On Saturday, Farm Aid returned to Xfinity Theatre in Hartford, Connecticut, last taking place there in 2018. After last year’s virtual event, it was terrific to have the festival in person once again.
There was one glaring omission though from the lineup, for the first time Neil Young was not in attendance at Farm Aid, the 75-year-old musician citing concerns about COVID-19. Even though Young was not there, his music was heard as Particle Kid (Micah Nelson) welcomed Margo Price for “After The Gold Rush” and Price later returned the favor to Micah and invited him and Lukas Nelson up for “Homegrown” during her set.
After the traditional kick-off with the Wisdom Indian Dancers, this year accompanied by Price, the music was off to the races with quick rocking sets from Ian Mellencamp and Particle Kid. Allison Russell showcased songs off of her amazing album Outside Child with a stripped-down four-piece band made up of guitar, violin and two cellos. It was a rousing set that had the crowd getting louder with cheers after each song.
This was followed by Jamey Johnson turning in a quick acoustic set before Lukas Nelson & Promise of The Real turned the electricity on high. The band has been a highlight ever since they started playing the festival and the past few times getting to play with Young. Since he wasn’t there this year, they let it all hang out for their eight-song set with “Four Letter Word” and “Carolina” standing out.
The day is about raising money and awareness for the farming community in this country. Walking through the Homegrown Market to see the food that farmers were selling have constant lines all day was great. The Homegrown Village also had booths to learn about what you could do to help and ranged from demos to interactive exhibits.
There were a few panels during the day where musicians and farmers spoke about how their line of work intertwines and what needs to happen to keep these farms alive throughout the country. While only a couple of the performers spoke about the importance of the day from the stage, walking through these areas made it clear why everyone was in attendance.
Bettye LaVette‘s blistering set of soul music kept the good vibes going before Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats put an all killer no fill set of hits, barely taking a breath. The band threw in a cover of The Band’s “The Shape I’m In” with Lukas Nelson trading off lyrics and solos. Tyler Childers and his band brought their brand of country to the stage as the sun was setting and bringing the evening on.
Margo Price, the newest member of the Farm Aid board of directors, took to the stage next and was happy to finally say she was playing as a member of the board. She got into the groove on stage on “Light Me Up” and took it to another level for her cover of Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me,” which she said she was doing for all the women in Texas and the country. After finishing “A Little Pain” to close the set she tossed roses into the crowd, much to the delight of those up front who had been singing their hearts out during the eight-song set.
Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds were next and played a solid six-song set that saw the two jam out quite a bit in the short time they were on stage. Dave couldn’t help but add some humor into the set when changing guitars and having his guitar tech plug him in each time, but he spoke at length about how we really need to take care of the planet and the farmers who feed us all. A fantastic “Warehouse” into “Ants Marching” closed the set.
John Mellencamp was the penultimate performer, strutting on stage smoking a cigarette with a three-piece band. Kicking things off with “Small Town,” the entire crowd seemed to be singing every word, though they did come in early on the chorus for “Jack and Diane,” which he jokingly asked how they came in early since they’ve been practicing this for 40 years. He even played a new song for the first time ever, “I Always Lie To Strangers,” which sounded like it could have been part of his set for years. His performance closed out with fantastic renditions of “Crumblin’ Down” and “Pink Houses.”
The night ended with Willie Nelson and his family barreling through 17 songs at a stunning pace. It wasn’t like they were rushing, it’s just how they play. While Willie and his sons Lukas and Micah sit the whole set now, Willie was singing and playing his heart out. Watching this national treasure still come on stage and hold court as he does is a beautiful thing to see. Every song you could want him to play they did including “Whiskey River,” “On The Road Again” and “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.” Micah even took lead on a brand new song he wrote with his father “If I Die When I’m High I’ll Be Halfway to Heaven,” which he wrote after Willie came up with the title and it’s a truly funny song despite the subject matter.
All of the artists came out for “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” and “I’ll Fly Away” and you could look anywhere at the venue and see smiles on everyone’s faces. After “Stay a Little Longer” Willie threw his hat into the audience, thanked everyone for coming, and said see you all at Farm Aid 2022.