Farm Aid ’98 Hits Chicago in Style

For the first time, CMT will telecast Farm Aid ’98, the mega-concert hosted by co-founders Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, and Neil Young to benefit the American family farmer. A stellar lineup will be on hand at the New World Music Theater outside Chicago, Illinois to entertain throughout the eight-hour telecast on Saturday, October 3. Performers will include Phish, the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Martina McBride, Steve Earle with the Del McCoury Band, Hootie and the Blowfish, Wilco, and others. The informal nature of the show promises that there will be some musical suprises, as well.

“The excitement around Farm Aid ’98 is building every day,” comments Carolyn Mugar, Executive Director of Farm Aid. Like past years, we won’t know until the last minute who else will show up and what stars will end up playing together for a song or two.”

Adds Farm Aid Development Coordinator Wendy Matusovich, “One of Farm Aid’s strengths is that since the artists are around so much of the day, we get to hear musical collaborations that don’t usually happen. Where else does Willie Nelson go onstage with Hootie & the Blowfish, or Neil Young play with the Beach Boys? Both of these things have happened at Farm Aid. Everybody seems to be up for trying something new.”

Martina McBride will perform and co-host for Farm Aid ’98.
Historically, Farm Aid concerts have set a number of musical milestones. In 1985 at the premiere Farm Aid event in Champaign, Illinois, Billy Joel and Randy Newman teamed up for a duet with only the two of them on piano, while then-unknown act Bon Jovi was invited to play. Five years later in Indianapolis, the show marked the last time Guns ’N Roses performed with their original band, and Neil Young played a rare set with former bandmates Crosby, Stills, and Nash. In Dallas in 1992, Paul Simon and Willie Nelson performed together, and in New Orleans in 1994, astronaut Buzz Aldrin commemorated the 25th anniversary of the first moonwalk.

This year, CMT October Showcase Artist Toby Keith, Martina McBride, Michael Peterson, and K.T. Oslin will host the live CMT telecast from 4 p.m. until midnight Eastern. Joining them for additional co-hosting duties will be CBS News correspondent Alison Stewart and CMT Hit Trip personalities Kenda and Heather.

The following is the lineup for Farm Aid ’98 on CMT:
(All times Eastern. Schedule subject to change without notice.)

4:00 – 4:36 p.m. Hootie & the Blowfish
4:49 – 5:24 p.m. Steve Earle with the Del McCoury Band
5:37 – 6:12 p.m. Brian Wilson
6:25 – 7:00 p.m. Wilco
7:13 – 7:48 p.m. Martina McBride
8:01 – 9:01 p.m. Phish
9:14 – 9:59 p.m. John Mellencamp
10:12 – 10:57 p.m. Neil Young
11:10 – Midnight Willie Nelson

Farm Aid remains the largest national benefit of its kind, long after other events from the 1980s have faded into distant memory — Live Aid, Band Aid, USA for Africa. The organization was formed in 1985 after Willie Nelson noticed the devastating condition of some American family farmers, many of whom experienced bankruptcy and the loss of their land and livelihood in the face of rising production costs and low prices for farm goods. Nelson began working with Young and Mellencamp to produce a special concert event to encourage family farmers and to tell the nation about their struggles.

“Those of us who formed Farm Aid had in mind to return some good to those who had been good to us for so long,” reflects Nelson. And “return some good” they did — the first show brought 60 artists together before 80,000 fans and drew major attention to the economic problems faced by America’s family farmers. Since then, donations from Farm Aid shows have totaled more than $14 million, which have been distributed to more than 100 organizations in 44 states. In addition, Nelson, Mellencamp and Young have extended and deepened their commitment by continuing to serve as Farm Aid board members. Nelson continues to sign all of the grant checks that go to people in the countryside.

Farm Aid has evolved into far more than yearly benefit concerts. It has built a support system of programs throughout America aimed at reaching as many families as possible. Its goals are to support projects developed by and for family farmers which help farm families stay on their land, and to promote solutions to the farming challenges facing rural communities. Some examples of what Farm Aid does throughout the year include providing legal and financial advice to families facing bankrupty or the loss of their land, and distributing relief funds for farm families with immediate needs such as groceries, clothing and medical and utility bills. Also, Farm Aid supports sustainable agriculture research and the creation of marketing opportunities for family farmers, and maintains telephone hotlines to provide advice and referrals to farmers who are trying to cope with financial and emotional crises. In short, as John Mellencamp notes, Farm Aid still matters. “We’re still doing Farm Aid because it is still contributing. It’s still doing a job.”

One volunteer who works tirelessly to make sure that Farm Aid still does the job is Oklahoma’s Mona Lee Brock. Mona Lee became a farm advocate and Farm Aid volunteer in the mid-80s after the death of her husband and the eventual loss of her farm. After discovering that farmers were committing suicide at five times the rate of the rest of the population, she took training and started doing suicide prevention counseling. With the droughts throughout the Midwest and Southwest this summer, Mona is seeing a lot of emotional crises again in farmers. Recounts Farm Aid’s Matusovich:

“Just a week ago we got a call from a woman who lives on the East Coast, and she was crying. She said, ’Look, I just got off the phone with my dad. He’s a Texas farmer and I’ve never heard him sound this bad. In fact, he was talking about suicide, and this is a man who’s managed a farm wisely. Now he doesn’t know where the money’s going to come from to feed his cattle.’ Mona Lee was able to talk to the gentleman and help him figure out where the money was going to come from, and to encourage him and let him know that ’Yeah, losing your farm is traumatic, but you don’t need to take your life.’ She was fully prepared to go out to his farm and talk to him all night long if that’s what it took. That’s what she does, day in and day out. It’s just incredible what she’s been able to do, the lives she’s touched. More than perhaps anyone, Mona Lee epitomizes what Farm Aid is all about.”

People interested in helping this country’s family farmers can make a contribution by calling 1-800-FARMAID, or by writing a check to Farm Aid and mailing it to:

Farm Aid
PO Box 228
Champaign, IL 61824