Farm Aid at Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, WI

Some of the biggest names in music came together to raise awareness about the loss of family farms and raise money for farms in need.

In 1985, Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp organized the first ever Farm Aid. After all of these years and having raised $57 million to help farmers keep their land, they’re still bringing the crowds and artists together for the 33rd Farm Aid concert.

While assembling an incredible musical lineup on one stage, let’s not forget the actual purpose and message of the event is really the subject that deserves attention. Throughout the day, as well as the concert which took place on the main stage, there were a number of talks to raise awareness of the issues farmers are facing due to climate change and financial struggles. It’s not something we hear about too often for those outside of the farming industry so this is a great platform to raise awareness but also money for those who need the additional support. 

The musicians taking part in the day-long event all donated their time and encouraged those in attendance to make donations as well as to buy local produce rather than produce that is mass-produced for the large supermarkets. It was impossible to attend this event and not go away with thoughts of what we as individuals can do to help make an impact. 

On the main stage, Ian Mellencamp and Particle Kid were first up and played to an extremely appreciative audience of early risers. Jamestown Revival turned up the heat with a great set showcasing top class songwriting and CSNY-style harmonies. They are currently on tour supporting Ryan Bingham and are definitely a band to watch.

Tanya Tucker made her return to Farm Aid for the first time since the inaugural 1985 show. “Delta Dawn” had the ample-sized crowd singing along, while “Bidding America Goodbye,” a song she hasn’t performed in 30 years, couldn’t have been a more apt song considering the event. Tucker recently released her first album of original songs in 17 years, and it was fantastic to see her back on the stage doing what she does best. 

Yola took to the stage next and mesmerized the audience with her fantastic range and soulful vocals. Hailing from Bristol, England, Yola is truly making a name for herself as she does the rounds on the tour circuit. Be sure to check out her blend of soul and country if she comes to a city near you. 

Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real delivered a high energy set. Margo Price joined the band to perform “Turn Off The News (Build A Garden),” a song which Nelson pointed out was a great song for today, or any day, in today’s world. Price stayed on stage for “Forget About Georgia” and was joined by Yola and Nathaniel Rateliffe & the Night Sweats for “Find Yourself.” Yola added some real vocal peaches and cream to the song, going back and forth with Lukas, who hit some ridiculously high notes in the process. It was a great set and the audience again got to their feet to show their appreciation.

Margo Price was next up. She took to the stage like a whirlwind and delivered a great set. Her songs are from the heart and delivered with such passion that you can’t help to be sucked into the performance. Many of the crowd were on their feet dancing throughout. Her band, including her guitarist husband Jeremy Ivey, are absolutely top shelf.

Jamey Johnson brought the biggest band the day, as they filled the stage. As if that wasn’t enough, special guest Randy Hauser was asked to join them. Johnson is no stranger to Farm Aid, having been invited to join the lineup an impressive 10 times. Performing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” the audience found it impossible not to sing along. 

Nathaniel Rateliffe and the Night Sweats stepped onto the stage and launched straight into their breakthrough hit “S.O.B” and never took their foot off the gas for the rest of their set. The crowd were on their feet again and finally there was some let up in the relentless rain that had been coming down since the gates to Alpine Valley opened.

Luke Combs was next up, shifting the needle from the rock and roll of the NightSweats to more of a classic country sound, mixing some ballads with more upbeat tracks. It’s no surprise he was invited to attend this year’s event given the fact that his 2017 album, This One’s For You, is the top-selling country album of 2019.

Bonnie Raitt was one of the artists who garnered a lot of excitement and anticipation, and it was everything you could hope for and more. Her set was packed with covers, such as INXS’ “Need You Tonight” and John Prine’s “Angel of Montgomery.” However, it was her cover of Skip James’ “Devil Got My Woman” which she dedicated to Stevie Ray Vaughan which was the most poignant given Alpine Valley was where SRV tragically lost his life. 

Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds both demonstrated incredible musicianship as they launched into a high energy acoustic set. Given the length of time the pair have played together, there is almost a telepathic understanding between them. Their set included the title song from DMB’s latest album before rounding out their shortened set with “Ants Marching.” 

John Mellencamp’s set was packed with all the hits including “Pink Houses” and “Small Town” but it was his acoustic version of “Jack & Diane” that had the crowd singing along in full voice, even if they did get the lyrics mixed up. The set was one of the best received of the night, and his band, as always, were fantastic. 

Neil Young was joined on stage with Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real, who were his backing band on his most recent albums. He might have been noticeably late in taking to the stage, but he made up for it by drawing attention to the issues farmers are currently facing and encouraging attendees to reach into their pockets and donate their money to the cause and to make sure they buy local produce. The set included “Heart of Gold” and “Harvest Moon” but the highlight of the entire day was undoubtedly their performance of “Rockin’ In The Free World.”

The 12-hour extravaganza was nearing the end but not before the man himself, Willie Nelson, took to the stage. Nelson canceled tour dates earlier this year due to bad health, leading many to question whether he would make it to Farm Aid. Not one to disappoint, he was sure to take to the stage to round out the night. He did not make his usual appearances throughout the day, so the crowd were pleased to see him take to the stage for the all-star finale, which saw Neil Young, Jamey Johnson, Randy Houser, Nathaniel Rateliff, and Margo Price join him on stage.  

Despite the rain which, at points, felt like it was never going to stop, the spirits of the audience were never dampened. While the music and the huge names on the lineup are an incredible draw to this event, it’s for such a worthwhile cause, and it’s great to see it still going strong after all of these years. 

Although the show may be over, it’s not too late to contribute. As Neil Young encouraged – buy your produce from local sources. You can also head over to the Farm Aid website and either donate or buy merchandise to help support family farmers.

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About Kirstine Walton 152 Articles
Kirstine moved from the UK to Chicago in 2011, and has fallen in love with the city and its music scene. She enjoys combining her two biggest passions – music and photography. If there is a band with a guitar playing, chances are she’ll be there…camera in hand. Kirstine went to her first live concert at 7 years old, and hasn’t looked back since!

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