Sept 22, 1985: First Farm Aid Concert is Star-Packed

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Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings

It 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 September 22, 1985, 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.

Watch Neil Young perform a favorite

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

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, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers; 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 perform “Urgent”

Watch Dylan rehearse with his future bandmate, Tom Petty

Watch Glen Campbell perform 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 roughly $70 million has been raised through the years by these shows.

The 2023 edition will take place on Sept. 23 in Noblesville, Ind.

Best Classic Bands Staff

2 Comments so far

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  1. Rick Van Gil
    #1 Rick Van Gil 22 September, 2017, 18:53

    I believe that was also the first public appearance of Sammy Hagar and Eddie Van Halen together. Fantastic event!

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  2. Alias Pink Puzz
    #2 Alias Pink Puzz 22 September, 2020, 22:27

    I was there! I sat in the rain, ate the overpriced food, listening to celebs pretend to know what a soybean looked like. And I listened to the amazing music: Carole King, Lou Reed, John Fogerty, and Brian Seltzer – who put on an amazing set stand out in my memory. Support your local farmers!

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