It takes a rare, special occasion for Willie Nelson to get dressed up in a blazer, but he did just that Wednesday night — counterbalanced by a Willie’s Reserve ballcap — in honor of Stephen Colbert’s second week as host of The Late Show and this weekend’s 30th anniversary of Farm Aid.
The Red Headed Stranger was joined by fellow music icon and Farm Aid co-founder John Mellencamp for a laid-back version of “Night Life,” a tune Nelson penned in the late Fifties that has been covered by the likes of Ray Price, Doris Day, Frank Sinatra and B.B. King, among many others. The country legend’s honeyed vocals and Mellencamp’s signature grit on the tune — along with Mickey Raphael on harmonica and a backing band of drums, horn and piano — combined to give it a jazz club feel for The Late Show.
Nelson and Mellencamp, joined by fellow Farm Aid board members Neil Young and Dave Matthews, will unite for their shared cause this Saturday, September 19th in Chicago. Other artists on the day-long Farm Aid 30 bill include Jack Johnson, Imagine Dragons, Kacey Musgraves, Old Crow Medicine Show, Mavis Staples, Holly Williams, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Insects vs. Robots and Blackwood Quartet.
Farm Aid is held in a different city every year, with host cities ranging from New Orleans to New York to Lincoln, Nebraska. The return to Illinois this weekend marks the 30th anniversary of the fundraiser, which began in 1985 in Champaign, Illinois.
“In 1985, alternatives didn’t exist for most farmers and people didn’t understand that there was a role for them in changing the system,” says Mellencamp. “The Good Food Movement didn’t exist. People thought the farm crisis was a rural problem. But after that first concert, people listened. They realized that if we lost family farmers, we lost Main Street and we lost our food. They stood up with family farmers and now things are changing. We’ve got a lot more work to do, but the connection between rural and urban communities is more real and important to people.”