My day at Farm Aid began with a press conference at 11 am. Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews were joined by activists and farmers, and Willie was inducted into the Agricultural Hall of Fame.
Willie Nelson set the tone from the beginning of the day. He is a kind and strong man, and is the founder of this amazing movement, now 25 years old. I asked his son Lukas what gave his dad the idea to start it, and he told me that at the Live Aid concert back in 1985, Bob Dylan had said that there should be a similar concert in the US for the struggling farmers. That idea struck Willie so hard that he picked up the torch and ran with it.
I was at Farm Aid with Deborah Brenner and Women of the Vine, on our "Wine, Women and Song Tour," singing songs from my new CD Slingshot. It was held at the new LIVESTRONG sports arena in Kansas City, Kansas. The stage was so huge that there was room for three rolling platforms on it. We, the bands, were set up on these, and were rolled on and off front of stage.
I played my set with my fantastic band, "The Good Clean Fun Band" (Tim Young, Jon Ossman, Danny Frankel, Patrick Warren) in the afternoon under the hot Kansas sun, but with a grateful breeze, to a very mellow, happy crowd, settling in for 10 hours of music.
Ron the stage manager asked me if I would introduce some of the acts for him, which I did. I introduced Robert Francis, who did a beautiful set with his guitar; Billy Joe Shaver, a great Texan who looks like a cowboy; Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real, who totally blew me away; and Jakob Dylan, who looked eerily like his dad of the sixties, but who played and sang like the unique artist that he his.
In between my duties as part-time MC, Deborah and I visited the Homegrown Village where farmers and foodies demonstrated their techniques and told their stories. I was impressed by a program called New Roots, which helps women refugees from countries in conflict to start new lives in the US by farming. They are trained in a four-year program at the end of which, New Roots helps them find their own land to farm and live on.
I spoke to some ladies who are running an urban community farm program. They have a thriving business now, growing and selling produce in parts of the city where "organic" and "homegrown" aren't words you see too much in the markets.
There was a strong feeling of camaraderie throughout the day.
The stage hands and technicians were great at their jobs.
I've never seen a more smoothly run show.
Backstage was a convivial place to be. Most of the artists who had played stayed to watch the rest of the show from there.
I stayed, and was mesmerized by the backs of Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, and the man himself, Willie Nelson, with his family band (his sister Bobbie on keys, son Lukas on guitar and vocals and daughter Amy on vocals).
At the end of the evening we all went on stage with Willie and sang "I'll Fly Away," "I Saw the Light" and Willie's "Roll me up and Smoke Me When I Die."