Since 1985 Farm Aid has recognised the work of family farmers in the hopes of revitalising the local economies that depend on the industry. Now in its 32nd edition, Willie Nelson, president and founder of Farm Aid has gathered together a lineup of acts that travel and appear on their own dime, and in turn raise millions of dollars local, community farmers. This year saw the likes of Willie Nelson, Jack Johnson, Sheryl Crow, The Avett Brothers, John Mellencamp and Neil Young (in his only 2017 appearance) perform. Lachlan tells us what he witnessed on the ground in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania.
With a little help from your friends
As a guest near the front row remarked to his friends as I walked by, “Everyone is bringing guests out! It usually happens once or twice, but this year it’s almost every act. They should do it like this every year.” “We’ve got too many friends here,” Jack Johnson said as he brought out Sheryl Crow, Jamey Johnson and Nathaniel Rateliff for a cover of Bob Dylan‘s “I Shall Be Released” and The Avett Brothers for set-closer “Better Together”. Sheryl Crow brought out Willie and Lukas Nelson, Jack Johnson and Margo Price for a cover of The Allman Brothers Bands‘ “Midnight Rider” and Willie Nelson concluded the entire last portion of his set with every act from the day on stage providing duelling guitar solos (Jamey Johnson and Lukas Nelson on “Texas Flood”), harmonica solos (Neil Young) and 20-person odd harmonies.
“Farmers are the American heroes today”
Neil Young confidently proclaimed this halfway through his set following a day that was a complete celebration of natural, organic and local produce. Farm Aid’s mission statement is to “raise awareness about the loss of family farms and to raise funds to keep farm families on the land” and they do that primarily through showcasing the delights off-stage.
From the concessions stands that served food that met a strict criteria of all ingredients being sustainably produced by family farmers, produced under ecological practices where the farmers receive fair price for their products to the recycling and garbage bins that had volunteers who could tell you the exact type of plastics in your rubbish and would inform you which type of recycling bin each piece of rubbish belonged in; Farm Aid is a salute to urban and rural on-stage and off-stage.
Local farmers got equal attention and fielded more questions than the rockstars they sat next to at the press conference before the event. Farm Aid’s executive director, Carolyn Mugar noted, “Farmers and growers are demonstrating that caring for the land and harvesting good food creates shared wealth from farm to table.”
Neil Young is still Neil Young
Neil Young has appeared at every Farm Aid since 1985 and his 2017 appearance was Young’s first concert since October last year at his annual Bridge School Benefit Concert, first since cancelling his April Australian and Asia dates, cancelling his commitment to induct Pearl Jam into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and first since announcing that for the first time in 30 years “for personal reasons beginning this year I will no longer be hosting The Bridge School Concert.” This series of cancellations fuelled rumours of illness and declining health and all eyes were on Young as he strolled onto the stage at 9:25pm to see what shape he was in.
Dressed in a trademark plaid shirt and brimmed hat and backed by Lukas Nelson’s outfit The Promise of the Real, Neil exploded through a set that featured 11 minutes of “Cortez The Killer” and other vintage numbers like “Cinnamon Girl”, “Heart of Gold”, “Like A Hurricane” and set-closer “Rockin’ In The Free World.” Neil’s organ sat on the side of the stage with the lyrics for “Mother Earth” on it, but both the track and the organ remained unplayed. For 45 minutes Neil Young roared into the microphone after doing the lengths of the stage and thrusting his guitar from above his shoulders and down to his knees sending the crowd into pure hysteria.
You can watch the live stream of Farm Aid 2017 here.