30 Years Ago Today: A ‘Conspiracy of Hope’ Came to NJ

 

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The Hooters perform at the Amnesty International “Conspiracy of Hope” concert at Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ, on June 15, 1986 (Brian Kelley)

Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J., June 15, 1986…the Amnesty International “Conspiracy of Hope” tour came into town for its final stop…an 11-hour mega-concert to bring awareness to human rights issues around the world that was broadcast live on MTV. I was 14 — just shy of a month away from my birthday — and I was on the field with my 18-year-old sister (see the photo at right for our point of view that day).

It was an amazing day filled with so many musical highlights (see the lineup below), and it gave me my one opportunity to see Miles Davis–Miles Freakin’ Davis–perform live. Another jazz great, guitarist Stanley Jordan, also was on the bill. Muhammad Ali and actors Christopher Reeve and Michael J. Fox made brief remarks while introducing musical artists to the stage.

Other legends who performed that day included Fela Kuti, Peter Paul & Mary, Lou Reed, Joan Baez, Carlos Santana, Ruben Blades and Joan Armatrading. And while I admit my 14-year-old self didn’t appreciate it at the time, I have retroactively realized over the years the emotional impact of hearing Yoko Ono–a tireless crusader for world peace–sing her late husband’s “Imagine.”

My sister and I, who gravitated toward the Philly/NJ music scene were excited to see a young John Eddie open the show–and then serve as a roadie for a good chunk of the rest of the day–and The Hooters, who surprised those unfamiliar with their live set in those days with an amazing cover of The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” with then-bass player Andy King taking a rare turn on lead vocals.

The day also marked my first time seeing synthesizer legend Howard Jones perform live, although he only played “No One is to Blame” on piano.

As for the headliners, most in the audience were probably there for closers U2 and The Police, who reunited after a long hiatus to perform three shows during the short tour. In fact, the Giants Stadium show was the last time The Police performed together until their appearance on the 2007 Grammy telecast and a subsequent reunion tour in 2007-08.

Pete Townshend of The Who was supposed to be one of the headliners, but his father became gravely ill so he traveled back to England earlier in the day to be by his side. Apparently, that was going to be Townshend’s first U.S. solo performance.

Replacing Townshend at the last minute was Joni Mitchell. What’s odd is that, even though this was long before social media, I remember knowing that she was replacing Townshend on the bill before we entered the stadium. I can only assume we heard it on the radio as we were driving to the Meadowlands. But while my sister and I knew what was going on, a lot of other folks in attendance didn’t. And when people expecting to see the jumping, wind-milling guitar playing of a rocker like Townshend were instead presented with the mellow, folksy Mitchell…let’s just say, it did not go well. And that is a shame because, let’s face it…she is Joni Freakin’ Mitchell.

Anyway, if you watch her performance in the video below, note the exploding ice cube that hits her guitar at the :53 mark…

…now look again at the photo at the top of this post…one of the heads you see directly in front of us contains the pea-sized brain of the jerk who threw that ice cube. He was one of those who clearly had not heard about Townshend having to leave, and was rather pissed he wasn’t seeing him. So less than a minute into Mitchell’s set, he took an ice cube out of a cooler and chucked it at the stage. As you can see, we weren’t all that close to the stage and the thrower didn’t even expect to hit Mitchell. After he threw it, he turned away from the stage to say something to a friend when everyone around us reacted to the ice cube exploding against Mitchell’s guitar. I remember him saying, “Holy shit, it hit her?!” And, at that point, he seemed to be ashamed–at least for the moment–that he had done it. However, I should also point out that earlier in the day, when Yoko Ono started singing “Imagine,” he did the same thing and yelled “Imagine you can sing!” as he loaded up to throw the ice cube. Again…I’ll confess…my 14-year-old self thought that line was kind of funny. Fortunately, that time, the ice cube missed its intended target.

But onto the biggest highlight of the day…for me, anyway. At this point in my life, I was a fan of Genesis, but really only as far back as “Follow You Follow Me.” I may have been just starting to dip my toes into the earlier Genesis material. I was only slightly aware of Peter Gabriel’s solo work to that point, as well, but I remember entering the stadium that day really looking forward to seeing his set. I knew “Shock the Monkey,” and “Sledgehammer” was just starting to become a big radio and MTV hit (his album, So, was released just a few weeks earlier).

Well, my expectations of Gabriel’s performance were exceeded…and then some. By the midpoint of his set, I had been converted to a huge Peter Gabriel fan…and by the time he closed his set with a powerful performance of the human rights anthem “Biko,” my life had been changed. My view of the world and how people should be treated came into focus, and I now understood the very real, transformative power of music. The experience of being in that crowd for that performance of “Biko” is something I will carry with me for the rest of my life, which is why I’m glad YouTube is around so I can revisit it in a visual sense every so often…

“The rest is up to you.” To this day…it gives me chills watching that. If you have the time, here is PG’s full set…

U2 took the stage a bit later and was also pretty special. To me, this was Bono and Co. at their peak. Here is their full set…

The Police closed out the concert and then everyone returned to the stage to perform “I Shall Be Released”…

Here are some highlights of the day I’ve compiled into a YouTube playlist:

Amnesty International “Conspiracy of Hope” – Giants Stadium
East Rutherford, NJ | June 15, 1986

List of performers (via Wikipedia)

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