John Mellencamp is taking a brief break from his current Sad Clowns & Hillbillies Tour to focus on cause he has championed for more than three decades, the fight to save America’s family farms.
Amid a farm foreclosure crisis in 1985, Mellencamp joined Willie Nelson and Neil Young to stage the first Farm Aid concert to benefit family farmers. The annual event since has become the music industry’s longest-running concert for a cause.
Tonight, in Durham, N.C., Mellencamp will host the premier of “Homeplace Under Fire,” a documentary produced by Farm Aid about the unsung superstars of the family farm movement, the local advocates and activists engaged in a 30-plus-year fight for their land and a sustainable system of agriculture.
Nelson, Young and Mellencamp, later joined by Dave Matthews, have begun Farm Aid concerts with afternoon press events that have highlighted the work of the farmer advocates.
One of the advocates featured in the film, Mona Lee Brock, now in her 80s, spoke before the 30th anniversary Farm Aid concert in Chicago in 2015 about answering a crisis hotline call from a financially distraught farmer.
“The second sound I heard,” she said, “was the clicking of gun.”
She kept the farmer on the line, talking, until family could arrive to help.
“Homeplace Under Fire” was directed by Charles D. Thompson, Jr. and produced by Farm Aid in cooperation with the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. The film captures the heroes of a movement that began around scores of kitchen tables, as ordinary individuals mobilized to study laws and regulations, started crisis hotlines, counseled neighbors and fought back against lenders seeking to foreclose on farms.
The farmer advocates, like Farm Aid itself, have since moved to the front lines of the fight for a sustainable food system, supporting urban agriculture, farmers markets, farm-to-table restaurants, community supported agriculture organizations and more.
At the premiere, taking place at the Griffith Film Theater in the Bryan Center at Duke, Mellencamp will be joined by Thompson, Farm Aid executive director Carolyn Mugar, farm advocate Benny Bunting, North Carolina farmers Curtis and Valerie Byrum, Scott Marlow of Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA and Savi Horne of Land Loss Prevention Project.
Before the most recent Farm Aid concert in Bristow, Va. Sept. 17, 2016, at a pre-show press conference, Mellencamp said someone remarked to him: “Farm Aid, you guys still doing that?” He retorted: “You still eating?”