Farm Aid '97 Raises Big Bucks

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While 30,000 people helped raise more than $600,000 for America's farmers, a host of entertainers at Farm Aid '97 at Chicago's New World Music Theatre on Saturday gave them all a solid day of fun and music.

Beck, along with the Dave Matthews Band, provided Farm Aid's link to the younger generation in a bill that included such elder statesmen as John Fogerty and the Allman Brothers Band as well as Farm Aid founders John Mellencamp, Neil Young and Willie Nelson. In line with the day's theme, however, Beck opted out of his trademark high-energy performance, crafting instead a countrified set consisting mostly of songs from his independent releases One Foot in the Grave and Stereopathic Soul Manure. Looking and sounding more like an aged Ozarks folkie than a 27-year-old Californian, the celebrated junk-pop artist rolled his way through rarities like the mournful "Rowboat," an original recently covered by the eminent Johnny Cash. Beck ended his set with a slow but piercing version of "Jackass," from the 1996 LP, Odelay.

As the day progressed, the stage turned into a revolving door of roots rock legends. Red-faced and wild-eyed, John Fogerty ripped through a host of old Creedence Clearwater Revival hits. Next up was The Allman Brothers Band with a slick 40-minute set that included an energetic and extended "Blue Sky." The Dave Matthews Band followed, opening their 50-minute set with an unexpected but hugely welcomed "Two Step." They then capped off their high-energy set with an especially honky tonk-inflected "Ants Marching."

Six hours into the concert, John Mellencamp strode on stage, chomping a cigarette and sporting a black oxford that came more and more unbuttoned with each number. Mellencamp danced around the stage, leading the crowd through all the songs that made him the voice of the Heartland in the '80s. Neil Young cooled things down with an acoustic guitar and a sobering diatribe against corporate farms. Willie Nelson then closed the night with a handful of favorites like "On the Road Again" and a slow-n-easy rendition of the normally punchy Jimmy Cliff song "The Harder They Come."