I’ve been a huge Willie Nelson fan for a long time. His wispy, behind-the-beat voice and impressive song-writing abilities has always been a favorite of mine.
When, several years ago, I learned of his Farm Aid concerts I thought that sounds like a fun…a combination of good music and agriculture. I thought if I can ever make one, I should.
I know Farm Aid is a controversial topic (we’ll get more into that later…) Partly, for that reason, I thought I should attend this year’s event, on Aug. 13 at the LiveStrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan.
Does Farm Aid really promote agriculture and family farmers? We all know that agriculture is a broad topic and “family farmer” can be defined in many different ways.
And, I’d say the definition Farm Aid uses for farmers is probably different from yours and mine, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong. So, keep reading if you’d like to hear my first-hand view of Farm Aid 2011. I tried to capture the details of the day and provide some opinions on its mission. (Feel free to e-mail me your opinions at firstname.lastname@example.org
Willie Makes History
For me, the day started out with an official press conference for the event. In truth, I have been to very few press conferences and this was definitely the first one that featured real-life celebrities.
The crowd, which was comprised of media, friends of Farm Aid, volunteers and others, erupted as the four famous board members took the stage. These board members, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young and Dave Matthews, have been part of Farm Aid for many years and serve as the main acts of the concert.
Additionally on stage, were some local farmers, politicians, a National Farmers Union representative and an affiliate from the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame.
During the press conference, Nelson became the 39th person to be inducted into the Agricultural Hall of Fame. He joins the likes of George Washington Carver, John Deere, Norman Borlaug and Thomas Jefferson.
Farm broadcaster Ken Root presented the award. “Few people have done more than Willie Nelson to help family farmers.”
Nelson humbly accepted the award, saying: I gladly accept this as long as I can share it with all of you.
More Than Music
As concert attendees begin to gather for the event, they walked through Farm Aid’s Homegrown Village. This area was filled with booths, food stands, information centers, hands-on activities and more.
The normal cotton candy, peanut and lemonade salesmen were mingling the crowd. But, as part of the homegrown, local-food aspect, attendees could also purchase BBQ pork, corn on the cob, organic or veggie corn dogs and apples.
Signs surrounding booths and t-shirts on volunteers all promoted direct messages about food and farming. Here are a few examples:
- Resurrect the Potluck
- Farmers Feed Families
- Eat Your Zip Code
- Farm Power: In Dirt We Trust
- Stop Factory Farms
- If you eat, you’re involved in agriculture
Here's a quick video overviewing the day:
Artists Speak Up About Farming
The 16 artists and bands that performed at this year’s concert all appeared for free. Considering many of these well-known performers could have raked in thousands of dollars or more to be somewhere else, it’s impressive to see them take part in Farm Aid.
Here are a handful of the comments artists made during the day:
Neil Young: “Farm Aid wants to be around for a long time, but we need new blood. We need to encourage young people to be farmers. We need to keep our food clean and pure and grow it together.”
Dave Matthews: “If we can make our own food, we can save the planet.”
Lukas Nelson: “One day, Farm Aid is just going to be a celebration because all the farmers will be doing alright. Support the family farmer, please.”
Jason Mraz: “In my opinion, Farm Aid is Thanksgiving, the concert. If you leave with anything today, it is that you should start growing [food] or you should start buying it from someone who does.”
The Pros and Cons of Farm Aid
To me, the overriding themes of Farm Aid are to eat local, buy organic, grow your own food, stop consolidation in agriculture and support the family farmer. I definitely don’t agree with all of their missions. I understand why and how modern agriculture feeds the world.
The average soybean-producing farmer in the Midwest has very different needs from an organic tomato farmer in the East. I feel that Farm Aid is out to help and support smaller, organic farmers. But, I can’t say that’s a bad mission, as I know if I was depending on my tomato crop this year, I’d be in a world of hurt.
Around 16,000 tickets were purchased for the 2011 event. That’s 16,000 people who love agriculture, are part of it or at least are interested enough to pay for a ticket. I thought it was fun to be a part of an overall young, clean-cut crowd who cheered every time the word “farming” was said through a microphone.
I heard advertisements about the show on both country and alternative radio stations. One thing I think Farm Aid does really well is appeal to the mass consumer. In addition to drawing thousands of people into Kansas City for the event, they also broadcast the concert live on www.FarmAid.org
and on Sirius XM Radio.
Again, these are just my meager opinions of Farm Aid, after spending the day there as a reporter. I know many people have very extreme views on the topic. I’d love to hear what you think. E-mail me at email@example.com
My Amateur Music Reviews
And now, for the fun part. I wasn’t able to watch all of the concert’s artists. So, here are my two cents on a few of them…
Ray Price: I’ve read the Willie Nelson says Ray Price has one of the best voices in music. Period. At 85, his voice is crisp and clear. His finale was “For the Good Times,” and it really made you want to slowly two-step around the arena.
Bill Joe Shaver: This gentleman is a classic Texas country singer. His growly voice, denim-on-denim wardrobe and dancing across the stage shows he still knows how to rock, country-style.
Will Daily & The Rivals: This up-and-coming band has a cool, rocking, folksy sound. They have a great energy on stage and are really fun to watch, even if you’re not familiar with their music. To promote Farm Aid’s message, Will Daily and his band performed at clubs and farms along the way to and from his performance at Farm Aid 2011.
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real: The leader of the band, Lukas Nelson, is in fact son of Willie Nelson. For the last few years, this band has been performing across the country in their southern-rock style. Lukas has an amazing ability to sound just like his father on some songs then nothing like him on others.
Jamey Johnson: The deep voice of Jamey Johnson is unmistakable. His take on music is a combination of the soulful sounds of gospel music with southern rock and classic country. I like his no-frills style.
Jason Mraz: Only accompanied by one other musician, Jason Mraz brought a light and contemporary feel to Farm Aid’s line-up. Well-known for songs like “Remedy” and “I’m Yours,” he also sang the theme song to Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. Then, he asked the crowd to high-five their neighbors – quite an interactive set.
Dave Matthews: This guy, and fellow artist Tim Reynolds, can play a mean guitar. Dave Matthews electrified the stage with his big hits. Then Reynolds unleashed a 10-minute guitar solo that even awed Matthews.
John Mellencamp: In his opener, John Mellencamp encouraged the crowd not to fight authority then transitioned into some newer music. The crowd patiently waited, then erupted for, “Small Town.” Mellencamp is simply classic.
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