Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Mr. Reporter

As appears in today's issue of the New School Free Press:

Held in New York for the first time in its 22-year history, Farm Aid managed to give the big city, particularly Randall’s Island, a small-town feel.

Talking about Live Earth in 1985, Bob Dylan said that some of the money raised should be used to “pay the mortgages on some of the farms.”

On Dylan’s prompt, John Mellencamp, Neil Young and Willie Nelson agreed that something needed to be done, and Farm Aid was created.

The goal of Farm Aid is to keep farmers on their land, and all funds raised are spread all across the country. The concerts have raised in excess of $30 million to-date.

Beginning just as a benefit concert featuring artists as diverse as X, Johnny Cash and The Beach Boys, Farm Aid has morphed into an organization making positive change throughout the country.

This year’s concert, which featured over 20 acts, lasted roughly 12 hours and, by the end, the crowd was stuffed on homegrown food like pork sandwiches and free-range chicken. Education was available at booths throughout the island about where your produce comes from: education made palatable by way of the food and music.

Of the early acts Matisyahu and Jimmy Sturr, a polka musician who covered a farmer favorite, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” got the biggest applause. Later on bigger names took the stage. The Counting Crows played 5 songs, including segueing their own “Rain King” into Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road.”

One of the best performances of the night was The Allman Brothers Band who, at about an hour, played one of the longest sets and seemed to enjoy of every second of it. Warren Hayes and Greg Allman traded licks back and forth on the guitar and left the crowd in ecstasy.

Dave Matthews, who became a board member in 2001, played an acoustic set with Tim Reynolds. Although Matthews’ voice was pretty hoarse, the duo became a crowd favorite when they included “Crush” and “Ants Marching.”

In the end, Neil Young stole the night. Instead of playing a blistering electric set, he played a simple acoustic-driven one with his wife, Peggy, and Ben Keith on the Dobro. They played “Everyone Knows This is Nowhere, “ “Four Strong Winds” and “Too Far Gone,” among others, and in-between songs Young offered his opinions on everything from red-wing blackbirds to what farming means to New York City.

For those twelve hours, maybe for the first time in their lives, New York City-dwellers cared about farming.

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