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Farm Aid 16 Wraps Up

"Kick-ass music and a kick-ass cause" was how actor and emcee Matthew McConaughey described Farm Aid 2002, as the nine-hour concert kicked off Saturday (September 21) at the Post-Gazette Pavilion in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania. And the 16th show in the series lived up to his billing, with Farm Aid board members Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young , and recent recruit Dave Matthews joined by the eclectic likes of Kid Rock, Toby Keith, Keith Urban, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Gillian Welch, Lee Ann Womack, and others.
The cause remained the same as it did in 1985--when a few words from Bob Dylan at Live Aid inspired Nelson to form Farm Aid--and if anything, the principals' devotion has become even more urgent in their fight to preserve and protect family farms in North America against corporate-controlled factory farms.
Criticizing the government for inequitable farm bills that help corporate interests at the expense of family farmers--"Now we know it's just us against them again," Nelson noted during a pre-show press conference. "There's no disillusions we have any help on the other (government) side"--the performers urged the Farm Aid audience both at the event and watching on Country Music Television (CMT) to buy independently and organically produced foods and said that only they could make a difference in the struggle. "We can have all the concerts we want," Mellencamp said, "but if individuals don't act...Each one of us have got to behave better."
Matthews, meanwhile, championed organic food producers by noting, "If you want things that are good you have to go to people who love making them." He also noted that government subsidies are "going into the hands of people who couldn't give a crap about the environment. They're getting money hand over fist to feed us crap."
Other performers, particularly those new to the event, spoke in more measured tones. Kid Rock, for instance, explained that "I'm here to learn a little more about this, observe some of the greatest cats to make music ever and rock the mother------- house," which prompted one union president to declare that "(Rock) sounds like a steelworker!"
Farm Aid expects to have donation figures from the telethon later this week. The organization also announced that a DVD and VHS of the 2001 Farm Aid--featuring Nelson, Mellencamp, Young & Crazy Horse, Matthews, the Doobie Brothers, Martina McBride, and Arlo Guthrie--will be on sale in the fall, though a release date has not yet been determined.
Facts and figures were presented throughout the day, particularly during the CMT telecast. But for the 25,000 at the Post-Gazette Pavilion, the music was the central focus of the day, with a broad array of offerings--though the overwhelming favorites of the crowd came from the rock side of the fence, despite the accepted connections between farmers and country music. Some artists--such as Drive By Truckers and the Texas trio Los Lonely Boys--straddled the stylistic fence, but the audience gave hearty, appreciative responses to everyone who played.
"They said the Farm Aid crowd might be too mellow for Kid Rock," Rock said during his five-song set. "I hardly think that's the case." Indeed, Rock and his Twisted Brown Trucker band was the first act of the day to bring the entire crowd to its feet as it cranked into Bob Seger's "Fire Down Below." "American Bad Ass" followed, while "Cowboy" featured snippets of the Allman Brothers Band's "Midnight Rider" and "Good Ol' Boys," the late Waylon Jennings' theme song from The Dukes Of Hazzard TV show. Rock then performed "Picture" with country singer Allison Moorer, who recently recorded a new duet part for a single version of the song ( Sheryl Crow provides the female vocal on Rock's Cocky album). He finished his set with "Bawitdaba," leading a chant of "Farm Aid, baby!" before the song crashed to an end.
Dave Matthews offered a rare solo acoustic set, whose eight-song lineup included very early material such as "Dancing Nancies," as well as songs from his latest album, Busted Stuff, such as "Grace Is Gone," "Where Are You Going," and "Bartender." "Too Much," "Crush," and his rendition of Bob Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower" popped up in the set, along with the as-yet unrecorded "Gravedigger." Throughout his 35 minutes on stage, Matthews beat the organic farming drum, chanting "Good food!" at one point and telling the fans, "We need to save the family farmer, 'cause it's what we want. Let's eat good." He also changed part of the lyrics to "Watchtower" to "no factory farmer rules my life."
John Mellencamp and his band delivered a charged seven-song, 35-minute set that had McConaughey dancing and playing his stomach like drums. Opening with "Rain On The Scarecrow," his ode to the plight of family farmers, Mellencamp offered "Peaceful World" and powerful, re-worked arrangements of "Paper In Fire" and "Crumblin' Down." A stripped-down version of "Small Town" was followed by a tight rendition of Robert Johnson's "Stones In My Passway," and Mellencamp finished by bringing a somewhat timid Gillian Welch on stage for "Pink Houses."
Dressed in a red T-shirt bearing the legend "Stop Factory Farms," Neil Young was the most talkative of the day's performers, peppering his seven-song, 30-minute set with mini-speeches about the real purpose of Farm Aid. "Attention shoppers!" he intoned twice, "Buy with a conscience and save the family farm!" Young also noted that Farm Aid is "fighting to save a traditional way of life," and urged the audience to avoid chain supermarkets--singling out the Safeway organization--and instead patronize organic food stores and independent grocers. "We've been here a long time. We're not going anywhere," he said. "We don't need the government--they suck. They haven't done a damn thing for us in 15 years."
Musically, Young alternated between guitar, piano and pump organ, dishing up an accessible set of mostly well-known hits such as "Old Man," "Heart Of Gold," "Harvest Moon" (acknowledging the phase of the real moon on Saturday), and a mournful "After The Goldrush." Willie Nelson's harmonica player, Mickey Raphael, joined Young for much of his set, but the musical highlights came at the end, when Nelson and dancers from the Native American Otoe-Missouria tribe--which inducted Young as an honorary brother Saturday --came onstage for lively versions of "Comes A Time" and "Sugar Mountain," both of which featured Young joining the dancers and some intriguing guitar solos by Nelson.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd was joined by Stevie Ray Vaughan's Double Trouble rhythm section (bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer Chris Layton) for a lively four-song set that had a Vaughan-esque flavor with "Texas Flood" and Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)." Shepherd and company also performed his radio hit, "Blue On Black."
While rock acts dominated Farm Aid's prime-time hours, there was still plenty of country to go around. Lee Ann Womack--who had a show in Maryland on Saturday night--kicked things off at 2:30 p.m. with a seven-song set that included "I Hope You Dance," Buddy & Julie Miller's "Does My Ring Burn Your Finger?," Julie Miller's "I Need You," and Rodney Crowell's "Ashes By Now." Womack also invited Nelson onstage for "Mendocino County Line," their duet from Nelson's upcoming album of the same name. The album received another push during Toby Keith's set, when he and Nelson sang "Whiskey For My Men And Beer For My Horses."
Keith--who performed his own show at the Post-Gazette Pavilion on Friday (September 20)--played a loose four-song set with just two accompanists and Nelson on three of the four selections, including his hit "Brought To You Courtesy Of The Red, White & Blue (The Angry American)" and a humorous, improvised ditty whose refrain declared "I'll never smoke weed with Willie again." Keith also played another American-centric song about attacking and doing away with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Anthony Smith and Gillian Welch both performed short sets, while Keith Urban was the first act during the televised portion of the show, charging through "Who Wouldn't Want To Be Me," "Where The Black Top Ends," "Song For Dad," and "Somebody Like You."
Nelson ended Farm Aid on a country note, mixing elements of blues, jazz, swing, and even polka into a set that included favorites such as "Whiskey River," "'Blue Skies," "Always On My Mind," and Hank Williams's "Hey Good Lookin'," as well as a two-song tribute to the late Waylon Jennings, "Good-Hearted Woman" and "Mama Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys."
The telecast's finale came about halfway through Nelson's 65-minute set with most of the day's other performers (but no Mellencamp, Matthews, Keith, or Kid Rock) coming on stage for mass renditions of "America The Beautiful" (with lyrics beamed to the stage from a teleprompter), "Move It On Over," and a medley of "On The Road Again" and Hank Williams's "I Saw The Light." Young waved his newly received tribal feathers during the songs, while a juggler on stilts twirled pins at the back of the stage and McConaughey--whose shirt had an ink stain from a pen in his pocket--danced the frug and the funky chicken with the Native American dancers.
-- Gary Graff, Burgettstown, Pennsylvania (
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