Young, Mellencamp Star At Farm Aid's New York Debut
After 22 years, the annual Farm Aid benefit concert finally made its way to New York yesterday (Sept. 9). And if the gritty metropolis seemed like an unlikely place to celebrate family farmers and theAfter 22 years, the annual Farm Aid benefit concert finally made its way to New York yesterday (Sept. 9). And if the gritty metropolis seemed like an unlikely place to celebrate family farmers and their battle against corporate farming, the concert's founders argued otherwise.
"Some people thought that bringing Farm Aid to New York was a bold move," Willie Nelson said at a press conference early yesterday. "But there is good reason to invite urban Americans to appreciate the tastes of food grown close to home. People can keep family farmers on the land with their good food choices."
As usual, Nelson and Farm Aid's other three famous board members, Dave Matthews, Neil Young and John Mellencamp, headlined this year's concert on Randall's Island, the small sliver of land resting between Manhattan and Queens. The day featured fairly little politics -- which were delivered via relatively brief comments from Mellencamp and Young. Yet for a few rowdy fans, a little politics was still too much.
During a solo acoustic performance of "To Washington," his anti-war, anti-Bush update on the traditional, Mellencamp was booed by some fans, and as Young introduced his Farm Aid staple "Homegrown," explaining that the meaning of the song had changed over the years from a flippant marijuana reference to a plea for the purchasing of family farm-generated products, one drunken voiced interrupted, urging him to "just sing, Neil."
While loud, these voices were by far the minority in a group that politely applauded Mellencamp's revved up, rearranged versions of "Small Town" and grinned as Young would glance over at wife Pegi (who backed him on vocals and acoustic guitar) and smile.
Matthews' set drew thousands to Randall's Island for his set alone. With frequent collaborator Tim Reynolds, the duo ran through mellowed takes on Dave Matthews Band favorites ("Crush," "Stay"), selections from the singer's solo record ("Gravedigger") and a cover of Daniel Lanois' "The Maker."
As seems tradition for his Farm Aid sets, Young dipped into his revered late-'70s acoustic album "Comes a Time," bookending his brief set with "Human Highway" and "Four Strong Winds." Nelson and his longtime harmonica player Mickey Raphael joined for the latter, as well as "Homegrown." Other highlights included a slowed take on "Everyone Knows This is Nowhere" and "Heart of Gold."
Nelson and others guested with various other acts on the bill. The late afternoon was filled with appearances by the Allman Brothers Band and its extended family: In between sets from Hasidic dancehall star Matisyahu and pop-jam act Guster, Derek Trucks and his band delivered a brief trio of tunes (two of which featured Trucks' wife, Susan Tedeschi).
Fellow Allmans guitarist Warren Haynes performed a short late-afternoon solo acoustic set (which featured U2's "One" and his "Fallin' Down"), before Counting Crows -- sans two original members -- convincingly blasted through chestnuts from their first two albums ("Long December," "Rain King," "Recovering the Satellites").
Before a substantial, relatively tight and hits-sprinkled set from the Allman Brothers Band ("Statesboro Blues," "Trouble No More"), Gregg Allman strapped on an acoustic guitar for a pair of collaborations. Nelson joined first for an acoustic rendering of "Midnight Rider," leaving Allman to welcome Haynes and Matthews for "Melissa,"which found the later adding surprisingly affective harmony vocals.
With his fellow board members routinely delivering acoustic sets, Mellencamp is often the lone rocker to appear after sundown and even if he did have a short acoustic break, he and his band fired up their amps this year for favorites like "Paper and Fire" plus the just-recorded new songs "If I Die Sudden" and "Troubled Land." Throwing his arm around her often, Mellencamp later brought out Tedeschi for "Pink Houses," reprising a Farm Aid duet from years ago. But at this event, no song of his seems to gather more relevance with each passing year than "Rain on the Scarecrow."
This year's installment also featured brief appearances from the Ditty Bops, Montgomery Gentry, Danielle Evin, Jesse Lenat, Jimmy Sturr, Pauline Reese, Billy Joe Shaver and Supersuckers, as well as 40 Points, featuring Willie Nelson's sons, Lukas and Micah.