For 30 years now, family farmers have had some of the biggest names in music in their corner. Yet, as the four most notable board members of Farm Aid — including founding members Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp, as well as Dave Matthews —emphasized on Saturday morning in Chicago, kicking off the 30th anniversary rendition of the concert fundraiser with a educational press conference, their work is just getting started. "What we're fighting for is not only the health of our food but the health of our planet," Matthews told Rolling Stone backstage.
Farm Aid started as a one-off benefit concert, spearheaded by Nelson in 1985 to raise awareness and funds for endangered family farmers, long bullied by massive corporations and struggling to keep their land. The event, which repeat-performer Jack Johnson calls “a spiritual gathering,” has now blossomed into the longest-running concert for a cause in America; it has raised $48 million to date since its inception. "It's inspiring to see Neil Young and Willie out here getting fired up about this issue," Kacey Musgraves, who performed at her second-consecutive Farm Aid, told Rolling Stone. "It's total bullshit how our food is regulated in this industry. Clean, healthy food isn't a luxury. . . it's a right."
Sure, such fiery rhetoric finds its way into the world — especially when delivered by those with a platform, like big-time musicians. But it's undoubtedly the consistently top-notch musical performances every year at Farm Aid — both courtesy of the fest's founders and a slew of passionate performers, including Old Crowe Medicine Show, whose singer Ketch Secor said his band would "jump through rings of fire to do anything Willie asked us to do" — that keeps the conversation alive. On Saturday, in addition to sets from Nelson, Young, Mellencamp and Matthews, a stacked lineup of diverse performers were also on hand — from Musgraves and Jack Johnson to Imagine Dragons and Mavis Staples — to celebrate and champion the cause. We look back at some of the highlights from the jam-packed, momentous day.