Farm Aid

XFinity Center, Hartford, CT

Xfinity Center- Hartford, CT - 9/22/18
Review & Photos - Rebecca Wolf

Tickets to Farm Aid 2018 at the Xfinity Center in Hartford, Connecticut sold out in 4 hours. After 33 years, Farm Aid has continued to bring musicians, fans, farmers and advocates for the farming community to this annual event, with the goal of increasing awareness of the plight of our nation’s family farmers, to raise money to keep family farmers on their land and to help educate Americans about the origins of our food. On September 22, 2018, exactly 33 years from the original Farm Aid  (September 22, 1985), fans continued to flock to see performances by Farm Aid Board of Directors, Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and David Matthews (who joined the board in 2001). Along with the four headliners, a number of country, folk, and rock musicians brought their talents and spirit to this day long festival of amazing artistry, education and support.

Farm Aid started as an idea at the Live Aid Concert when Bob Dylan announced on stage that it would be nice if we did something for our own farmers here in America. Willie Nelson, Neil Young, and John Mellencamp agreed and within 6 weeks put together the first Farm Aid, in Champaign, Illinois. The show was held before a crowd of 80,000 fans and raised over $7 million for America’s farmers. Additional participants in the inaugural Farm Aid included Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Tom Petty, B.B. King, Loretta Lynn, and many others. In the past 33 years the locations have changed from year to year as have the musical participants. What has remained the same are the 3 original board members, who have brought their musical talents and their support for the cause each and every year, and the consistent goal of Farm Aid - to help America’s family farmers.

In addition to the four headliners, there were featured performances by Chris Stapleton, Kacey Musgraves, Sturgill Simpson, Jamey Johnson, Margo Price, Ian Mellencamp, Particle Kid, and Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats. On stage throughout much of the day and evening was the obviously talented and up and coming star, Lukas Nelson, with his soulful singing and expert guitar skills.  The younger Nelson fronted his own band, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, sang backup with Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, as well as with Neil Young, and shared the stage with his father during Willie’s closing set of the evening.

The day began in late morning with Connecticut’s Commissioner of Agriculture kicking off the press conference that included Farm Aid board members, local farmers, and individuals from the farming community. Each board member expressed his feelings about the plight of the farmers, how our government is affecting the farming industry and the how we can help the farmers and ourselves by returning to the basics of good old-fashioned eating. No one was more Impassioned about how the government and corporations have affected our farmers than John Mellencamp.  Neil Young felt just as strongly in his belief that it is the America people’s responsibility to help our farmers by “never passing a farm stand,” he said.  “Bring your children with you, so they learn about going to get fresh food from farm stands and meeting the farmers and learning that this is where you buy food,” he admonished.  During both his portion of the press conference, as well as during his musical performance, Young made this point very clear. Between songs Young would shout out to the thousand of fans in the crowd, “What are you going to do when you see a farmer’s market????” “STOP!!” The crowd would shout back. “No you’re not!”, Neil would reply, waiting for a louder and more vigorous response from the crowd. “What are you going to do???” “STOPPP!!!!”, the crowd would holler in return. This would satisfy Young until the end of the next song. 

While many fans remained inside the venue for the shortened musical sets of the diversely talented, non-headlines acts, many fans chose to explore the venue grounds and visit Homegrown Village, view the various educational displays and participate in scheduled symposiums. As sundown arrived, Dave Matthews came to the stage with longtime musical partner Tim Reynolds. During Matthew’s set they included fan favorites, “41”, Lie in Our Graves” and “Ants Marching”.  
Next  up was Mellencamp, who did not disappoint. Rarely did Mellencamp crack a small or engage in laughter throughout the long day (what he showed the crowd) but it cannot be said that Mellencamp does not express emotion. Mellencamp showed passion in his cause (the farmers), as well as in his musical skills. Mellencamp offered up classic hits from throughout his career, including “Jack and Diane”, “Small Town” and “Rain on the Scarecrow” and ended his set with “Crumblin’ Down” and “Ain’t Down”, to the roaring of the thousands of fans.

When Neil Young was not busy shouting to the crowd, “What are you going to do when you see a farmer’s market??!!”, he was singing and jamming with his guitar, with energy that belies his almost 73 years. Young’s set included songs from throughout his legendary career, including “Field of Opportunity”, “Ohio” , during which he battled it out on the guitar with Lukas Nelson, from his backing band, Promise of the Real, “Heart of Gold”, a crowd favorite  and the live debut performance of “Children of Destiny.”

The final performance of the night was Willie Nelson, who was joined on stage by his sister Bobbie on piano, and sons, Lukas on guitar and vocals and Micah, on drums. Included in the set were favorites “Whiskey River”, “On the Road Again” and “Always On My Mind”. As the set came to an end, the Nelsons were joined on stage by musical performers from throughout the event, including Neil Young, Margo Price, Ian Mellancamp, Nathaniel Rateliff , Sturgill Simpson, the Wisdom Indian Dancers, and others, for a touching “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” 

There’s a reason why Farm Aid 2018 sold out in 4 hours. It was an event not to be missed…the music, the energy, the spirit of the day. While it was a successful musical event, hopefully the event did some of what it was intended to do….help the plight of the American family farmers. As stated by a Farm Aid board member, while it might seem great that Farm Aid has continued for 33 years (and has become a beloved event), the fact that it has continued for 33 years means problem still exist for our farmers. When we no longer need Farm Aid, then we can all rejoice.
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