(Photo courtesy of Ultimate Classic Rock) “Bob Dylan’s surprise performance at Farm Aid wowed fans”.
Bob Dylan made a surprise appearance at the annual Farm Aid concert in Noblesville, Indiana on Sept. 23. The three-song performance was significant for a number of reasons.
For one, it was Dylan’s first appearance at Farm Aid since the inaugural event in 1985, despite the benefit being partially inspired by Dylan. During his appearance at Live Aid in Philadelphia, Dylan remarked that he hoped some of the proceeds of the event (which benefited victims of famine in Ethiopia) could go to struggling American farmers. This inspired Willie Nelson to create Farm Aid.
This was also the first time that Dylan has played the guitar in concert in nearly twenty years. Since the mid-2000s, Dylan has opted to play the piano, despite being best known as a guitarist. Due to tendinitis in both arms, Dylan says it is nearly impossible for him to strum the guitar for a full concert.
For the brief performance at Farm Aid, Dylan was accompanied by three members of the Heartbreakers, best known as Tom Petty’s band. This was the first live performance by the Heartbreakers since Petty’s death in 2017.
The Heartbreakers present in Noblesville with guitarist Mike Campbell, drummer Steve Ferrone and pianist Benmont Tench. While this was the first official Heartbreakers appearance since Petty’s passing, Campbell has worked with both Tench and Ferrone since 2017.
Ferrone has served at times as the drummer for the Dirty Knobs, Campbell’s solo project. In late 2022, Tench and Campbell joined forces for a performance of “American Girl”, the group’s first single, from 1977. The performance, aired on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”, commemorated the release of “Live at the Fillmore – 1997”, a live collection of tracks from a Heartbreakers residence in San Francisco in 1997.
Dylan has also collaborated with Petty and the Heartbreakers in the past. In 1986, Dylan embarked on the True Confessions Tour, with the Heartbreakers as his backing band. Later that year, the group contributed to his “Knocked Out Loaded” album. In 1988, Petty and Dylan were members of the supergroup The Travelling Wilburys, along with George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison.
Dylan’s set at Farm Aid began with “Maggie’s Farm”, one of his early hits. It was his first performance of the track since 2009. Dylan’s voice was gruff and showed his age. At 82 years old, his voice isn’t what it once was, but it was clear that he put his all into the performance.
Despite the aforementioned struggles with tendonitis, Dylan’s guitar playing showed no issue. Campbell’s leads added new flavor to the old hits, showing the audience why the two regularly sold out arenas for 40 years to see him and Petty play together.
Famously shy, Dylan did not address the crowd at all during his performance, although he appeared to be enjoying himself on stage. During the transition between “Maggie’s Farm” and “Positively 4th Street”, Dylan and Campbell were seen smirking at each other while playing the outro of the former track, as if sharing a secret from their nearly 40-year friendship.
The set closed with an electrifying rendition of “Ballad of a Thin Man”, and then Dylan and the Heartbreakers were gone into the night.
While Dylan’s performance may have been brief, those in attendance at Farm Aid could go home knowing they had witnessed a special event, potentially the last time Bob Dylan will ever pick up a guitar in public.