If you're old enough to remember 1985, you'll recall it was the year of causes in the music world. This was the year that everyone around the world had their attention turned to famine in Africa, and artists and musicians from across all brands and genres of music were doing their part to raise money to assist the millions of people affected by the famine. July 13, 1985 saw musicians from around the world gather at Wembley Stadium in London, England and at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for an historical occasion. Live Aid earned its place in music history and lore, and is remembered fondly today as a smashing success which benefited its cause.
However, in 1985, there was another movement taking place in the music world. One that was much more local. One of the great singer/songwriter/artists/philanthropists of our time Willie Nelson, recognized that there was a growing problem in the United States in the mid-80's. It's an issue that still exists to this day, and that is the plight of the family farm. Family farmers in the mid-80's were in real jeopardy, experiencing the worst financial conditions for doing business since the Great Depression of the 1930's. The family farm was becoming extinct, with big business scooping up the land to build either factory farms or to satisfy runaway urban sprawl. With the help of fellow artists John Mellancamp and Neil Young, Willie Nelson put the wheels in motion to organize and hold the very first Farm Aid, which was held on September 22, 1985 in Champaign, Illinois ... right in the middle of the American Heartland.
Joining Willie, Neil and John that day represented an amazing cross-section of American music. From country and pre-Americana artists such as Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Arlo Guthrie, Johnny Cash and country super group Alabama, to rock acts and legends such as B. B. King, Don Henley, Sammy Hagar and Van Halen. This first concert raised $9 million, which was donated to farmers organizations across the United States. Since that time, the Farm Aid organization has raised more than $37 million to help sustain the family farming system of agriculture. The great legends of music that have performed on the Farm Aid stage over the years is impressive. Artists such as Billy Joel, Elton John, Bob Dylan, Alan Jackson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Emmylou Harris, George Jones and so many others have donated their time to perform at Farm Aid to encourage others to provide a monetary donation to help sustain the family farming system.
In 2001, Dave Matthews joined Farm Aid's Board of Directors, sitting with long-time members Willie Nelson, John Mellancamp and Neil Young. I recall the words Willie has said many times over the years when it comes to these concerts and the Farm Aid organization as a whole. Willie has said he doesn't like the fact that they have to do these shows. He's felt in the past that the government has let down the family farmer in favor of big business. Willie has also said that he and his compatriots will continue to hold the Farm Aid shows and carry on the organization as long as their is a need for someone to stand up for the family farm.
It may sound fluffy to say it here, but the world really is a better place for having Willie Nelson in it. A man of the people, he has never let his celebrity go to his head. He is not ashamed to stand up for those that are not always in the best position to have their voices heard. There is no doubt in my mind that the weight to bear by the family farmer in the United States is that much lighter because of the work that Willie Nelson, along with John Mellancamp, Neil Young and Dave Matthews, have done. 25 years is a long time to be dedicated to any one cause. It is a rare and very special accomplishment when you reach that milestone. Congratulations to Farm Aid. It's a shame that it still needs to exist. But when organizations like Farm Aid exist, the silver lining comes from seeing the results from hard work and kindness. It gives a chance for the good side of humanity to take center stage for a change, to effect change.
This years Farm Aid had another great cross-section of music. Mainstays like Willie, John, Neil and Dave performed, along with great Americana artists the Band of Horses, the Bodeans and Amos Lee. Longtime Willie Nelson friends Norah Jones and Kenny Chesney lent their star power to the show as well.
To learn more about Farm Aid, its history, its purpose and to make a donation (if you wish), please check out their fantastic web site, www.farmaid.org
If you wish to see live performances from Farm Aid this year, as well as years' past, check out their youtube site, which is www.youtube.com/farmaid
And hey, if you get the chance, swing by your local farmers market and pick up some of your weekly produce and/or meats if you can. You'll be glad you did, and you'll be supporting the very people this concert is designed to benefit.