I watched Neil's set after the event via the webcast repeat, and thought it excellent. An example of a short and sharp setlist that was more exciting in reality than on paper? I think so.

As for Bob, he's occasionally played guitar on stage over the last few years, including last year and 2019. Between 2007 and 2012 it was more frequent. This is the first time since then he's done three full songs on guitar.

I thought Bob's set came across more powerfully on the audience videos than the official webcast. As with Thrasher's report above, they captured the atmosphere.


At 10/30/2023 09:48:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ Joe - thanks for the perspective.

yeah, we've heard about a few that have regrets leaving early. Always a dicey proposition and most say they're trying to beat traffic.

for us, many times, the magic happens at encore. it's the penultimate. afterall, that's been invested at this point in concert, why leave and risk missing the best part of the day?

@ Alan - yes, Bob & the Heartbreakers would be the tour for '24.

ps - and a Happy Harvest Moon to you & yours. Back east here, the night was appropriately partly cloudy w/ the full Harvest Moon emerging and disappearing behind the clouds.

@ Ron - twas a great experience indeed.

So memorable. Now only if Neil had walked out and strapped on Ol Black and wailed away on Watchtower. we can dream ...

yes, those would be the Farmaidians in 4 front rows, stage right. Couldn't believe our luck in the setup. The 1st row had 4 seats, 2nd had 6, 3rd had 8, and 4th had 10, aprox.

So just before Dylan, Security cleared the pit of all the photogs, FA staff, and the video cam operators. So we had a nice clear, undistracted view of Bob & Heartbreakers.

Cool on catching Wembley 87.

@ Scotsman - very much appreciate the kind words here. of course, coming from you is extra special given all of your outstanding contributions here and over on Patreon.

keep it flowin', Scots.

And folks be sure to support Scots over @


At 10/30/2023 10:51:00 AM, Blogger Joe said...

@thrasher “ afterall, that's been invested at this point in concert, why leave and risk missing the best part of the day?”

Concert was sold to the family (including two teenagers) as follows

“Neil Young is coming to town and he’s 77. One you haven’t seen him yet and I need to fix that. You’re from Indiana, you kids need to see John Mellencamp. And he’s 90 and an institution, you need to see Willie Nelson while he’s with us.”

We’d checked those boxes and left maybe 10 or so songs into Willie’s set. So I get what you’re saying, but they’d already been there six hours and, frankly, were done. And they got to see Bob Dylan to boot, so I figured we’d hit the lottery already. Though Jim Irsay had Colts cheerleaders handing out $100 bills to fans on the way in and we missed on that, so could have hit larger! :)

At 10/30/2023 11:35:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

Thanks for clarifying Joe. Actually, totally get the FA situation. Alluding more to the typical type of 2 act concert.

It's a long day, esp if you go for Pres Conf where you need to be there @ 10A. So it's like an 18 hr day.

anyways. had not heard about the Irsay stunt and Colts cheerleaders handing out $100 bills?! talk about cross marketing. what's the overlap of FA and Colts fans?

besides. why not just hand out tickets instead of $'s?


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