Neil Young has never held his tongue when it comes to railing against factory farms and the corporate food industry. At the 33rd Farm Aid on Saturday in Hartford, Connecticut, Young’s impassioned appeals toward activism and policy change interlaced with his nonchalant stage style and relentless sense of humor made him a highlight of the festival.
Between easy old familiars like “Field of Opportunity” and “Heart of Gold,” Young sandwiched his repeated question, “What’re ya gonna do when ya see a farmers market?” with colorful follow-ups like, “Go in and buy something and stay away from those Dollar stores.” Protest songs “Ohio” and “Children of Destiny” were powerfully juxtaposed with set closer “Love and Only Love,” whose final words, “Spirit come back to me / give me strength and set me free,” were sung in unison by all the band members and unfurled into the most compelling instrumental breakdown and performance of the festival.
But the high point was a marvelous performance of “Powderfinger.” With Lukas and Micah Nelson’s Promise of the Real backing him up, Young blasted off a firecracker of a guitar solo that musically framed the song’s brilliant final phrase.
“When you see a farmers market, just stop and go in and get to know them and buy something. Buy something good. Don’t buy the shit you get at Safeway. Buy something that’s really safe … All the crap you get in these big stores is not good. It’s got a lot of chemicals in it and it kills the earth,” Young elaborated. His message, while humorous, was also dire, a call for action that has become customary for the food-focused Farm Aid, which this year stressed a far more urgent situation.
Young, a Canadian citizen who cannot vote in U.S. elections, also took aim at President Trump in a pre-show press conference. “Whoever you vote for, I respect you for voting. I’m a Canadian, I can’t vote,” he said. “I’ve been called a lot of things by this dickhead in the White House, but I am a Canadian, and I love America. There’s nothing here that needs to be made ‘great again.’”
Family farmers are currently experiencing the worst economic downturn since the 1980s, with their incomes slashed by more than 50 percent since 2013 largely due to an unfair, corporate-dominated marketplace, which is horribly constructed in the current House Farm Bill. With an expiration date of September 30th quickly approaching, there is an opportunity to change the legislation and help restore and protect an independent family farm system of agriculture. The Farm Aid organization works year-round to advocate for this, posting an easy-to-use resource for everyone to contact their state representatives about specific changes that need to be made before the next Farm Bill vote.