THROUGH THE LENS: A Harvest of Songs at Farm Aid 2022
Chris Stapleton at Farm Aid 2022 (photo by Mary Andrews)
The first Farm Aid concert in 1985 was the brainchild of Willie Nelson, Neil Young, and John Mellencamp. It had two purposes: 1) To raise funds to keep farm families on the land; and 2) to increase awareness about the loss of those farms. To date, the nonprofit Farm Aid has raised more than $64 million.
As evidenced on the Farm Aid website, the organization’s mission is more than raising money through an annual concert. It also shares stories, discuses the issues, and sets forth the actions it is taking to accomplish its mission. The site also features timely blog posts, such as “Farmers and Climate Change: Myths vs. Facts.”
Mary Andrews, a frequent contributor to this column, traveled from Arizona to Raleigh, North Carolina, last month to cover this year’s concert. Here is her report, with photos in the gallery below.
Farm Aid 2022 by Mary Andrews
The Farm Aid concerts have been the largest money-raising event for the Farm Aid organization benefiting family farmers across the country. While the organizers might have thought the inaugural concert in 1985 would suffice, the problems of family farmers have increased and changed over the years.
With approximately 18,000 in attendance, this year’s concert was another sold-out show. The day began with a press conference held by local farmers, Nelson, and many other members of Farm Aid’s board. It was centered around climate change and overcoming the challenges of family farmers. Unfortunately, due to COVID concerns, board member Neil Young did not attend this year.
Keeping it in the Nelson family, the day of performances began with Particle Kid (Micah Nelson) performing his alternative rock. Nashville’s Brittney Spencer gave a lively set that included “Crowded Table” and “Sober & Skinny.” Her energy and exuberance was contagious. Charley Crockett has gained recognition for his soulful, twanging vocals, but he also has the ability to read an audience. Backed only by a pedal steel and trumpet, he gave them exactly what they wanted.
In returning to Farm Aid a second time, Allison Russell gave all that she had from the depth of her soul during her relatively short set. The Canadian multi-instrumentalist also made an affirming announcement of acceptance: “I am Black, queer, a new immigrant, and it has been life-changing to be welcomed.” Her set ended with Margo Price, Sheryl Crow, Spencer, and other women artists for a finale, “Georgia Rise,” in support of Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.
Also performing for a second time was Sheryl Crow. She described growing up in Missouri among cotton fields and quipped, “Farm Aid is the concert that most speaks to where I’m from.” Her set included her hits as well as a searing blues harp on a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Live With Me.”
Lukas Nelson was to do a solo acoustic set, but when Nathaniel Rateliff canceled due to COVID, he brought his band, Promise of the Real, for an extended, rousing performance. The highlight came when Spencer, Russell, and Tim Reynolds joined them to perform “Poor Elijah,” a tribute to Robert Johnson.
With hits he’s written for himself as well as many, many other country artists, Chris Stapleton’s appearance was highly anticipated. His performances of “Broken Halo” and “Tennessee Whiskey” were fine examples of why he would be named Artist-Songwriter of the Decade by the Academy of Country Music just days after his performance here.
Margo Price, who has toured with Stapleton, knows only too well about losing the family farm and has written about it, both in song and her new autobiography. Recently, her music has become less country and somewhat more alternative. She ably demonstrated this new sound when performing songs from her upcoming album, Strays.
Dave Matthews, with Tim Reynolds, gave another praiseworthy appearance, performing “Don’t Drink the Water,” “Crush,” and “Save Me.” Matthews mentioned, “It’s good to spend the day talking about the people who feed us.”
The most significant moment of the day happened prior to John Mellencamp’s set when Jim Orsay, owner of NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, presented him a check for $1 million for Farm Aid. It was a complete surprise.
Mellencamp’s set was was a compilation of his greatest hits. He appeared a bit irritated at the beginning, but the longer he performed, the more comfortable he became. So much so that when he did “Jack and Diane” he jokingly chastised many in the crowd for not knowing the lyrics.
As usual Willie Nelson closed things down, sitting center stage flanked by his sons, Lukas and Micah. Lukas sang the vocal on “Texas Flood” while Willie played an amazing guitar solo on Trigger (his guitar). Micah handled the vocals on his amusing composition written for his father, “If I Die When I’m High, I’ll Be Halfway to Heaven.”
Nelson sang an array of his hits, and mentioned that his 98th album was released on his 89th birthday. The day fittingly ended with most of the performers joining in for the closers, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “I’ll Fly Away.”
Before you knew it, Farm Aid was over for another year. Cannot wait for 2023. Maybe Willie will have released his 100th album by then.
Click on any photo below to view the gallery as a full-size slideshow.