Farm Aid 2015 - Chicago - Celebrating 30 Years
First Merit Bank Pavilion on Northerly Island - Chicago, IL, USA - September 19, 2015
By Janet Pellegrini
Photos by Dan Locke
Farm Aid celebrated its 30th year in the same state it began, Illinois. In 1985 musicians, farmers, supporters and fans alike traveled to Champaign, Illinois to see what kind of party Willie Nelson and a few dedicated people could put on to support our struggling family based farming community throughout the United States. Fast forward to September 19, 2015 and Farm Aid produced this years efforts at Northerly Island in Chicago, Illinois headlined by its founding board members; Willie Nelson, Neil Young, and John Mellencamp and included current board member Dave Matthews.
This year's lineup was impressive and diverse, along with Willie, Neil, John and Dave were an array of bands generously donating their time to support the cause of independent farmers. Among them were Kacey Musgraves, Imagine Dragons, Holly Williams, the granddaughter of Hank Williams, Mavis Staples, and Jack Johnson to name several of those performing that day.
The day began with an informative hour-long multimedia presentation for the press conveying the often times heart-wrenching stories of the dire need to advocate for family farmers. In some ways I think the fans in attendance would have benefited from hearing the same information, perhaps in smaller sound bites, as the stories from volunteer attorneys pouring through farmers decades of paperwork to help them save their only means of support and century held homes to the one woman who started the hotline to talk farmers down off the virtual ledge contemplating suicide. Holly Williams set was sweet particularly her song "Waiting on June" and clever and her hair reminded me of the 70's Allman Brothers look. If you haven't heard Old Crow Medicine Show give a listen to their tune, "Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer" and "Wagon Wheel - Mama Rock Me" a rendering of a Bob Dylan song, both spirited fun.
Speaking of Dylan, Chicago home grown Mavis Staples, who had dated Dylan back his folk circuit days, brought her soulful voice to the cause getting the audience to sing along.
You have to pay attention to Kacey Musgraves, cause her lyrics will surprise you coming from that pretty blue frilly dressed gal with the styling band behind her all in pink and sparkly suits. She's brave to the core and too adorable to take your eyes off of her.
Imagine Dragons lead singer Dan Reynolds was feeling it during his second song "Its Time" and took a run through the photo pit and audience. "Radioactive" was rousing and still working its half life for the band. They did a great cover of Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" as a homage to the farmers.
Neil Young had the fiery vehemence borne out of years of fighting alongside the farmers against the tide of the powerful agriculture-conglomerates. He spoke of current proposed legislation to make illegal the free trading of seeds between farmers to further favor the Monsanto's and ADM's like sector of the market's hold on seed control. Neil's set held no punches and focused on the plight of the farmer, featuring his new album "The Monsanto Years." Some of his long time fans may have missed hearing his old hits, but his dedication to the farmers and environment are part and parcel of who he is and why he's loved.
Whether the fans were there for the music or the cause or both, they were some of the sweetest audience I've been amidst. Considerate, friendly and grounded. A highlight to the end of my evening was the bus ride back downtown that I shared with some ladies from Kentucky who had clearly enjoyed the evening and the beverages maybe a little too much. How do you break it to those not from the city that if you've chosen to spend the bus ride with your face on the floor of the bus instead of upright in your seat, no one is gonna mess with that .but then again neither did her friends and they told her so when she asked us why we weren't helping her. Everyone has their own definition of a good time, that's the beauty in life.