Farm Aid 2012: The Highlights

Farm Aid 2012 Dave Matthews, Neil Young, Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp

Hershey Park, Hershey, Pa.
Saturday, September 22, 2012


Some came for the farmers. Some came for the parking lot tailgate of micro-brews, Mickey’s Malt Liquor cap riddles and “car bomb” shots. Some came from Canada; some drove from California. Still others came only for a favorite artist such as Kenny Chesney, and by the time Willie Nelson plucked the first notes of “Whiskey River,” by the light of the orange first-quarter moon, these concertgoers were already following the white line home.

No matter the reason, the 30,000 people lucky enough to attend the sold-out Farm Aid concert this past weekend in Hershey, Pa., all left with music coursing through their soul. They also left filled with a little more knowledge about American farmer’s plight.

On Saturday, Farm Aid returned to Pennsylvania’s heartland. Hershey —a city best known for its chocolate — is also an agricultural hotbed. It hosted the annual fundraising concert for the first time. Twenty-seven years on, Farm Aid founders Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, and Dave Matthews, are all still going strong. Many like-minded musicians and friends joined this foursome – all donating their time – to raise money and awareness for family farmers.

As the Texas outlaw Nelson joked in the noon-hour press conference: “It may take another 27 years, but what else are we going to do!” The messages were clear, especially following a summer that saw one of the nation’s worst droughts: fight factory farms, buy and support local, organize and educate, petition your local and state government, etc. The music—all 10 hours of it —was even louder; it’s these performances that most will recall.

Here’s a round-up of a few of the top Farm Aid 2012 moments according to this scribe:


The food. For the day, concessions sold local, organic offerings. From jalapeno and vegetarian corn dogs to a barbecue pork chops slapped between two pieces of white bread. Then, there was the Homegrown Village featuring more than 30 exhibits. Here, fans met farmers, learned how to make sauerkraut and pickle vegetables, and much more. While interacting with these exhibitors, New York’s Brent James & the Contraband played a spirited set.

One of the show’s highs occurred midway through Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s sizzling set. Young invited Nelson to join him for a raucous rendition of “Homegrown.” Thirty-five years on since this song was first released on American Stars ‘N Bars, its simple message of “Homegrown is alright for me …” is still relevant. The 79-year-old Nelson tried to pick along on his acoustic guitar Trigger while Young, 66, played passionately on his battle-worn Old Black – his custom-built, 1953 Gibson Les Paul. Nelson and Young exchanged smiles during this country-fried jam, and shook hands after the song. As the adage goes, “some things do get better with age.”


While Dave Matthews new record features his longtime backing band (Away From the World, which recently debuted at No.1 on the Billboard Top 200), at Farm Aid, it was an all acoustic affair. Joining Matthews was longtime friend and collaborator Tim Reynolds. The pair’s record (Live at Luther College) provided the perfect soundtrack on my seven-hour scenic drive through the Allegheny Mountains and The Susquehanna River Valley en route to Hershey. On Saturday, the pair jammed on many classics. Highlights included: “Gravedigger,” and “Dancing Nancies.”


Besides Nelson joining Young for “Homegrown,” Farm Aid 2012 featured many memorable duets. Nelson made an appearance with newcomer Grace Potter & The Nocturnals; Potter later joined Kenny Chesney for “You and Tequila“ – a tune that was nominated for a couple of Grammy Awards last year and one the country-star said is the best he’s ever recorded. Later Chesney returned to the stage to join pal Mellencamp and help the roots-rock veteran with the classic: “Small Town.”


Jack Johnson, playing his first Farm Aid, made the most of his prime-time set. Decked in flip flops and a Soul Rebel T-shirt, Johnson spoke passionately about the farmer’s plight in the press conference. Later he let his music do the talking backed by a tight band. Grace Potter & The Nocturnals also knocked out an energetic song cycle right before Johnson.


Since the day is about supporting family farmers and encouraging the next generation to take up this fight, it was apropos that many of the musicians’ family members joined together on this day. Young’s wife Pegi played an early set with her band The Survivors, and Nelson’s son Lukas, hammered out a tight 30-minute set with his band the Promise of the Real.


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