This day in Willie Nelson History: Farm Aid 25 (Milwaukee, WI) (Oct. 2, 2010)

Farm Aid 25th Anniversary Concert at Miller Park on October 2, 2010 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

photo:  P. Natkin

Rolling Stone
November 2010
by Austin Scaggs

On the morning of Farm Aid’s 25th anniversary concert in Milwaukee, as rain pelted his tour bus, Willie Nelson reminisced about how it began.  “I remember hearing Bob Dylan say at Live Aid, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if some of this money stayed here for the farmers?’” said Nelson, holding court at the dining table, with a pack of Zig-Zags and a lighter in his left hand. “I said, ‘The man’s right!  We should take care of our own!”


www.FarmAid.org

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Eleven hours and 16 acts later (including fellow Farm Aid board members Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews, as well as Jeff Tweedy, Nora Jones, Band of Horses and Kenny Chesney, Nelson closed the 25th Farm Aid with a surprise guest:  Steven Tyler, who injected life into the marathon concert and inspired the loudest roar of the day from the 35,000.  The pair dueted on the Tyler-penned country ballad, “One Time Too Many” and Aerosmith’s “Once is Enough” as their Farm Aid co-stars watched from the wings.   “Just to sit on the side of the stage and watch Willie is the coolest,” said Matthews.  “He’s my hero.”

With rain falling and temperatures in the 40s, a decision was made early to close Miller Park’s retractable roof.  “It’s like playing in a giant plastic ball,” Matthews remarked, but Young used the staium’s booming acoustics to his advantage, creating swirls of feedback during his solo electric set on classics like “Down by the River,” “Ohio” and “Long May You Run.”

“Factory farms are the reason we have food alerts,” Young told the crowd.  “They are the reason why we have dying people and disease.”  Young — joined by Matthews, Mellencamp and Nelson — closed his set with the 1970’s jam, “Homegrown,” a Farm Aid staple.

Matthews — in his 13th Farm Aid performance since 1995 — appeared with guitarist Tim Reynolds and hit on “All Along the Watchtower,” “Don’t Drink the Water” and cuts from his 2003 solo album, “Some Devil.

“There is a sincerity in this organization that is unlike a lot of charitable concerts,” Matthews said, hanging out in his tour bus.  “Like Live Earth — that left a bad taste in my mouth.  But with Farm Aid there’s an honesty and a real clear goal that is to raise awareness about the unforgivable way that the government treats the small farmers in America, where a majority of subsidies go to giant corporations and big agribusinesses.”

Nora Jones, alternating between guitar and piano, sauntered through “Come Away With Me,” Johnny Cash’s “Cry, Cry, Cry” and “How Many Times Have You Broken My Heart” (Hank Williams’ lyrics set to music by Jones).  After celebrating her first Farm Aid in the dugout with a vodka cocktail, Jones re-emerged for the all-star finale of “Good Hearted Woman,” a song Nelson wrote with Waylon Jennings.

This year’s event raised more than $2 million, bringing Farm Aid’s 25-year total to $39 million.  “I was seven when I watched the first Farm Aid on TV,” marveled Band of Horses singer Ben Bridwell backstage.  “I’ve known about it longer than I’ve known my colors or how to do long division.  You say yes to just be in these dude’s company, but the fact that we’re in this for the most noble of causes makes it so fucking cool.”

“As the family farmer goes, so goes America,” John Mellencamp said, before tearing through “Pink Houses,” “Save Some Time to Dream” and “Scarecrow,” which he also performed at the inaugural benefit, held in Champaign, Illionis in 1985.

Before his set, he puffed on American Spirits in his Airstream trailer outside the venue.  Mellencamp reminisced about that first show, “Everybody in the fucking world was there,” he said.  “And I remember, for 45 minutes after the show, I had to wait on the bus for Willie, who was out there signing autographs.  When he finally got on the bus, I asked, ‘What the fuck took so long, Willie?’  And he goes, ‘Something you should think about.  I’ve got to take care of the people who take care of us.’”

Jen Bronenkant took this great photo of Willie Nelson and Steven Tyler at the Farm Aid concert in Milwaukee, on October 2, 2010.

Mellencamp, who noted taht Farm Aid is the longest-running music charity in history, also had a request.  “Willie deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.  We’re all just Willie’s little helpers.”

I encourage you to purchase the November 2010 Rolling Stone.

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