Sunday marked the 29th anniversary of the Live Aid concert in Philadelphia. So I called WMMR DJ Pierre Robert, who worked the show at JFK Stadium, to find out what his favorite moments are and whether we’ll get a 30th Anniversary concert in Philadelphia next year.
How did you originally get involved with Live Aid?
I was involved right from the beginning. I announced it going on sale and immediately took the mic out to capture people buying tickets. Fifty or 60 percent — or maybe it was even 75 percent — of the tickets were available to people here, and there was also a way for people out of town to get them. This was before computerland. But the Mann had them on sale, and I covered the people there buying tickets.
You were really excited about this from day one. This wasn’t just about it being your job.
To me, it was gigantic. I had interviewed Bob Geldof, and I played the Band Aid songs, and then I interviewed him again, and he said that the natural conclusion was a concert linking two stadiums. There was the stadium in London, and then the stadium in New York wasn’t big enough. JFK Stadium, god awful though it was, was a facility that held 90,000 people.
It was technically WYSP’s show, though. They technically had the rights to it. But I somehow scammed myself an all-access pass after volunteering 3 or 4 days to cover the grass at JFK with tarp. And so I could get in backstage, get artists and bring them to our trailer, even though we weren’t official. I walked right up to Neil Young and Jack Nicholson and said, “Can I talk to you?”
You must have so many memories of the behind-the-scenes stuff that happened that day. Anything in particular that stands out?
Yes. Bill Graham had read an article in the paper about some kid that had driven up from Florida and was camping out at FDR park with his goal being to play a song. Well, the show started promptly at 9 a.m. and ended promptly at 11 p.m. It was amazing to me how on-schedule it was. But Bill read that article and fuck if he didn’t go out and get this kid and let him play one song five minutes before Joan Baez came out and opened the concert. And then the Hooters came out, and it was off and running.
Everybody talks about the Led Zeppelin reunion that happened at Live Aid, that it was the best thing ever. But if you watch it today, it seems like it was a complete shambles. What was your take?
Yeah, they wouldn’t allow that video to be released. But nobody cared. Led Zeppelin hadn’t played in years. It was monumental. The last song was “Stairway to Heaven,” and when it was over, the crowd would not stop roaring. They just wouldn’t stop. But no one was allowed an encore. “What the fuck do we do?” they were asking backstage. Well, Neil Young had played earlier in the day, and Crosby, Stills and Nash had played, so they sent them all out for a CSNY reunion. They played an acoustic song to quiet the crowd down.
Next year, it will be 30 years. Have you heard any whispers about a possible 30th anniversary Live Aid? Can we start that rumor?
I have not heard anything. But there are certainly enough causes. AIDS and poverty are still with us. Twenty years later, we did Live 8. And five years after that, Al Gore did Live Earth at Giants Stadium. So who knows? The vibe in Philly that day was incredible. It was phenomenal. But one day later, that energy had flown away.
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[Live Aid photo: Squell via Wikipedia Creative Commons]