September 22, 1985: First Farm Aid Concert

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farm-aid-1985-johnny-cash-waylon-jenningsIt started with an offhand comment that Bob Dylan made earlier that year from the stage at Live Aid: “I hope that some of the money… maybe they can just take a little bit of it, maybe… one or two million, maybe… and use it, say, to pay the mortgages on some of the farms and, the farmers here, owe to the banks.”

It did not sit well with Live Aid organizer Bob Geldof, who would (unfairly) describe it later as “a crass, stupid and nationalistic thing to say,” Nonetheless, it planted a seed with Willie Nelson (who grew up in a Central Texas farming community and worked the fields from a young age), Neil Young and John Mellencamp who soon announced the formation of Farm Aid and its first benefit concert, held on this day at Memorial Stadium at the University of Illinois in Champaign.

A blue ribbon line-up of artists led by Nelson, Young, Mellencamp and Dylan appeared and drew 80,000 people.

The performers included top country acts Alabama, Johnny Cash, Charlie Daniels Band, Merle Haggard, Vince Gill, Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Emmylou Harris, Kenny Rogers, Loretta Lynn and Tanya Tucker.

Watch Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings from that first concert…

Classic rock stars included Bon Jovi, Billy Joel, John Fogerty, Foreigner, Daryl Hall, Don Henley, Bonnie Raitt, Lou Reed, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Van Halen (in their first appearance with Sammy Hagar as frontman); roots music artists like The Blasters, B.B. King, Brian Setzer and Joe Ely; singer-songwriters Randy Newman, Arlo Guthrie and Carole King and everyone from The Beach Boys to rock legend Roy Orbison to punk rockers X, among others.

Watch Foreigner with longtime lead singer Lou Gramm performed “Urgent”…

Here’s one more… Glen Campbell performing two of his biggest hits…

The show took in $9 million used to set up a permanent organization to assist family and independent farmers, promote sustainable agriculture and good food, and to help small farmers in times of natural disasters. To date close to $50 million has been raised by the 30 years of shows. Even though organic farming and the locavore movement have risen since the first Farm Aid, saving small farmers from the dominance of corporate agribusiness remains a pressing issue.

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