Farm Aid @ Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga, New York 9-21-13

I personally have covered some terrific music festivals and been a part of some cool musical experiences but nothing would compare to the importance of attending just one Farm Aid. This year, BackstageAxxess was able to attend and review the 28th Annual Farm Aid. This year it was held in Saratoga Springs.

Almost 28 years to the day (the first Farm Aid was held in Champaign, Illinois on September 22, 1985),this year’s bands included: Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, Amos Lee, Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds, Jack Johnson, Jamey Johnson, Kacey Musgraves, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Sasha Dobson, Carlene Carter, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Bahamas, Pegi Young & The Survivors, Jesse Lenat, Insects vs Robots, and finally, The Blackwood Quartet.

With the ever changing, but ongoing crisis that our America Farmers face yearly, having a stable benefit to raise awareness continues to be a positive. Along with the musical acts there are various demonstrations and homegrown foods that were on display in the Homegrown Village. There was a lot of room to hold the estimated sold out crowd which topped 25,000.

Before the music started, the board of directors Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews held a press conference to talk about some of the issues facing the American Farmer. They were accompanied by some younger famers who got to tell their story on how they got into farming and what it means to them. The conference lasted over an hour. In te audience was Mellencamp’s beau actress Meg Ryan

Yes, there was a concert as well, and it served as a background for the day’s festivities. Willie Nelson joined The Blackwood Quartet in opening up the show at 12:30pm. Neil Young did the same as he played the entire set with his wife’s band Pegi Young & The Survivors. During the day each director took turns in introducing some of the acts. One of the most pleasant surprises was Willie’s kid Lukas Nelson & the Promise of the Real’s set. Nelson’s set combined a mix of blues, country, rock and a splash of bluegrass. He has the looks of Brad Pitt but sounds a lot like his dad. You are hearing it here first, look for big things from the 24 -year- old Lukas.

Toad the Wet Sprocket is back and releasing its first single in 16 years called “New Constellation.” Their album of the same name will be coming out on October 15, 2013. Recent 6 time CMA nominee Kacey Musgraves donned a Kentucky Derby like hat for her performance. Her band played a half hour set that included mostly songs from her 2013 release “Same Trailer Different Park.”

When Dave Matthews announced his good friend and Hawaiian born Jack Johnson, the crowd became electric and it pretty much stayed that way for the rest of the night. Johnson who just released “From Here to Now” last week, played a strong 45-minute set. Johnson seemed very appreciate of being a part of the event and you can tell he was enjoying every minute of it.

Dave Matthews home away from home can be considered SPAC. His band is known to play there just about every year and it’s one of his favorite places to play. He made that remark before he started his set with good friend and fellow acoustic guitar player Tim Reynolds. They got the biggest response from the crowd which fueled their performance. Reynolds chose to stand and Matthews sat during their 45- minute set. After they got done, the rain came. It was heavy and light at times. However, it didn’t damper what was ahead.

This was my first time seeing John Mellencamp and I’m not sure what to make out of his set. On most of the songs, he changed the tempos so I didn’t get a clear representation of what to compare him to. His voice still sounded good and he went back and forth between the acoustic guitar and singing acapella. The biggest surprise of the entire night was at the end of his set when “Pink Houses” was performed. Mellencamp invited the inspiration for the song out, 94 –year-old Pete Seeger. With banjo in hand, Seeger on stage alone, did a short rendition of “If I Had a Hammer.” After that, he called the board of directors out as he led a 7- minute “This Land is Your Land” sing-a-long. The crowd went absolutely nuts and this was a perfect surprise as Seeger has been a champion of rights in his own regard.

Neil Young who has been the most outspoken against the big companies, made his set a combination of sermon and music. At one point, an ignorant fan shouted “hurry up and play.” To which Neil responded, “I will when I’m ready as this is a very important forum to voice these topics.” He then added, “I work for me.” Neil, with harmonica mounted to the front of his mouth, opened with Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Neil played an organ, piano and an acoustic during his 7 song set.

Last up, headliner Willie Nelson took the stage. With Lukas in tow, Willie stayed true to the music and played an hour and 10 minute set. Nelson did a fabulous rendition of Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe” with his son Lukas. Everyone came on at the end to do “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” with Willie.

Our first trip to witness a Farm Aid concert was a memorable one. The message throughout the day was a simple one. It’s to always know the facts about what you are eating and to support your local farmers.

Willie Nelson Setlist:

Whiskey River
Still Is Still Moving to Me
Will You Remember Mine
Good Hearted Woman (Waylon Jennings cover)
Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys(Ed Bruce cover)
Just Breathe (Pearl Jam cover)
Texas Flood (Fenton Robinson cover)
Funny How Time Slips Away
Night Life
Down Yonder
Georgia On a Fast Train
Shoeshine Man (Tom T. Hall cover)
City of New Orleans (Steve Goodman cover)
Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die
I Saw the Light (Hank Williams cover)

Neil Young Setlist:

Blowin’ in the Wind (Bob Dylan cover)
Early Morning Rain (Gordon Lightfoot cover)
Old Man
Heart of Gold
Since I Met You Baby (Ivory Joe Hunter cover)
Reason to Believe (Tim Hardin cover) (stopped, then restarted after talking)
Changes (Phil Ochs cover)

John Mellencamp Setlist:

Authority Song
No One Cares About Me
Check It Out
Jack and Diane
Small Town
Rain on the Scarecrow
Paper in Fire
Crumblin’ Down
Pink Houses

Pete Seeger Setlist:

If I Had a Hammer
This Land is Your Land

Dave Matthews Setlist:

Save Me (Dave Matthews cover)
So Damn Lucky (Dave Matthews cover)
Grace Is Gone (Dave Matthews Band cover)
Cornbread (Dave Matthews Band cover)
If Only
#41 (Dave Matthews Band cover)
Two Step (Dave Matthews Band cover)

We would like to thank Brittany Vanderpool from Farm Aid Publicity for the credentials to cover this amazing show!