The festival’s online format will highlight Farm Aid’s real superstars—the family farmers who grow the nation’s food.
When Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid stages its 35th anniversary festival on Sept. 26, the all-star event will be unlike any virtual concert yet seen during the pandemic.
Farm Aid 2020 On The Road will stream can’t-miss performances from its most expansive and diverse artist lineup in years.
The organization’s guiding foursome of Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews will be joined by Norah Jones, Black Pumas, Bonnie Raitt and Boz Scaggs, Brandi Carlile, Chris Stapleton, Edie Brickell with Charlie Sexton, Jack Johnson, Jamey Johnson, Jon Batiste, Kelsey Waldon, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Margo Price, Nathaniel Rateliff, Particle Kid, The Record Company, Valerie June and The War And Treaty.
But the festival’s online format also will highlight Farm Aid’s real superstars—the family farmers who grow the nation’s food, the men and women whom Nelson sought to help when he launched Farm Aid with its first concert in Champaign, Ill., on Sept. 22, 1985. Since then, Farm Aid—the longest-running concert for a cause— has raised nearly $60 million to support family farmers and a sustainable agriculture system.
And for Farm Aid’s performers, this is personal. In videos provided exclusively to Billboard in advance of the festival, Brandi Carlile offers a tour of her garden as she harvests late-season vegetables—and Chris Vos, lead singer of The Record Company, offers an emotional tribute to his dairy-farming father and his grandfather, who worked the land before him.
Against the backdrop of the pandemic, which has disproportionately affected communities of color, and amid another season of severe weather, driven by climate change, Farm Aid warns that thousands of family farmers may be driven out of business. The sustainable agricultural methods of family farmers, meanwhile, are viewed as essential to addressing climate change.
“This pandemic and so many other challenges have revealed how essential family farmers and ranchers are to the future of our planet,” says Nelson. “Farm Aid 2020 is going to give the whole country a chance to learn about the important work of farmers and how they’re contributing to our well-being, beyond bringing us good food.”
Farm Aid’s videos of family farmers help illustrate the organization’s intersecting causes of sustainable food, economic recovery from the pandemic, and the call for racial justice.
“This year has been challenging for us all,” says Black farmer Angie Provost, speaking beside her husband June, in front of a tractor at the Provost Farm, which raises sugarcane in Louisiana. In its videos, Farm Aid challenges the image most may still have of the independent American farmer. In the three-plus-decades since Farm Aid helped launch the Good Food movement, a new generation—young, diverse, committed to sustainability—has turned to farming.
The farmers get an emotional boost from Farm Aid and the personal perspective of artists like Brandi Carlile. “This is my garden,” says Carlile in a Farm Aid video, climbing down from an off-road vehicle beside the plot she