Young Digs Up Past for Farm Aid - Rolling Stone
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Young Digs Up Past for Farm Aid

Kid Rock brings the noise at benefit for family farmers

After performing a sublime version of “Harvest Moon” under a
brilliant harvest moon Saturday night, Neil Young addressed a field
of 23,000 concertgoers, plus several million Country Music
Television viewers: “Call 1-800 FARM AID,” he ordered. “Send us
some money. We need some money to fight the battle . . . to save
our traditional way of life.”

Young and his Farm Aid co-founders Willie Nelson and John
Mellencamp, as well as new board member Dave Matthews, headlined an
eleven-hour performance at the Post-Gazette Pavilion in
Burgettstown, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, to drive home the same
message Farm Aid has been spreading since it began seventeen years
ago: By supporting family farmers, Americans can eat healthier
food, thwart the domination of agri-business and stave off
developers’ bulldozers.

The day was filled with performers who expressed their pleasure
at being able to help the cause. Detroit native Kid Rock ripped up
the sold-out house, besting Mellencamp for the most energized set
of the show. Starting with “Fire Down Below,” a nod to fellow
Motowner Bob Seger, he also delivered what might have been Farm
Aid’s first-ever crotch grab, his rhinestoned American flag buckle
shining against the giant stage backdrop of stars, stripes and
silhouetted tractor images. During his balls-out rendition of
“Cowboy,” he also referenced the Allman Brothers classic “Midnight
Rider” and Waylon Jennings’ “Theme From ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’
(Good Ol’ Boys).” Rock also performed a credible duet with
big-voiced country singer Allison Moorer on “Picture,” which they
hope to release as a single.

“Someone said the country crowd might be a little mellow for Kid
Rock . . . I seriously doubt that bullshit,” he sneered before
leaping into the testosterone-injected “Bawitdaba.” Rock
encapsulated the independent, status-quo-flouting spirit of the day
far better than country stars Keith Urban and Toby Keith.

Prettyboy Urban struck a lot of rock star poses, and quoted “Day
Tripper” in “Where the Blacktop Ends,” but also offered a heartfelt
solo acoustic tune, “Song for Dad,” which he dedicated to his
father. Keith, who stuck around after headlining a sold-out
pavilion show the night before, opened with a deceptively pretty
folk tune about a cave-dwelling Taliban couple and ended with his
warmongering hit “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry
American).” He managed to earn a few points with the pacifists by
proffering a hilarious ode to Nelson’s legendary pot-smoking
habits, complete with sly plug for Willie’s new legally
intoxicating product: Old Whiskey River bourbon. Nelson was invited
onstage for the serenade, then duetted with Keith on “Whiskey for
My Men and Beer for My Horses.”

Nelson’s first appearance actually came during Lee Ann Womack’s
opening set. They performed “Mendocino County Line” from his
The Great Divide. His third was to accompany Young on
“Comes a Time” and “Sugar Mountain.” But this Farm Aid seemed
unusual for its lack of interaction among the principal players;
Nelson and Rock skipped their own duet from Great Divide,
“Last Stand in the Open Country.” There was to be a “Founding
Fathers” quartet performance at the 5 p.m. start of CMT’s
broadcast, but it never happened. Matthews’ solo set ended with
“All Along the Watchtower” — which cried out for Young’s presence
to re-create the unforgettable acoustic duet they delivered at Farm
Aid ’99 on what’s now a signature tune for both. Introducing it,
Matthews said, “This is a song that maybe I do too often, but I
like it, so fuck it.”

Matthews began his set with a gentle “Where Are You Going,”
“Crush” and “Bartender,” on which his sweet, pure falsetto sounded
like a young castrati. He also played delicate versions of “Grace
Is Gone,” “Dancing Nancies,” “Too Much” and the still unrecorded
(“but some of y’all probably have it on tape”) “Gravedigger.”
Matthews addressed the day’s topic by pronouncing, “Good food is
good. Bad food is bad.” Later, in a Cookie-Monsterish voice, he
repeated, “Eat good food.”

Mellencamp came out smoking a not-exactly-wholesome cigarette,
and got right down to business with “Rain on the Scarecrow.” His
greatest hits set included “Peaceful World, “Paper in Fire,”
“Crumblin’ Down” (on which he dipped violinist Miriam Sturm nearly
to the stage floor), a stripped-down “Small Town,” the Robert
Johnson tune “Stones in my Passway” (it could have been titled
“Gravel in My Throat” for his damaged-sounding voice), and of
course, “Pink Houses,” which featured Appalachian folk throwback
Gillian Welch in an unexpectedly funky moment.

Earlier in the day, the Skynyrd-loving — and proud of it —
Drive-by Truckers played cuts from their Southern Rock
Opera
after opening with “Sinkhole,” a tune inspired by a film
about saving a family farm. They were followed by Kenny Wayne
Shepherd and Double Trouble, with Doyle Bramhall II on vocals.
Shepherd borrowed too liberally from his spiritual fathers, Stevie
Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix, but his ability to do so makes him a
natural fit with Vaughan’s old rhythm section.

Young, wearing his usual “Stop Factory Farms” T-shirt, came out
shouting, “Attention shoppers! Attention shoppers! Buy with a
conscience and save the family farm.” Though he interrupted his
music frequently to tout the cause, his acoustic, organic set was
still the show’s most mesmerizing. It included “Old Man,” “Heart of
Gold,” a moving “Mother Earth” performed on pipe organ, and his
updated “After the Gold Rush,” with the lyric, “Look at Mother
Nature on the run in the twenty-first century.” Nelson’s harp
player, Mickey Raphael, was onstage for most of the set, and on
“Comes a Time,” they were joined by several American Indians who
stomped with Young as he performed his lumbering bear dance.

Later, Young showed up for Nelson’s rather surreal group-hug
finale for the TV cameras, on which most of the secondary acts and
none of the other main ones stood onstage for “America the
Beautiful.” Among them was broadcast host Matthew McConaughey, who
seemed more in tune than Nelson as he boogie-woogied with abandon.
Nelson stayed onstage another thirty-five minutes after the cameras
clicked off, running through his sing-along standards and
finishing, as he always does, with “Will the Circle Be
Unbroken.”

That circle won’t break anytime soon, and neither will the
founders’ commitment to their cause. They’ve vowed to carry on as
long as there are farms to save.

In This Article: Neil Young

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