Saint Bob has gone back on his word. In the years since former Boomtown Rats frontman Sir Bob Geldof spearheaded Live Aid — the largest, most successful charity concert of all time — he has insisted that footage of the event would never be commercially released, saying the star-studded happening was more powerful in memory than as an artifact. So why has he now allowed Warner Bros. to put out a 10-hour, 4-disc Live Aid DVD boxed set (in stores Nov. 16) with performances by almost all of the 50-plus acts who played those two simultaneous shows in London and Philadelphia on July 13, 1985? Thank the Internet. ”One reason is [websites] keep putting up bootlegs,” says Geldof. ”The only way to stop that is to release the footage. These bootleggers are particularly pernicious to me — they’re literally taking the food out of people’s mouths.” Well, not exactly, since the concerts have never been available through legit channels. Now, however, the official DVD will make sure the money makes it to the right place. ”The profits will be going to Africa,” says Sir Bob. ”Warner will still get a percentage, but far less than normal.” The funds will be distributed by the Band Aid Trust, a charity organization Geldof founded in 1984 that, in conjunction with the Live Aid Foundation, has raised over $140 million to date to combat famine in Africa.
Money aside, Geldof says he realizes that the concerts — which included U2, the Who, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, Madonna, Queen, Led Zeppelin (who, alas, wouldn’t allow their segment to be used on the DVD, although the band is making a donation to Band Aid), and others — were ”a cultural landmark, like Woodstock.” Grander than its nearest antecedent, George Harrison’s 1971 Concert for Bangladesh, Live Aid was a truly historic moment, watched by more than 1.5 billion people. ”It was a phenomenal worldwide event,” says Marcia Thomas, executive director of USA for Africa. ”In terms of calling attention to the problems in Africa, it was like a global bulletin delivered to millions and millions of people.”
The DVD is being released almost exactly 20 years after Geldof watched a heart-wrenching BBC documentary about famine in Ethiopia. That 1984 broadcast changed his life (what, you thought he was knighted for starring in Pink Floyd The Wall?). Geldof soon formed the relief organization Band Aid and coordinated ”Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” the charity single featuring the likes of Sting, Phil Collins, Simon LeBon, and others. The song’s success encouraged Geldof to organize Live Aid, which was shown live on TV for 16 straight hours — and then never seen again.
Live Aid was nothing if not huge. Some 160,000 people attended the concerts, which were available on 98 percent of the world’s TV screens. The music was often great (U2, the Who), sometimes tepid (Adam Ant, Howard Jones), but in the end it served a higher cause. By the end of 1985, the shows had generated $80 million.
Yet 19 years later, it almost seems like a dream. Not only was there never a follow-up concert, there hasn’t been anything remotely approaching it in size or influence. ”I’m surprised [Geldof hasn’t organized another], because it worked so well and raised so much money,” says Darryl ”DMC” McDaniels of Run-DMC, whose group performed at the Philly show. Geldof insists he won’t do a sequel, in part because the proliferation of large-scale, star-heavy concerts like Coachella have made such bills less attention-grabbing than they were two decades ago. ”How big a gig can you put together that’s not the same as people would see at a summer festival?” asks Geldof.