Bob Dylan stunned the Farm Aid crowd outside Indianapolis last night (Sept. 23) with a surprise three-song set backed by members of the Heartbreakers, marking the first time he’d played guitar and not keyboard in live performance since 2012.
Dylan, 82, began the set with his first “Maggie’s Farm” since he performed it at the 2011 Grammys, and followed it up with another song from 1965, “Positively 4th Street.” That single, which was released between Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde, hadn’t been played since 2013. The closing song was “Ballad of a Thin Man,” from Highway 61 Revisited, which was aired for the first time since late 2019.
Dylan toured frequently with Petty and the Heartbreakers in 1986 and 1987, but the musicians shared a bill only twice afterwards, in August 2003 in Holmdel, N.J. Dylan also teamed with Petty, Roy Orbison, George Harrison, and Jeff Lynne in the Traveling Wilburys, capping a fruitful late ’80s run which included the surprise 1988 hit “Handle With Care.”
The Heartbreakers, who backed Tom Petty for more than 40 years until his death in 2017, were represented at Farm aid by guitarist Mike Campbell, keyboardist Benmont Tench, drummer Steve Ferrone, and were augmented by Campbell’s Dirty Knobs bandmates Chris Holt on guitar and Lance Morrison on bass.
Tonight’s appearance marked Dylan’s first at Farm Aid since its debut 1985 incarnation in Champaign, Ill. The evening also featured performances from Farm Aid co-founders Neil Young, Willie Nelson, and John Mellencamp, as well as Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds, Bob Weir and Wolf Bros., Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, Margo Price, and String Cheese Incident, among others.
Per its website, Farm Aid “works with local, regional and national organizations to promote fair farm policies and grassroots organizing campaigns designed to defend and bolster family farm-centered agriculture.”