The Concert for Bangladesh was one of the most successful and influential benefit concerts of all time, known for its overwhelming success in creating awareness and raising funds to aid the Known its success both in creating awareness about and raising money to help aid the Bangladeshi refugee crisis in the early 1970’s. The event was a watershed moment in the music world, essentially creating rock n’ roll super jam in the process.
During The Beates‘ later years, George Harrison was heavily influenced by Indian music and culture, and served as the driving force for incorporating the Eastern sound into the band’s music. He was very close with sitar legend Ravi Shankar, who one day came to Harrison with a plea to help spread awareness for the ongoing refugee crisis going on in his home of Bangladesh. While Harrison was famously afflicted with stage fright at the time, he agreed to help his friend’s homeland in any way he could, immediately getting to work contacting a who’s-who of popular musicians to put on a once-in-a-lifetime benefit to help the cause. Harrison decided to put show on at Madison Square Garden, and the lineup was quickly put together to fill out the bill for an August 1st performance. The show quickly sold out upon announcement, leading to the addition of an afternoon performance (which also sold out in a matter of hours).
The shows were advertised as “George Harrison & Friends,” with no other clues as to who might be performing. This created a huge buzz in New York City leading up to the concerts. While the most elusive member of The Beatles returning to the live stage for the first time in six years was a huge deal (especially given The Beatles’ breakup only just a year prior), no one in the audience was prepared for the show that Harrison had organized. The band, which featured Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Billy Preston, Leon Russell, Badfinger, was a complete surprise to the stunned Garden audience.
Following an opening set of traditional Indian classical music by Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan, the band walked on the stage to raucous applause, and they returned the energy in kind with a magnificent performance. The show included songs from Harrison’s burgeoning solo career, full band takeovers by Billy Preston and Leon Russell, and live performances of Harrison’s Beatles-era classics “Something”, “Here Comes The Sun” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”–for the first time ever—with the latter containing a famous guitar dual between Harrison and a then-drug-addled Clapton. Perhaps the emotional highlight of the show, Bob Dylan’s mini-set brought the house down, as the famous folk songwriter hadn’t played a show in two years before (reluctantly) taking the MSG stage.
The benefit concert was a wild success. The concerts themselves raised $250,000 to aid Bangladesh, but the popular live album, concert film and soundtrack have raised over $17 million to date to help UNICEF deliver aid to refugees world wide.
See below for setlists from both concerts on August 1, 1971, and also see below for a full video from the concert film “The Concert For Bangladesh”, courtesy of Vimeo user Retazovvorks.
[Photo by Chicago Now]