Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Helping Local Farmers: Farm Aid 2009

By Brittney Isringhausen

With the sun shining, blue skies, and beautiful leaves changing into their vivid fall colors, one might wonder if it was karma how great the day turned out to be for Farm Aid 2009. Put on by the Farm Aid organization and headed up by its president, Willie Nelson, this benefit concert was once again a huge success. I doubt a single attendee left unaware of our nation’s need for family farms and our part in keeping them alive. Farm Aid pushes people to take personal responsibility for the food choices we make.

The first Farm Aid happened in Champagne, IL in 1985, when Bob Dylan suggested we do something for our own farmers right here in America. Willie Nelson, Neil Young, and John Mellencamp agreed that local family farmers were in dire need of assistance and organized a concert with performers Billy Joel, B. B. King, Roy Orbison and many more. “I’ve always believed that the most important people on the planet are the ones who plant the seeds and care for the soil where they are grown,” claims Willie Nelson. Family farms are the pillars of our communities. They grow high quality food and are vital to the economic welfare of their hometowns and the nation. More and more Americans are joining this fight against inhumane treatment of our land and animals. It is up to us to be responsible with what we purchase and where we purchase it. “Read the Label” and “Eat Your Zip Code” were amongst the many motivational signs that decorated the amphitheater. We are quite blessed to live in a town where buying locally and responsibly is not a difficult task. Just down the street from the town square is Wayne’s Market where fresh, healthy grown produce is their specialty.

Farmers, artists, concerned citizens, and consumers have come together to raise awareness about the advantages of good food from family farms through Farm Aid. But feeling good about benefiting a good cause was certainly not the only high people received from this concert. Performers Gretchen Wilson, Ernie Isley & the Jam Band, Will Dailey and Jamey Johnson, along with headliners, Willie Nelson, Neil Young, Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp, and Wilco preformed their oh-so-sweet tunes that kept the crowd buzzing for hours.

The gates at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in St. Louis opened at 12:30 with the first band, The Blackwood Quartet, performing at 1:00. The first half of the show consisted of good ole` jam bands and country music. Gretchen Wilson, the Pocahontas local, played a great set including “Here for the Party” and “California Girl” after first “dedicating” the song to Paris Hilton. At 5:00 Willie Nelson came out to thank the crowd and welcome the viewers at home that were watching the show live on Direct TV and welcomed Wilco to the stage. Opening with “Bull Black Nova,” they put on a great but short set. Jeff Tweedy joked about their hometown, Belleville, IL, and gave his fair share of encouragement toward being responsible in food purchasing. Jason Mraz, the big pop act of the concert, performed “The Remedy” and his popular “I’m Yours”. He encouraged attendees not to worry about what others think of you when it comes to activism stating, “Raise your voice and participate in something.”

Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds performed their perfectly fitting acoustic versions of “Funny the Way It Is” and “Stay or Leave” along with many others. Matthews and Reynolds were then joined by Willie Nelson on guitar and vocals for “Gravedigger.” It was truly amazing. Matthews made comments to Nelson, saying “The quicker we get behind the kind of things Nelson believes in the better we all will be.” Up next was John Mellencamp, one of the four founders of Farm Aid, who opened with “Pink Houses” followed by “Paper in Fire” and “ Check It Out.”

Neil Young, another founder, performed “Sail Away,” “Long May You Run,” “Field of Opportunity,” and “Hold Back the Tears,” which definitely graced the crowd. Wearing a ‘Stop Factory Farming’ T-shirt (which he later ripped off to reveal a green ‘Go Family Farming’ T-shirt), Mellencamp stated, “We’re here to make a difference and you can make it without us, but you’ve got the biggest vote with your dollar bill.” He encouraged attendees to text FARMER to 90999 to donate $5. If you were not at the show this is something you didn’t miss out on, you can still text and do your part.

Welcoming Willie Nelson to the stage with him, they performed “Homegrown” expressing the value in planting a bulb and letting it grow. Willie Nelson, being the closing set, was accompanied by his son Lukas Nelson who performed “Always on My Mind” and “On the Road Again.” Billy Joe Shaver, who missed his slot earlier in the day, came out to join Nelson for “You Asked Me To.” It was rumored that the big finale would bring together all the headliners, which did not happen, but that is not to say the finale was lacking.

The ending, a gospel-themed performance, brought back the Blackwood Quartet and Phosphorescent for an epic performance of “I’ll Fly Away” and “Amazing Grace.” With a packed stage and more inspirational words from Willie himself, the music of this show was amazing. Nelson took time to speak to all of us young lost souls out there saying that if you don’t really know what to do next, why not do one of the most commendable jobs and be a farmer.

Dave Matthews has a quote on the Farm Aid website (where you can find tons of information about where to buy locally and what companies support responsible production) stating, “We’re at a moment when a lot of people are asking, ‘What is America? What represents America?’ Certainly, I think that the family farm is a main ingredient of what made America.” We are still able to make the choice between food that is grown and raised by local farmers or food that is genetically engineered on factory farms. If we do not all get together on this and start making the right decisions soon, those choices are going to disappear. Check out the website (, watch the concert online, and listen to the advice given by the founders and supporters of Farm Aid. In supporting organizations like Farm Aid, or just by simply “reading the label” we can all be a part of saving healthy, fresh, family farm food that we cannot do with out. So go on then and “eat your zip code.”

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