Farm Aid 2021 Lifts Off In Hartford With Spirited Sets From Margo Price, Jamey Johnson, Allison Russell (FESTIVAL RECAP/PHOTOS)

Some things always change and some things stay the same. Unfortunately for the latter, Farm Aid still exists. Farm Aid board member Willie Nelson once said in 2012 -” Farm Aid exists because government agricultural policies too often tilt toward large corporate-owned farms, which have deep pockets they use to influence politicians. “I wish I didn’t have to do this,” he said. “I wish the government would take better care of our natural resources, and that includes the family farmer.”

So here we are in 2021 and in the midst of a pandemic board members Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, Dave Matthews along with new members Margo Price and Annie Nelson are still fighting the good fight with the staging of Farm Aid 2021 at Hartford’s XFINITY Theatre on September 25th. Some $60 million dollars has been raised to support family farming since the first Farm Aid in 1985. 

Margo Price

All of the performers donate their performances and travel expenses to promote the charity. This year Young bowed out of the festivities early after Farm Aid announced that it would be live this year. Young was concerned that the live show would be a ‘super spreader’ event for Covid-19. Sturgill Simpson called “in sick” two days prior to the event due to laryngitis.

Farm Aid announced in mid-August that festival-goers would be required to show proof of vaccination or proof of a negative Covid-19 test result within 48 hours of the show. Some 30,000 people showed up for the festival as the New England area has shown a small percentage of Covid cases.

The concert started with the Wisdom Indian Dancers dressing in full Native American costume. In past years, Willie would take the stage during their set to sing “The Lord’s Prayer.” However, Price appeared to do the honors instead.

The early sets by Ian Mellencamp and Particle Kid (Micah Nelson) were a mere 15 minutes in length as the youngsters got a chance to spread sounds radiantly different from that of their fathers. With Allison Russell, the length of the sets gradually increased as the Birds of Chicago multi-instrumentalist proved exultant ringing in poignant numbers off her new LP Outside Child. Russell, released a new CD this year, Outside Child. She performed several self-penned songs from the CD commemorating personal strength and affirmation bringing ancestral balladry with hints of blues, R&B, and country.

Jamey Johnson

Jamey Johnson took the stage to perform an acoustic set of some of his songs that are most well known amongst his fan base including “Can’t Cash My Checks” and “High Cost of Living.” Johnson has graced the Farm Aid stage for around ten years and his cover of George Strait’s “Give It Away” was an early Hartford highpoint.

Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real delivered a top-notch set of eight songs. “Four Letter Word” and “Carolina” were highlights of their high-octane performance. Bettye LaVette hit all the right notes with her soulfully inspired R&B vocals that gave Farm Aid a splashy charisma. LaVette’s music goes back to 1962 with hit songs on Atlantic Records and she delivered exemplary renditions of Ringo Starr’s “It Ain’t Easy” and Lucinda Williams’ “Joy.” She opened with an energetic “Things Have Changed” and kept up the pace throughout the set.

Bettye Lavette

Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats filled their lively set with their hits as well as a killer version of The Band’s “The Shape I’m In” with Lukas Nelson.  Meanwhile, Tyler Childers and his band sang with an intensity that held the crowd’s absolute attention. Childers’ set consisted of songs from his new album Long Violent History. He ended the set with a riveted version of Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night.”

Margo Price’s eight-song set was the first of the performances from the board members. The set was more pop than her country doused music of previous sets. Her confidence level was boosted as she performed “Light Me Up” and Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me.” She tossed roses into the crowd as she left the stage at the end of her set.

Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds’ set seemed too short as they jammed to “Warehouse,” “Bartender,” and “Ants Marching.” Matthews spoke about the mission of helping family farmers as well as poking fun at the fact that he had to have a technician plug his guitar for him. Reynolds demonstrated that he is a guitar master as he pulled amazing sounds from his guitar.

John Mellencamp

John Mellencamp’s set could easily be the strongest of the day. He took the stage with a cigarette in hand and was determined to finish it while talking and performing. He had only three band members this time, but when he started singing, it seemed as if his entire band was present as his raspy vocals remain in top form,

The Indiana icon fired off “Jack and Diane” even though it’s not his favorite song. The audience sang along but did not come in at the right time. He joked and asked how they came in early since they have been singing the song for 40 years. At one point in the set, he declared, ‘You don’t know me. You may think you know me.” This was his introduction to his new song “I Always Lie to Strangers.” 

Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson’s set was the last set of the evening. Even though Nelson was sitting for most of the set, it was a fast-paced, 17 song performance. Willie’s sons, Lukas and Micah, sat on each side of their father as they sang harmony and played guitar. Micah sang lead on a new song that he wrote with his father “If I Die When I’m High I’ll be Halfway to Heaven.” They performed all of Nelson’s best-known songs including “On The Road Again” and “Always On My Mind.”  Many of the day’s artists joined Nelson for the traditional last two songs: “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and ” I’ll Fly Away.”

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