Political turmoil caused by East Pakistan struggling to break away (from West Pakistan) to become the separate state of Bangla Desh led to refugee problems, as large amounts of people took to the roads to try and escape the violence. This problem was compounded by torrential rains causing devastating floods and threatening a humanitarian disaster.
Ravi Shankar (born in Bangla Desh) was distressed by the situation and consulted his friend George Harrison regarding a means of providing help. George recorded the single "Bangla Desh" to help raise awareness and also had Apple Records release Ravi's single "Joi Bangla" in a dual-pronged effort to raise funds.
Ravi also asked George's advice regarding a small fund-raising concert in the USA. Instead, George took over and persuaded his other friends to join him at a large concert at Madison Square Garden in New York - the whole thing was organised within 5 weeks. George asked his fellow Beatles to appear. John Lennon was going to play but left New York two days beforehand in a fit of pique (and nerves) when George insisted Yoko Ono would not be able to join them onstage. Paul McCartney declined because of the bad feelings caused by The Beatles' legal problems on their break-up. Ringo Starr readily agreed to appear.
Ravi Shankar opened the concert with a 25-minute recital of Indian music. Eric Clapton made his first appearance since the end of the 5-month Derek and the Dominos tour the previous December, still in the grip of his heroin habit. He had to have heroin available before going onstage - apparently, it had been cut with talcum powder and he collapsed; a doctor gave him methadone linctus to revive him and get him through the performance. Musical help was also on hand from Billy Preston[?], Leon Russell[?], Klaus Voormann and Badfinger (along with Jim Horn, Carl Radle, Jesse Ed Davis, Don Preston and a host of backing singers).
Bob Dylan made his first stage appearance since the Isle Of Wight Festival[?] in August 1969. Apart from sitting in for a few numbers with The Band on New Year 1972, he did not play live again till January 1974.
The event was recorded for an album and released as a triple-LP box set (later a 2-CD set), produced by George Harrison and Phil Spector. This record was Dylan's first 'official' live release. The concert was also filmed (although Harrison later complained that half the cameramen appeared to have been indulging in 'illegal substances', which left the focus of some shots rather 'soft') There was a theatrical release for the film and it was later issued on video.
The 2-CD set was re-released in 2001 and George Harrison had been working on an expanded 'de-luxe' edition prior to his death but there has been no news of any release date so far (as of Feb. 2003).