Farm Aid Helps Out In The Heartland
The first Farm Aid concert plays in Champaign, Illinois, to benefit American farmers trying to survive amidst a national agricultural crisis.
Farm Aid is held in the University of Illinois' Memorial Stadium to raise money for American farmers whose livelihoods have been suffering for years due to a combination of droughts, interest rates, and rough economic conditions. The suicide rate among male, Upper Midwest farmers is twice the national average.
Organized by Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, and Neil Young, the concert is inspired by Bob Dylan's onstage Live Aid statement that he hoped "some of the money that's raised for the people in Africa, maybe they could just take a little bit of it, maybe... one or two million... to pay the mortgages on some of the farms and, the farmers here, owe to the banks."
Seventy-eight thousand people show up in rainy Champaign to hear 14 hours of performances by Johnny Cash, The Beach Boys, John Fogerty, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Lou Reed, Willie Nelson, Bon Jovi, Neil Young, and over 40 more top-shelf acts (all paying their own way). In the process, more than $9 million is raised for small farmers, and the problems associated with family farming in America are brought to the forefront.
Farm Aid becomes an ongoing, annual series that raises more than $45 million by 2015. It leads directly to the Agricultural Credit Act of 1987, which is designed to provide financial relief to family farms. Nelson, Mellencamp, and Young remain on the board of directors, with Dave Matthews joining them in 2001.
Rhonda Perry, head of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center and Patchwork Family Farms, sums up the sentiment when she says, "The concert was one of those moments where farmers walked in and had... this feeling of elation and you just wanted to cry. It made us at least know that people are watching."