Willie Nelson’s 33rd Annual Farm Aid Concert in Hartford

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The annual benefit takes place Sept. 22 amid a new family farm crisis. Kacey Musgraves, Sturgill Simpson, Margo Price and Nathaniel Rateliff also join Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews.

With farmers in New England and other regions facing a deepening financial crisis, Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid organization announced Monday (June 25) that the annual benefit for family farmers will play Connecticut for the first time on Sept. 22 at the Xfinity Theatre in Hartford — and Chris Stapleton will join Farm Aid’s all-star lineup for the first time.

Chris Stapleton — who won Grammy Awards in February for best country album (From a Room: Volume 1), best country solo performance (“Either Way”) and best country song (“Broken Halos”) — will share the Hartford bill with returning Farm Aid performers Kacey Musgraves, Sturgill Simpson, Margo Price, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats and Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real. Particle Kid will also perform and other acts will be announced.

This year’s performers will join Farm Aid’s guiding foursome of Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews, who will perform an acoustic set with Tim Reynolds. Matthews has been on tour this summer with the Dave Matthews Band behind the group’s latest album, Come Tomorrow, which debuted at No. 1 this month on the Billboard 200.

Neil Young performs during  2017 Farm Aid on Sept. 16, 2017 in Burgettstown, Penn.

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Tickets for Farm Aid 2018 will go on sale Friday at 10 a.m. ET through Live Nation and by phone at at (800) 745-3000. A limited number of pre-sale tickets will be sold beginning at 10 a.m. ET on Tuesday at farmaid.org/festival.

Now in its 33rd year, Farm Aid is the longest-running concert for a cause in pop music history. Mellencamp was once challenged by someone who asked: “Are you guys still doing that?” He retorted: “Are you still eating?”

Farm Aid, through its annual concerts, has raised more than $53 million for grants to help family farmers and to advocate on their behalf. Across more than three decades, led by Nelson, Farm Aid has sought to to fight corporate control of America’s farmland, shape national farming policy, and promote the Good Food Movement.

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But as Farm Aid 2018 approaches, the economic circumstances for family farmers are similar to the conditions that led Nelson to stage the first benefit in 1985. Net farm income has dropped 53 percent since 2013 and median farm income is likely to run $1,316 in the red in 2018, according to studies cited by Farm Aid.

“Family farmers are the backbone of our country,” said Nelson in a statement. “But today, they are endangered. Whether we live in cities like Hartford or the rural areas of New England, each of us has the power to create positive, lasting change in our farm and food system and strengthen farm families to help them stay on the land for generations to come.”

Farm Aid co-founder Neil Young adds: “Good food and good farms.  That’s why we’re here.  We really do care.”

Connecticut is home to 6,000 farms and agriculture contributes up to $4 billion to the state’s economy, while farming and food production generate 21,000 jobs in the state annually. Hartford County, where this year’s concert will take place, represents a rare bright spot in the country, gaining more than 100 farms since 2007.

But dairy farmers in Connecticut, like their counterparts elsewhere, are suffering the economic impact of four years of dropping milk prices. (Margo Price, whose 2016 debut album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter was inspired by the loss of her family’s farm, expertly weighed in on milk pricing during a Farm Aid workshop at the 2017 concert.)

After a dairy farmer in New York State took his life in January, The New York Times reported, “Agri-Mark, a large cooperative that bought milk from the farmer, sent its 550 members in the state a list of suicide and mental health hotlines — along with the news that milk prices would drop even lower this year.”

Farm Aid supporters tour Braddock Farms

In the face of ongoing struggle for family farmers, Farm Aid each year serves as an annual gathering of activists focused on food issues, environmentalism and social-justice battles. Many farmers and activists travel to the event to network, share strategies, listen to the music and eat family farm food on a menu that Farm Aid has trademarked “Homegrown Concessions.” With composting practiced backstage and promoted to the audience, the concert aims for zero waste.

To expand its fundraising reach, Farm Aid has again partnered with IfOnly to offer one-of-a-kind fan experiences at Farm Aid 2018. Among the items offered this year are: a behind-the-scenes backstage tour, plus deluxe amenities and tickets within the first eight rows; photo pit packages for Nelson, Young, Mellencamp, Matthews, Simpson and Rateliff & the Nightsweats, along with VIP amenities and tickets; premium seats in the first two rows for the pre-show press event attended by Farm Aid’s four board members; a custom Epiphone guitar signed by Nelson; and retro Farm Aid T-shirts, signed by Nelson and Matthews. People can purchase and bid on these special offerings starting June 25 at ifonly.com/FarmAid.

Farm Aid’s support of family farmers extends to its policy of accepting sponsorship only from companies that share its mission. It is supported by partnerships with Bonterra Organic Vineyards, Patagonia Workwear, New Belgium Brewery, Horizon Organic and Pete and Gerry’s Organic.

Farm Aid will be posting updates on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and festivalgoers are encouraged to use the hashtags #FarmAid2018 and #Road2FarmAid to post festival discussions on social media.

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