BURGETTSTOWN, PA — Willie Nelson still remains among the most generous of country stars, sharing the stage and his opinions at the 2002 Farm Aid event, held Saturday (Sept. 21) near Pittsburgh.
“Once again we’re here fighting for the small family farmer, which means we’re fighting for every living American,” Nelson said in a press conference before the concert. “We’re fighting for the American dream, which I think has become the symbol of this year’s Farm Aid.”
Nelson also encouraged a stronger producer-to-consumer link for organic food and said that subsidies given to corporate farms are hurting not only American family farmers but farmers all over the world.
“We have a lot to fight against,” Nelson added. “We’ve got a lot of enemies out there who think we don’t know what we’re talking about.”
Through Nelson’s efforts, as well as those from fellow founders John Mellencamp and Neil Young, Farm Aid has raised more than $15 million for family farms since 1985. Donations are received through ticket sales, merchandise, sponsorships and viewer pledges. Official 2002 figures are expected later this week.
During the day, Nelson gladly joined Lee Ann Womack , Toby Keith and Young on stage during the nine-hour concert. Many of the evening’s performers returned the favor during Nelson’s closing set, joining him on “America the Beautiful.”
Young offered seven songs, as well as plenty of commentary concerning the dire straits facing family farms, the importance of buying organic foods and the lack of action taken by both President George W. Bush and his father.
“Attention shoppers! Attention shoppers! Buy with a conscience and save the family farm,” Young declared. He also advocated a Farm Aid seal on packaging for organic food to help consumers choose healthier products.
Mellencamp, who lives in Indiana, launched his set with “Rain on the Scarecrow,” an anthem for struggling farmers from his album Scarecrow, which was released in 1985, the same year as Farm Aid’s first concert. Yet, the complications faced by the farmer in the song — especially the threat of being forced to sell the land to a factory farm — continue to this day.
“I’m here for the same reason I was here in 1985,” Mellencamp said in the press conference. “I grew up in a small town, and I still live there. I have seen how corporate America has changed the face of our nation. We can have all the concerts we want, but if you guys want a better place, it starts with one person and that’s you.
“If we want a better world, each one of us will have to behave better, or else we’re screwed,” he said.
In the concert, Mellencamp slowed down “Small Town” to the pace of a back-porch conversation but ripped through “Paper in Fire” and “Crumblin’ Down.” Gillian Welch accepted a last-minute invitation to sing a verse of “Little Pink Houses,” lending the song a bit of melancholy, despite the high energy of Mellencamp and his band.
Rock star Dave Matthews, who joined the Farm Aid Board of Directors in 2001 and is now considered an honorary Founder, turned in a rare solo acoustic set. His presence on the bill helped Farm Aid reach a younger crowd, many of whom appeared unfamiliar with Mellencamp and Young.
“Eat good food, drink good water and make good love,” Matthews said from the stage, before singing “Grace Is Gone,” a love-gone-wrong drinking song fit perfectly with the country-tinged list of performances.
At the opposite end of the musical spectrum from Kid Rock’s more aggressive material, folk duo Gillian Welch and David Rawlings offered two songs: “I Wanna Sing That Rock and Roll” and “Everything Is Free.” The latter song speaks of doing what needs to be done, regardless of what it pays.
Keith declared at the beginning of his set, “Thank you for supporting American farmers. That’s why we’re all here and to party a little bit.” Keith appeared at the same venue the previous evening but still received perhaps the biggest response of the event, besides Nelson’s.
Following “The Taliban Song,” Nelson joined Keith for “I’ll Never Smoke Weed With Willie Again.” Neither song is available on any Keith album. Nelson stuck around for “Beer for My Horses” and “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American).”
Keith Urban kicked off the CMT-televised portion of the show at 5 p.m., dedicating his current Top 10 hit, “Somebody Like You,” to farmers. Those appearing before 5 p.m. included Kenny Wayne Shepherd with Double Trouble, Drive-By Truckers, Anthony Smith (“If That Ain’t Country”), Los Lonely Boys and Lee Ann Womack.
Due to a gig later that night in Maryland, Womack delivered the day’s first set at 2:30 p.m. and partnered with Nelson for their hit duet, “Mendocino County Line.”
At the press conference, she said, “It’s important for us, as adults, to support this cause, and to buy the right food. But don’t forget to teach your kids, because they’re the ones that will hold the future in their hands.”