Alabama Shakes, the roots-rock quintet that topped the Billboard 200 last year with its Grammy Award-winning album Sound & Color, will join Willie Nelson and friends at the 31st annual Farm Aid concert, benefiting America’s family farmers, Sept. 17 at the Jiffy Lube Live amphiteater in Bristow, Virginia.
Farm Aid’s guiding foursome — Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews (in an acoustic performance with Tim Reynolds) — will also be joined on the bill by: Sturgill Simpson, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, Margo Price, Jamey Johnson, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Carlene Carter and Insects vs. Robots. Tickets for the concert go on sale June 27 via LiveNation.com.
Farm Aid has been staged every year since 1985, at venues around the country, and is the longest-running concert for a cause in pop music history. Since Nelson founded the organization, it has raised $50 million to help family farmers.
But more than an annual benefit concert, Farm Aid has been a 30-year-plus effort, led by Nelson, to fight corporate control of America’s farmland, shape national farming policy, and promote the Good Food Movement.
Each year, Farm Aid serves as an annual gathering of activists focused on food issues, environmentalism and social-justice battles. Many farmers and activists travel to the event to network, share strategies, listen to the music and eat family farm food on a menu that Farm Aid has trademarked as “Homegrown.” With composting practiced backstage and promoted to the audience, the concert aims for zero waste.
“Folks are educating themselves about where and how food is grown — they’re hungry for the truth,” Nelson says in a statement. “Family farmers bring us good food, protect our soil and water, and strengthen our country. The Farm Aid concert is a day for us to honor that truth and keep working for family farmers.”
Farm Aid board member Mellencamp adds: “We’ve been fighting for family farmers for a long time, and that fight isn’t over. At Farm Aid 2016, we’ll come together to stand up to the handful of corporations that control our food system.”
Carolyn Mugar, executive director of Farm Aid, noted that music and food “have an incredible power to bring people together. Farm Aid is a day that illustrates the diversity and strength of the Good Food Movement. At Farm Aid 2016, we’ll join forces and raise our voices for a farm and food system that is good for people and communities, not just the profits of a few.”
Coinciding with the announcement of this year’s concert, Farm Aid has launched a social-media campaign using the hashtag #Road2FarmAid, inviting people to share actions taken to change the food system in their own communities. Beginning with on-sale date of the show, fans can pursue opportunities to meet artists backstage. Farm Aid also will be providing updates via its Twitter account (@FarmAid) and on Facebook.
The organization vets sponsors to reflect its mission of supporting family farms. Sponsors this year include: Bonterra Organic Vineyards, Horizon Organic, Greener Fields Together, HimalaSalt, Laguinitas Brewing Co. and Organic Valley. Onboard as media partners are: The Washington Post, iHeartMedia and On Tap magazine.
The Sept. 17 concert marks the third time Farm Aid has been staged in Virginia, following shows in Bristow in 1999 and 2000. The show’s setting is notable: Agriculture is Virginia’s largest economic sector, contributing more than $52 billion to the state’s economy; the state’s 8.1 million acres of farmland accounts for 32 percent of its land area, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
Both the promise and peril facing family farms are playing out in the state (where Farm Aid artists will travel at their own expense to donate their performances).
The good news is that, as of 2014, the state had 167 organic farms producing $41.3 million in organic products, and 249 farmers markets. A state law passed in 2007 encouraged ties between school districts and local farms.
And yet, Prince William County, where the Jiffy Lube Live amphitheater is based, has seen a 4 percent loss of farms between 2007 and 2017, the USDA reports. The average sales per farm shows a loss of $7,578, and all but 23 farms in the county make less than $100,000 in gross sales, according to the USDA.
Nelson’s involvement in the fight to save family farms recently drew national attention via a letter from Farm Aid’s Carolyn Mugar published June 17 in The New York Times.
Mugar wrote regarding The Times’ coverage of a recent vote in North Dakota in which residents rejected efforts to loosen rules that prohibit corporate farming.
“At the root of this issue is not nostalgia but the future,” wrote Mugar. “It’s about how we’re going to protect our soil and water, our citizens and our communities.”
She went on to cite an op-ed from Nelson that was published in North Dakota, in the Grand Forks Herald, during the campaign.
“Citizens are told that their long-held values are getting in the way of progress, or that the family farm is obsolete,” wrote Nelson. “But the truth is just the opposite: Corporate farming is destroying our present; the family farm is our future.”