Willie Nelson isn’t much for politicking while onstage — during Saturday’s virtual 35th annual Farm Aid concert, Farm Aid cofounder Neil Young will likely handle most of that — but Willie’s never been shy about letting his feelings be known in song. Today he released an animated video for “Vote ‘Em Out,” his rousing election-year message that particularly resonates in a year marked by COVID-19 concerns and partisan schisms.
Willie debuted the song two years ago at a Texas rally for then-candidate Beto O’Rourke, who mounted a formidable challenge against incumbent Texas senator Ted Cruz. In it, he sings, If you don’t like who’s in there vote ‘em out/that’s what election day is all about. He doesn’t offer any suggestions about which way to vote; instead, he reminds Americans, The biggest gun we got is called the ballot box/So if you don’t like who’s in there vote ’em out.
“I don’t do politics onstage because I just assume I have all kinds of people out there,” he told American Songwriter during an interview for his 2018 Legends issue cover story. “Not only Democrats and Republicans, but Baptists and Methodists. I don’t want to do anything or sing anything that would be derogatory about any of those folks, ’cause I’m glad they’re there. And politics shouldn’t be in there. I think they came to see and hear music; I don’t think they’ve come to hear me tell ’em how to vote.”
Though he may adhere to the “shut up and sing” philosophy onstage, Willie he admits he’s perfectly willing to express his views offstage.
“Ask me what I think and I’ll tell you,” he said.
Willie will join cofounders Young and John Mellencamp and and longtime board member Dave Matthews for Saturday’s abbreviated Farm Aid 2020 On the Road performance, also featuring Brandi Carlile, Jack Johnson, Norah Jones, Bonnie Raitt & Boz Skaggs, Nathanial Rateliff, Chris Stapleton and others. The concert, at 8 p.m. EST/5 p.m. PSD, will be available for viewing on at Farm Aid’s website or YouTube Channel, on cable station AXS TV or on SiriusXM satellite radio channel 30 during Willie’s Roadhouse or the Dave Matthews Band slots.
The plight of family farmers will earn even greater emphasis at Saturday’s Farm Aid because COVID-19 has left so many stuggling. The song, cowritten and produced by Buddy Cannon and featuring Willie’s sons Lukas and Micah Nelson, serves as a lighthearted, yet pointed reminder that the best remedy for those struggles is the ballot box.
Feel free to sing along: If it’s a bunch of clowns you voted in/Election day is comin’ ’round again/If you don’t like it now/If it’s more than you’ll allow/If you don’t like who’s in there/Vote ’em out.
Video animation: Eric Foster