It's understandable to think that Jack Johnson might've been a little nervous before his afternoon set at Farm Aid 30 this past weekend. After all, it's been almost a year since the last time he and his band have played a show together, and it's been two years since he last played Farm Aid. But speaking with Rolling Stone Country a few hours before taking the stage, the relaxed surfer-turned-musician seemed none too worried.
"We don't do sound checks too much," said Johnson, sitting comfortably among the packed-in gear of his makeshift rehearsal room. "We just come together an hour or so beforehand and try new things and figure out what we're going to do."
This doesn't mean that the singer-songwriter and his rock-solid backing trio (Zach Gill, Merlo Podlewski, and Adam Topol) weren't taking the gig seriously. In fact, it's the exact opposite. Johnson, who is already known for mixing music with altruism throughout his own career by starting the Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation in 2008 and by donating 100 percent of his 2010-2013 tour profits to charity, sees Farm Aid as an important opportunity to raise awareness and to engage with the struggle of family-owned farms.
"I know so many people that, if they could only go to one show a year, they'd choose Farm Aid," he said. "And that goes for me too."
To commemorate this year's Farm Aid festivities, Johnson wrote a new song that could not have been more tailor-made for the event. "Willie Got Me Stoned and Took All My Money" is a playful, barroom piano-led ditty retelling a night of cards-and-cannabis with Willie Nelson, Farm Aid's founder and president. The inspiration for the song came to him while reading Nelson's biography, It's a Long Story, and he came across the mention of Harlan Howard's "three chords and the truth" songwriting mantra. Introducing the new tune at Farm Aid, Johnson told the crowd, "This next song has got three chords in it, and it might be a little too honest."
Although brand-new songs can often land flat during a live debut, the Farm Aid audience was immediately and enthusiastically on board from the first few lines:
Willie got me stoned and took all my money
I was 50 dollars up and then my mind went funny
It didn't really help that I didn't know the rules of the game
And it probably didn't help that I couldn't remember my name
Between Johnson's new song and Toby Keith's classic "Weed with Willie," it seems that cautionary tales of the country legend's marijuana are in high demand.