Neil Young Bows Out of Farm Aid 2021: ‘It’s a Tough Call’

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Neil Young performing at Farm Aid 2017

One month after the announcement that Farm Aid would return in 2021, Neil Young has bowed out and won’t perform this year. The event takes place on September 25 in Hartford, Conn. Young described his decision, which he revealed on Aug. 18, as a “tough call,” citing concerns about the surging Covid pandemic. On his website, Neil Young Archives, he wrote, “While I respect Willie, John and Dave’s decisions to stick with it and play, I am not of the same mind. It is a tough call.” Young was referring to fellow board members Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews.

This year’s event was announced on July 20. When tickets went on sale three days’ later, it was an immediate sell-out. Farm Aid’s annual festival — a full day of music, family farmers, homegrown food and a homegrown Village with agrarian experiences — will be held at Hartford’s Xfinity Theatre. Tickets for Farm Aid 2021 went on sale to the public on Friday, July 23 here.

More from Young’s announcement: “All you people who can’t go to a concert because you still don’t feel safe, I stand with you. I don’t want you to see me playing and think it’s safe now. I don’t want to play until you feel safe, and it is indeed, safe.

“My soul tells me it would be wrong to risk having anyone die because they wanted to hear music and be with friends.”

After hosting a virtual festival in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Farm Aid 2021 will reunite family farmers and musician activists, with performances by Farm Aid board members Willie Nelson & Family, Mellencamp, Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds, and Margo Price, as well as Sturgill Simpson, Tyler Childers, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Bettye LaVette, Jamey Johnson, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Allison Russell, Particle Kid, and Ian Mellencamp.

“The experience of the past 18 months has reminded us how much we need each other,” said Farm Aid President and Founder Willie Nelson, in the original July 20 announcement. “I’m so glad that music is bringing us all back together at Farm Aid 2021 to celebrate family farmers. When we combine music, family farmers and good food, we have the power to grow the kind of agriculture that strengthens all of us.”

Watch Willie Nelson & Family perform at Farm Aid 2018, also in Hartford

From the announcement: Hartford festival attendees will experience the abundance of family farm agriculture firsthand via homegrown Concessions® featuring a diverse, fresh menu with ingredients that are produced by family farmers, using ecological practices, with a fair price paid to the farmers. In addition, Farm Aid’s homegrown Village features hands-on activities designed to engage festivalgoers in learning about soil, water, energy, food and farming. Festivalgoers can hear farmers and artists educate and inspire on the FarmYard Stage and learn agrarian skills and celebrate the cultures of agriculture in the homegrown skills tent.

“Live performances by artists who are passionate about agriculture and good food are the deep roots that sustain Farm Aid’s year-round work for family farmers,” said Farm Aid Executive Director Carolyn Mugar. “We’re thrilled that Hartford is welcoming Farm Aid back again after our successful 2018 event. We’re grateful to the management and staff at Xfinity Theatre for working hand-in-hand with us to ensure the safety of our artists, crew, volunteers, farmers and fans.”

Watch Neil Young and Promise of the Real perform “Ohio” at Farm Aid 2018

Venue and Farm Aid staff are following the latest CDC guidance and industry best practices related to limiting the transmission of COVID-19, including various precautions across the operation. Farm Aid will continue to monitor the situation closely and update protocols as warranted leading up to Sept. 25.

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  1. Cat6
    #1 Cat6 19 August, 2021, 11:28

    It really must have been a “tough call” for Neil. Back in July when tickets went on sale, we had not yet seen the enormous resurgence of covid, as led by Delta. I have tickets to a different event, but have decided not to attend due to the virulence of Delta.

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    • Mickey
      Mickey 19 August, 2021, 21:36

      Pretty hard to get all revved up to hang out in large crowds at the moment.

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  2. Da Mick
    #2 Da Mick 20 August, 2021, 05:35

    I can certainly see Neil’s point, though we can’t know what all is involved, and what cancelling the festival would mean contractually. It might not be so easy for Willie and some of the others to just pull the plug, even if they wanted to, whereas Neil has a bit of long-standing track record of pulling the plug, and/or just flat out not showing up whenever he’s not wanted to do something, for whatever the reason. That said, my wife and I have bought a number of concert tickets for shows throughout this fall, back, not so long ago, when we thought it was “all clear” to do so. I’m not so crazy about the idea now, and am wondering how many of these shows might be cancelled. much the way many were shut down in March of 2020, I’m hoping that will be the case. But, despite the alarming numbers of new cases of the virus, with hospitals and ICUs already being jammed, there’s a different kind of financial imperative in play now that doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge the realities, and seems bent on forging ahead, and damn the costs in human life. I understand that no one wants to close their businesses, or shut down tours again, but we’re living in a unique time, where, maybe for once, financial considerations need to take a back seat to the general health of the public. CDC safety guidelines are a crock when it comes to putting a large group of people together in a compressed space, Whenever I see that term used now, I see a code phrase for denial, in the desperate hope that the public will buy into an imaginary, and self-delusional, sense of safety.

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