“We have to convince kids that the real future of America is to rebel, to be a farmer.
It’s a mission from God.

—Neil Young

HERSHEY, PA—It was a day of saying grace at the 27th annual Farm Aid as Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, Dave Matthews and family and friends laid their Hershey’s kisses on 30,000 fans and farmers alike in a incredible day of music from the heartland and beyond. Foul weather threatened to intervene but Mother Earth ultimately prevailed for the 10-hour music marathon that let the music and the messages ring to the cow fields and farms across the land. The performers had their say and non-profits set up tables as collaborations between artists became the order of the day.

Corporate farms are still taking over the little guy though at a slower pace than before and are now staking claim to the organic label as a marketing vehicle with barely any government oversight, shortchanging consumers as to exactly what organic food is. Jack Johnson, Kenny Chesney, Jamey Johnson and Grace Potter rounded out the bill and its geographical representation of this great land from Hawaii, to the south and straight up to Vermont where Potter hails from making this an all-American event.

Hot off the heels of Young and Crazy Horse’s new release, Americana, and the upcoming Psychedelic Pill, the reunited band’s set was a slugfest of loud rock, bloodcurdling riffage and densely packed notes of fuzz that Young ground into grimy welts of distortion. He hypnotized the crowd pacing and contorting his lanky frame on stage like a praying mantis on the hunt for that elusive note somewhere beyond the 12th fret.

The four-song set opened with “Country Home“ from Ragged Glory, then came the 25-minute sonics of “Ramada Inn” from the new one. The song dipped, peaked, plowed and flipped through the underbelly of the genre into a typhoon of licks and squelch that Young knows so well. “Mr. Soul,” from the Buffalo Springfield days, followed. “Like A Hurricane” was the show stopper that Crazy Horse stampeded through. The bands collective bang-up to the gods of thunder ended it all with an orgasmic mashup that was psychedelically delicious.

John Mellencamp offered up his heartland roots and played the songs that made him famous in the ‘80s beginning with “Authority Song” and ending with “Pink Houses.” He looked like a grizzled farmhand up there in Las Vegas duds as he shimmied and banged out his three chord rock on a beat up Fender Strat. “Rain On The Scarecrow” was the battle cry back then and still is now. Chesney joined him on stage for a poignant “Small Town.”

Dave Matthews and guitar virtuoso Tim Reynolds offered up an acoustic set of Matthews big songs unplugged, back porch style. Reynolds accentuating lines up and down the fretboard on his Martin guitar complemented Matthews’ growl and punchy rhythmic strumming on songs like “Gravedigger” and “Crush.”

Country rocker Kenny Chesney’s set was destined for stadiums and sing alongs. His backup band played the hits verbatim as every note rang to the fields and Chesney’s corn-fed baritone brought back memories of summer’s last stand. On “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem,” “Summertime” and “Beer In Mexico,” guitars wailed, twanged and power popped their way past the stadium’s end zones onto the roller coasters barreling down their tracks in the distance.

On “You And Tequila,” saucy Janis Joplin-esque vixen Grace Potter popped on stage for an intoxicating duet with Chesney. Willie Nelson joined Potter on “Ragged Company” as well but she truly shined on her band’s set. Strumming a Flying V guitar, she belted out tunes from their latest release, The Lion, The Beast, The Beat and worked the stage like a seasoned rocker.

Jack Johnson’s set took us back to the beaches of Hawaii, starting off with “Better Together” and “Home” on acoustic guitar. By the time “Good People” came around, his backup band was in full swing. Outlaw country maverick Jamey Johnson’s set took us back to the bar on songs like “Can’t Cash My Checks” and “The Way I Am.” The real deal, he delivered in a laid back Southern drawl destined for biker smokey juke joints and AA meetings.

Pegi Young and Willie’s son, Lukas, kept it all in the family as well in short sets that showcased their individual talents. Pegi’s short set of Laurel Canyon inspired singer-songwriter fare got a greasy spike of electrified jumbo as hubby Neil joined in on the last number. Lukas Nelson played an incredible instrumental version of “Amazing Grace” and Young’s “Here We Are In The Years.”

Willie, Neil and Crazy Horse joined forces on the three chord vamp “Homegrown,” a song that’s taken on a new meaning since its inclusion on the 1977 album, American Stars And Bars. He opened up with “Whiskey River” and ended the glorious day with everyone on stage for the grand finale of “Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die.”

For more information on the event, check out farmaid.org

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  1. Ben Draiman

    One of the most influential books I’ve read over the past few years is Michal Pollan’s “The Ominvore’s Dilema” which changed the way I look at food and especially farms. The industrialization is killing farms and so is government policy. Sad. Very sad to literally bite the hand that feeds.

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