It started simply enough. Boomtown Rats frontman Bob Geldof saw a BBC report about Ethiopia’s famine killing more than 1 million people and threatening millions more. Teaming up with fellow musician Midge Ure, he recruited a cavalcade of stars to record a song that raised millions of British pounds. Impressive, but then the duo took it to a whole other level with a 16-hour megaevent called Live Aid they coordinated in just 10 weeks.

Concerts were never quite the same—and neither was philanthropy.

The superconcert on 13 July 1985 featured more than 70 acts split over two continents and chock-full of rock royalty. Delivering that star power also required some serious technical innovation, resulting in one of the largest-scale satellite linkups of all time.

Acts in Wembley Stadium in London, England alternated with performances at John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. Combined attendance hit 170,000, with TV viewership estimated at around 1.5 billion people—more than 30 percent of the global population at the time.

While the soaring vocals of Queen’s Freddie Mercury arguably stole the show, a galaxy of pop stars from David Bowie to Madonna delivered legendary performances.

US$127 million

Amount Live Aid raised for African famine relief

1.5 billion

Estimated number of people who watched Live Aid on TV

High NotesThe event gave a global stage to generations of jukebox heroes: U2, Elton John, George Michael, Mick Jagger and Tina Turner, to name a few. Each artist had less than 20 minutes on stage, with performances interspersed with short documentaries about the famine and calls to fundraising. Only one musician appeared at both venues. After leaving the stage in London, Phil Collins zoomed across the Atlantic on a Concorde jet to do a set in Philadelphia.

In HarmonyWhether through peer pressure, fear of missing out on a legendary show or outright goodwill, iconic bands came together, with many having to pause their own tours. Geldof was able to reunite bands that hadn’t played together for years, including Led Zeppelin, The Who and Black Sabbath.

ReverbIt was the most complicated live broadcast in history. Using 13 satellites and 22 transponders, the concert aired live in 110 countries, with a taped version eventually shown in an additional 45 countries. The BBC in Britain, and ABC and MTV in the United States simulcast the concert, switching between different stages and networks, with live inserts coming from Japan, Australia, the USSR and other countries.

Pay it ForwardWhat made Live Aid a watershed fundraising moment? Most of the pledges came from small donors, not corporate giants. A U.S. call center, for instance, crashed at one point when 700,000 people phoned to pledge at the same time. Live Aid created a template for a slew of celebrity fundraising events that followed, including A Tribute to Heroes, Farm Aid and Hope for Haiti Now.