Having learned a thing or two about fund-raising on a massive scale from Live Aid (which happened mere months before), Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp — the hosts of 1985’s history-making Farm Aid concert — took Bob Geldof‘s philanthropic blueprint and applied it closer to home, rallying support for the plight of the American farmer. On September 22 that year, a crowd of 80,000 music fans gathered at the University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium to watch Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Bon Jovi, Tom Petty — and, of course, their three hosts — and learn something about American family farms.
At the time, the principals thought the concert would be “one and done,” and in a perfect world the money raised would help farmers hang onto their land and inspire changes in laws which, at the time, favored industrial farmers over family ones. It would take Congress two years to pass the Agricultural Credit Act of 1987.
Over the years, Farm Aid’s focus has shifted toward the Good Food Movement, which emphasizes healthy food, food that’s safe to eat and sustainable farming practices. From the passage of the Organic Food Production Act in 1990 to the filing of the largest class-action lawsuit brought against the USDA on behalf of African American farmers, Farm Aid has been a consistent force for change during the past three decades. As Farm Aid’s 30th anniversary approaches, it’s clear much has been accomplished, yet there are still battles (GMOs, anyone?) to be fought.
With 30 opportunities to entertain and raise money, it comes as no surprise that some of the biggest and brightest names in music have taken the stage, including Merle Haggard, Imagine Dragons, Hootie & the Blowfish, Kenny Chesney and Dave Matthews – the latter of whom was appointed the to the Farm Aid board of directors in 2001.
Speaking of the musicians, none are paid to perform at Farm Aid. In an interview with The New York Times, John Mellencamp said, “We’ve never given any money to anybody for anything — no gas money, no beer money.” In fact, they regularly turn down well-known acts who request to be paid. This keeps costs down and the emphasis squarely on the musicians who truly want to be there to help the cause.
Rhapsody is marking the 30th anniversary of Farm Aid in two ways. First, we’ve created a playlist of songs by the generous artists who performed at the inaugural event. They raised more than $7 million and made history doing so. We’ve also made a playlist of the artists playing at this year’s event. If you can’t be at FirstMerit Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island in Chicago on September 19, take a listen — it will be just like being there.