Saratoga Springs, NY got the lucky ticket to host the annual Farm Aid concert, September 21st 2013 at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, with all 25,000 + tickets selling out. Farm Aid has come a long way since its inception in 1985 when Champaign, Il hosted its first event. Farmers from all around New York State gathered at SPAC to partake in the events surrounding local farm movements and awareness. Farm Aid has continued to grow every year due to the dedication of original organizers Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Neil Young along with the other volunteers who continue to support it. The organization has raised more than $39 million dollars for local farming movements. One aspect that has helped Farm Aid grow is the new messages to resist fracking and to encourage biofuels, a frequent rap we get from Young.
The day’s events started at noon and continued to the finale ending around 11:30 pm. Some of the opening acts included newcomers such as Sasha Dobson, Jesse Lenat and Insects vs Robots. The main headline acts featured The Big Four: Nelson, Young, Mellencamp and Dave Matthews. Pegi Young and The Survivors with special guest Neil Young sitting in for the entire set (no announcement for Neil and mostly went unnoticed until the introduction at the end of the set) was a reward for those making it inside early. The main stage showcased the main artists, while the intimate Homegrown stage showcased smaller artists. Various workshops such as “how to cure your bacon”, “home cheese making” and lectures with artists about the farming movement were set up in the “Homegrown Village” which was set up for farmers and organizations to share their ideas and discussions on various movements and issues. The vendors included local farm raised foods (as all vendors must meet specific requirements to fit the Farm Aid specs) including pork, BBQ, grilled cheese and even cotton candy (made from maple syrup in the Catskills). There were also some local craft beer vendors who were all volunteers.
Many of the day’s artists proved that genetics does play a role in musical talent. Carlene Carter took the main stage with a stellar performance (daughter of June Carter). She has been playing for many years to keep the legacy alive. Lukas Nelson son of Willie had an afternoon slot with his band and continued to play onstage with his father for his set. Lukas’ voice and guitar playing proved to be of a seasoned entertainer even at the young age of 24. He has two albums and has a promising career ahead of him and was even introduced as the “Future of Farm Aid” so we will be seeing more and more of Lukas. Also we must give a hats off to Nashville Star runner up Kacey Musgraves, who has raw talent and something to prove as the crowd loved her country rock vibe. Look for her on her fourth album, “Same Trailer Different Park.
Amos Lee played a superb acoustic solo performance as he sang his semi popular song “Keep it Loose, Keep it Tight” finishing his set with a great version of “ A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke. The Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds duo played a seven-song set of mostly DMB tunes with Tim playing a mean fast lead guitar on acoustic with just his fingers. The set list consisted of “Save Me,””So Damn Lucky,” “Grace is Gone,” “Cornbread,”” If Only,” “#41,” and closing with “Two Step.”
John Mellencamp played hits from his collection such as “Authority Song,” “Check it Out,””Jack and Diane” (acoustic) and the Farm Aid anthem “Rain on the Scarecrow” closing with the popular “Pink Houses.” He stuck to the hits aside from one newer song “No one cares about Me. ” Anyway you slice it, the Mellencamp Hits collection never disappoints.
One of the evenings biggest surprises (along with the rumor that Eddie Vedder would be making a guest appearance) happened during Mellencamp’s set when he introduced 94-year-old folk legend Pete Seeger who sang his timeless classic “If I Had A Hammer. Seeger even reminded the crowd that he didn’t “have much voice left. Seeger was then joined onstage by the Big Four (for a rendition of “This Land is Your Land” with Seeger on banjo and the others singing acapella. Seeger did interject during the song replacing the familiar “this land was made for you and me” to “New York was made to be frack free.”
Neil Young took the stage for his main set with a cover of Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind” got the crowd up and moving. Young always has a lot to stay onstage always reminding us about the effects of fracking and biofuel. Before playing “Changes” by Phil Ochs, Young mentioned earlier that Pete Seeger talked of regret about Phil Ochs’ suicide and not being able to help reminding us that life is short, while also referring to Kurt Cobain without naming him. Young played some interesting covers such as “Early Morning Rain” (Gordon Lightfoot), “Since I Met You Baby” (Ivory Joe Hunter) and Reason to Believe (Tim Hardin).
Willie Nelson was the final headliner of the night playing some old hits and newer collaborations including “Will You Remember Me” with Hawaiian singer Lily Meola, while son Lukas sat in for the entire set. The evening winded down to hits such as “Whiskey River”, Vedder’s “Just Breathe” and finished with “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” followed by “I Saw the Light. It seems like after all these years, we shouldn’t still have to have a Farm Aid, so hopefully a change will come soon and fast.