The Farm Aid concert on September 16 was one of the best Farm Aid concerts performed in the 32 years that it has been in existence. It was a perfect blend of young talent and musical legends. All performers were at the top of there game. As one milled through the sold out crowd, there were resounding remarks made by the fans that this was the best show they had ever seen. The benefit for family farmers sold out the same day ticket sales opened and the fans called it right.
The 12 hour festival started at 11 a.m. with a press conference at the KeyBank Pavilion stage with board president, Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, Dave Matthews, Carol Mugar, many of the performers of the day, and local farmers. It was an hour of discussion and films depicting the present day challenges that are faced by the family farmer. Here's a follow up link with some of the highlights of this meeting.
The day’s activities seemed to be filled with friends sitting in with friends. Jack Johnson and Sheryl Crow took the prize for having the most friends drop in on their sets. Margo Price may get the prize for dropping in on the most sets. Actually, Willie Nelson had the most friends during his finale. The show immediately started after the press conference. Willie Nelson and the Blackwood Quartet opened the festivities with “I’ve Been Working on the Building.”
Micah Nelson’s band, Insects Vs. Robots, quickly followed with their rousing short set of alternative tunes. Americana artist, Valerie June and her band delivered an energetic set of tunes from her new album, The Order of Time. The multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, and songwriter participated in one of the interviews on the Farmyard Stage later in the day.
Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real followed up and they had the first guest during their set. Margo Price stopped by to sing background for Nelson. Lukas played “Forget about Georgia,” from his new self-titled album release. Nelson is vying for the next guitar god spot in the musical universe. A close follow up would be Charlie Starr from the next act on the bill, Blackberry Smoke. Both sets were far too short to whet the appetites of the guitar enthusiasts of the crowd.
Jamey Johnson followed with his 11th appearance at Farm Aid. This was a set of cover songs only. Johnson is one of the most underappreciated singers in country music. He proved that he is one of the best interpreters of other writers’ songs alive. His interpretation of Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” was nothing less than hair raising. That garnered his first standing ovation of the set. He performed two Don Williams’ songs as a tribute to his recent passing. Another favorite song was his rendition of Lowell George’s “Willin.”
Both Margo Price and Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats are returnees from last year’s Farm Aid. They gave memorable sets and outperformed last year's sets. By the time Rateliff pulled out his hit “S.O.B.” there was no one left in their seats. It was like a gospel break for all to sing along.
The Avett Brothers fed off of the momentum left by the Night Sweats and kept the fire going. When things seemed like they were going to slow down with Jack Johnson taking the stage, Jack pulled off a game changer. He started the show with “Willie Got Me Stoned and Stole All My Money.” He then invited Sheryl Crow to join him on stage, followed by Nathanial Rateliff and Jamey Johnson with their rendition of “I Shall Be Released.”
Sheryl Crow gave an energetic set. She was giving Willie’s harmonica player, Mickey Raphael, competition as she played harmonica during her set. Her guest list included the Avett Brothers, Margo Price, Jamey Johnson, Jack Johnson, Lukas Nelson, and Willie Nelson for a tribute to Greg Allman with a performance of “Midnight Rider.” This was by far one of her best performances.
If there was anyone sitting down, Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds made it their mission to change that. The roar of the crowd could be heard for mile around when the two performed “Crush,” “Don’t Drink the Water,” and “Warehouse.”
John Mellencamp and his band gave another stellar performance for Farm Aid. He performed “Jack and Diane” early in the set as he said, “I’m doing it because I know you want me to.” He stopped in the middle of the song because the crowd started singing the bridge too soon. He started over and that pleased the fans even more. Mellencamp performed a string of his hits during the set.
Another highlight of the night was Neil Young and Promise of the Real’s blustering set. Neil was in rare form. One ever knows what to expect from Neil. This year was a crowd pleaser. Neil did a set of his “hits.” Eleven minutes of “Cortez, the Killer” with his battered “old black” electric guitar never sounded better as Neil gave it his energetic passion. The set opened with “Fu*kin’ Up” and classics “Cinnamon Girl,” “ Heart of Gold,” “Comes a Time,” and “Like a Hurricane.” “Rockin’ In the Free-World” marked the end of the best set of the day. If only one reason is needed to return to Farm Aid, it would be Neil Young.
The final set of the day was Willie Nelson and Family. It was a set of Willie’s classic songs delivered fast and concise. Within 30-minutes of the set, the family started expanding to include Margo Price, Jamey Johnson, Valerie June, the Avett Brothers, Sheryl Crow, and Jack Johnson. The festival began and ended with Willie Nelson.