Festivals

Willie Nelson's 35th Farm Aid Offers Diverse Lineup, Focuses on Pandemic's Impact and Racial Justice

Willie Nelson
Gary Miller/Getty Images for Shock Ink

Willie Nelson performs in concert during Farm Aid 34 at Alpine Valley Music Theatre on Sept. 21, 2019 in East Troy, Wis.

Coping with COVID-19 and another season of severe weather, thousands of family farms may go under, Farm Aid warns.

Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid marks its 35th anniversary Sept. 26 with an online festival that will feature its most expansive and diverse artist lineup in years and a spotlight on the issues of sustainable agriculture, the pandemic, climate change and the struggle for racial justice.

With the organization’s guiding foursome of Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews leading the bill, the virtual Farm Aid 2020 On The Road also will feature: Black Pumas, Bonnie Raitt and Boz Scaggs, Brandi Carlile, Chris Stapleton, Edie Brickell with Charlie Sexton, Jack Johnson, Jamey Johnson, Jon Batiste, Kelsey Waldon, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Margo Price, Nathaniel Rateliff, Particle Kid, The Record Company, Valerie June and The War And Treaty, with other artists to be added.

Against the backdrop of the pandemic, which has disproportionately affected communities of color, and amid another season of severe weather, driven by climate change, Farm Aid warns that thousands of family farms may go under. The sustainable agricultural methods of family farmers, meanwhile, are viewed as essential to addressing climate change.

“This pandemic and so many other challenges have revealed how essential family farmers and ranchers are to the future of our planet,” says Nelson, the founder and president of Farm Aid. “Farm Aid 2020 is going to give the whole country a chance to learn about the important work of farmers and how they're contributing to our well-being, beyond bringing us good food.”

First staged by Nelson and friends on Sept. 22, 1985 in Champaign, Ill., in response to the family farm foreclosure crisis of the 1980s, Farm Aid is the longest running concert for a cause.

While advocating year-round for a sustainable food system that supports family farmers, Farm Aid has evolved into an annual, national gathering place of activists involved in food policy, climate change and the fight for economic fairness in America. Its organizers have highlighted the work of urban farmers—most recently near its concerts in Milwaukee, Hartford and Pittsburgh—to emphasize the connection between racial justice and a sustainable food system.

Thom Duffy   
Farm Aid supporters tour Braddock Farms

The virtual Farm Aid will showcase stories from farmers from across the country, who have been invited to talk about why they farm, how they stay resilient, and their vision of the future of agriculture. Through its concerts, Farm Aid has amplified the voices of a movement— including young farmers; Black, brown and Indigenous farmers; and women farmers, all of whom help feed the nation.

“Since we started in 1985, Farm Aid has kept its finger on the pulse of farm country and deployed funds and resources to help farm families confront the challenges they face,” says Farm Aid’s executive director Carolyn Mugar. “It’s clear that this is a critical moment for farmers and ranchers. We risk losing their important contributions to our communities and our families if we do not adequately respond as a country."

Farm Aid’s virtual festival will run from 8 to 11 p.m. on Sept. 26 and will be streamed for free at FarmAid.org, Farm Aid’s YouTube channel, AXS TV and at Fans.com, with other platforms pending.

With sales of concert tickets and merchandise normally generating funds for Farm Aid’s year-round work, the organization this year will depend on online donations. Since 1985, Farm Aid has raised nearly $60 million to support family farmers and a sustainable agriculture system.

To help raise funds, Farm Aid also will once again offer exclusive future trips, artist-signed memorabilia—including a number of “from the vault” guitars and prints from previous Farm Aid festivals—for auction. The online silent auction will launch the morning of the festival and close on Friday, Oct. 9, with proceeds benefitting the organization.

Accepting sponsorships only from companies that support its mission, Farm Aid this year has obtained support from ButcherBox, Horizon Organic, Pete & Gerry’s Organic Eggs, Patagonia Workwear and Lundberg Family Farms. Companies interested in helping sponsor this year’s event should contact Farm Aid associate director Glenda Yoder via glenda@farmaid.org.

Updates on the 35th annual Farm Aid will be shared via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram (instagram.com/farmaid) and at the organization’s website, using the social media hashtags #FarmAid2020 and #OnTheRoad.

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