Bob Dylan was onstage at Live Aid in July 1985 when a thought popped into his head. “It occurred to me at that moment that a lot of money was being raised for people to be self-sufficient,” he told rock journalist David Fricke a few months later. “And it came to me that people in this country need to be self-sufficient. I thought it was relevant.”

So he muttered an off-hand question: “Wouldn’t it be great if we did something for our own farmers right here in America?” He’d been receiving letters from some folks asking for his help, as the farm crisis of the mid-1980s—propelled by drought, falling global food prices, and rising borrowing costs—was laying waste to many family farms.

Live Aid organizer Bob Geldoff thought the comment was “crass and nationalistic,” but Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp saw an opportunity to help save many rural Midwesterners from foreclosure. They put together the concert in just six weeks, and the star-studded event—which included Bob Dylan as well as Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Huey Lewis—was put up in front of 78,000 people in Champaign, Illinois.

They raised $9 million for the cause, and helped push Congress to enact the Agricultural Credit Act of 1987, which provided $4 billion in assistance for the affected farmers.

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