On June 12, 1982, I marched with a million protesters through the streets of New York City in the Nuclear Disarmament Rally. I was young, but like a lot of people who showed up that day, rattled by the unavoidable doomsday threat-speech of the Cold War and its harrowing visual, the mushroom cloud. (For a good understanding of this hysteria, see The Day After.)
As survivors of the atom bomb dropped on Nagasaki walked beside us, generously handing out multicolored origami peace necklaces (which I still have today), and a giant chorus of people shrieked, “No Nukes!” what could’ve possibly added to the urgency and hope of a million people calling for a world safe from nuclear annihilation?
A rock show?
The labor movement of the ’20s and ’30s and the civil rights struggles and Vietnam War protests of the ’60s all had music as a uniting force and inspiration. In the early ’80s, we were in new territory. By the late ’70s, rock music had become a big, bloated business. Its wealthy stars were so sequestered that it seemed like popular music no longer had any fight to it. While some disaffected listeners turned to punk rock, most people were fine with music simply serving as background entertainment.
Still, some big music stars, informed by their ’60s fervor, were more than willing to show up for a cause. On that June day the march culminated on Central Park’s Great Lawn with a concert from Bruce Springsteen, Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Brown, and others.
Would the world have ignored a million protesters, the biggest political protest in American history up to that point? Maybe not, but crowd counts of large demonstrations have a way of being downgraded immediately by the press. It’s no question the concert brought more attention to the event, and the issue.
On any given weekend across the country, you’ll find musicians playing for a cause, whether it’s for a fellow player struggling with health bills or for a food bank trying to deliver meals to its community.
Recently, the band Dispatch brought its civic efforts to every stop on its tour, working for local nonprofits, and comping tickets and seats on the tour bus for any fan who’d pitch in with charity work.
Dispatch are groundbreakers for the way they incorporate social action into a tour schedule, but they have been preceded by a tradition of big-scale benefit concerts. Made possible by the draw of music’s biggest stars, these events have raised awareness and billions of dollars for humanitarian causes.
George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh is cosidered the benefit to inspire all the others (although less cited is Monterey Pop, which was really the first charity festival).
Click through to start with the former Beatle’s prototypical Bangladesh concert and end with a recent show for victims of Hurricane Sandy, and enjoy great performances from each of these gigs for good.