Words by: Jessica Lopa :: Images by: Adam McCullough
Farm Aid 2007 :: 09.09.07 :: Randall's Island :: New York, NY
The 22nd annual Farm Aid benefit (subtitled "A Home Grown Festival") captured the essence of true giving with its focus on giving back to those who keep America's farming tradition alive. It was, at the same time, a festivalgoers' dream. With nonstop music and stage changes that were smoother than expected, day turned to night with few interruptions.
| Matisyahu :: Farm Aid 2007|
Matisyahu performed a short set but made a lasting impression. Taking the stage at 3:30 p.m., dressed in traditional Hasidic clothing, not only did Matisyahu rip through syncopated reggae phrases with technique and precision he offered translations of Hebrew text to share with the audience his deep-seeded humility for his maker ("My soul is thirsty for you in the giant marshland"). With timing and artfulness, Matisyahu's "Kodesh" blends ancient sounding chants with rhythmic fills. Upon listening to his melodies one can here how he strays from tradition, altering and flatting notes, combating the intensity of his backing band. His second piece featured him beat-boxing. Drawing upon his ability to hear and interpret cross-rhythms, Matisyahu can educate listeners and musicians alike with his rhythmic brigades, a powerful medium for his spiritual beliefs. Preceding "Indestructible," Matisyahu thanked farmers with sincerity, telling them that their hands in the soil proclaimed their individuality from the modern world. His songs were climactic and progressive, creating rhythmic and melodic peaks. His ability to sing with a richness of tone through an impressive range makes his message resonate.
Derek Trucks' band with wife Susan Tedeschi offered up their soulful three song set in usual fashion. Later that night in a press meeting, Truck's described his band's intentions as more subdued than those of the Allman Brothers Band, referring to ABB as a "freight train" in comparison. There was nothing covert about Truck's playing on "Soul Serenade," encompassing a soulful blend of inspired licks and vibrato while touching down on the genre lines of soulful rock and blues. Lead vocalist Mike Mattison's shared verses with Tedeschi, using his falsetto with tasteful control. Mattison's presence remained in the background as the arrangement opened up to include a release in the drums accompanying Truck's precise guitar phrasing. It was truly an experience to listen to the sing-able nature of Truck's phrasing and the slow, steady buildup he guides into fruition. The band's second piece, "Sailing On," had a warm sound that reminded me of the Christmas song, "Silver Bells." Mattison's middle range vocals were less than memorable but probably because of the lacking nature of the melody itself. The last chorus taken by Trucks rose in intensity with changing textures as his slide guitar moaned to a great resolution. Backed by a more than adequate rhythm section of drums, congas, keyboards and rhythm guitar DT's band finished with "Key to the Highway." With Trucks staying true to clear, articulate phrasing, Tedeschi riffing blues lines to fill any vacancies and Mattison's impressive range, the Derek Trucks Band is certainly up and coming.
| Trucks & Tedeschi :: Farm Aid 2007|
44-year-old Adam Duritz, lead singer of Counting Crows demonstrated that he still has a penchant for the dramatic, as well as a keen musical intuition. The founder of Counting Crows is still affected by his own words - a quality that the audience buys into and for good reason. Since their album August and Everything After, Counting Crows have created contagious melodies with a level of expression that is hard to match, elevating the pop song to new heights. One can easily reminisce watching Duritz perform. Not much has changed from the days of "Mr. Jones" and "Maria" when Duritz wore his heart on his sleeve, experiencing some sort of epiphany mid-song that brings the final chorus somewhere unexpected. The song "Washington Square" started with only Duritz and a piano, a fabulous pairing of instruments. Duritz later called on his guitarist for his musical input, sitting on an amp and listening to his band mate's solo. By their fifth and final song, "Long December," Counting Crows had proven several times over that they are not only back with an upcoming album but that they have preserved their fresh sound with a musicality that is well above par.
| Counting Crows :: Farm Aid 2007|
Warren Haynes played through his acoustic set with a recurring tenderness that was redundant to a fault. With a less than varying repertoire by the third song, a cover of U2's "One," one might have come to the conclusion not much has changed from the set's first song, a cover of Elton John's "Indian Sunset." Perhaps Haynes chose an acoustic styling for his set to parallel the concert's ideals of all things organic and un-engineered. Coming from a man that has an abundant amount of musical resources it would have been cool to hear him stray from the original melody of "One." Not surprising is the different impression created by Haynes during his acoustic set compared to the one as part of ABB. Haynes' forte is not solo acoustic performances, however, it seems to be one of his passions.
Gregg Allman's set started with him on guitar accompanied by Willie Nelson for an arrangement of "Midnight Rider." Unfortunately, the microphone levels were not the only thing lacking. Nelson's harmonies were unheard for the first half of the song, and overall I think the song warrants a full band setting to capture the spirit that fans have come to expect. Dave Matthews inclusion on "Melissa" brought a sentimental quality that was well received by the audience.
| Haynes & Trucks - Allman Brothers :: Farm Aid 2007|
The Allman Brothers' set lay second to none at this year's Farm Aid, compacting their electrical mayhem into a short timeframe. Starting with "Trouble No More" their entire set lie at a summit of creativity. Gregg Allman's high pitch keyboard hits during the intro to "Black Hearted Woman" gelled with the ride cymbal, showing Allman can blend himself with ease. What is so recognizable about the Allman Brothers is their affinity for in-your-face unison guitar riffs ripe with potential. These prominent guitar parts become entangled and eventually upgrade to vast possibilities with the monster rhythm section behind them. And you better believe this band knows how to work them out. Accented with cymbal crashes, Trucks' guitar solo on "Black Hearted Woman" drove into changing terrains, each more climatic than the last. You could hear ideas develop into recognizable bits like "My Favorite Things." Like John Coltrane, Trucks can find other songs in his own styling. Warren Haynes' solo was pure brilliance on "Whose Been Talking," where he played through the changes with a tremolo that was met by Butch Trucks' drumming note for note. This band is tight. Every nuance is layered and shared. The Allman Brothers' set also included "Statesboro Blues" and "Revival," a carnival for the ears.
Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds had what it seemed like all ears and eyes on them when they took the stage at 8:00 p.m. After a short explanation for his raspy voice, the two opened with "Lie In Our Graves." Matthews quipped at himself and Reynolds about being "the quiet acoustic set between the rock shows." All kidding aside, the two did not seem to need much more than each other and their set proved to be nothing short of dynamic. Reynolds supplied Matthews with masterful accompaniment, drawing upon his wide range of styles, techniques and dynamics. Reynolds molds pop rock chord progressions into etudes, an exercise for the fingers and the mind. On "Lie In Our Graves," Reynolds added a violin effect complete with double stops, expanding the texture as well as the harmonic potential of Matthew's material with a tremolo effect. Both "Lie In Our Graves" and "Crush" evolved into cadenzas where Reynolds used Middle Eastern harmonies, connecting with Matthew's progression and sending both songs over the top with the use of overtones. Most mild of the duo's set was their cover of Daniel Lanois' "The Maker," where Reynolds blended inconspicuously with Matthew's soft dynamics. One can speculate about the level of musicianship required to play a set with just two acoustic guitars and still attain the same level of intensity that a large crowd demands, but with their intuition and musical brawn Reynolds and Matthews are a pair who exceed at this task.
| Dave Matthews :: Farm Aid 2007|
This year's Farm Aid artists kept the focus on the importance of supporting local farmers. Every performer made this intention clear. Most notably John Mellencamp's set glorified the essence of what it means to live in Middle America - the family life and the workingman's dream, bringing them into clarity with his eloquent and substantial word choices.
| John Mellencamp :: Farm Aid 2007|
Introduced by Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp started with "Troubled Land," an appropriate song on many levels. With its fitting refrain of "Bring peace to the troubled land," the song is about the bittersweet price we pay for peace, stating, "I'm deader than a hammer/ The eyes of heaven are upon you/ Cut off your fingers to bring peace to the troubled land." Mellencamp welcomed Derek Trucks for "If I Die Sudden." With a straight-up rock beat, Mellencamp's song paints a picture of the strong but silent man who, within his solidarity, accepts his impending mortality. Susan Tedeschi helped close Mellencamp's set, sharing verses on "Pink Houses." The descriptive verses about the lifestyles of Middle American families were complemented with a knee-slapping rock 'n' roll setting. Much can be said about the tribute Mellencamp pays to America within songs like "Pink Houses." Listen closely enough and the simple-yet-complex lifestyle Americans lead is poetically captured Mellencamp.
Neil Young, one of the original founders of Farm Aid, graced the stage in a fashion that remained true to the beginning years of his prolific career. Accompanied by good friend Ben Keith (pedal steel) and wife Pegi Young (guitar, vocals), Young's set thrived delicately amidst a montage of soft strumming chords. The refrain of Neil Young's first song, "Human Highway," posed a rhetorical question - "How could people get so unkind?" - revealing Young's belief in peace and acceptance. His second song, "Silver and Gold," in a simple arrangement was an ode to lasting love.
| Young & Nelson :: Farm Aid 2007|
Young then discussed the important role farming plays in proper nutrition. "Moms everywhere, they love to feed those kids the best food they can find. Try to get it from a sustainable farm," said Young. To the audience's delight, Young revisited "Heart of Gold." From its recognizable introduction, Young's treatment of the song was as stellar as in his earlier days. Most notable during Young's set was the inclusion of Willie Nelson for "Homegrown," a corker from Young's long-bootlegged, soon to be released Chrome Dreams. The song's double meaning did not take long to be discovered after Young's tongue and cheek introduction.
Willie Nelson and Family came on at 11:00 p.m. Willie's daughter, Paula Nelson, started the ten-song set with a beautiful ballad about an exhausted love affair titled "Day to Day." Following this was a cover of Johnny Cash's "Jackson." Willie led the close of Farm Aid in non-stop fashion. Besides his family, Nelson welcomed up United States Service men, Native American Indians, Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, the icon promoting a true sense of togetherness. With a repertoire ranging from the traditional ("I'll Fly Away") to newer songs ("Superman"), Nelson touched upon many sentiments. His comical nature was well represented within the witty verses of "You Don't Think I'm Funny Anymore," which he composed when he was supposed to be resting after carpal tunnel surgery. Like the patriarch of a large musical family, Nelson cued solos around the band, lending a jam-like quality to the final stage. Nelson's new song was treated to Trucks' styling on a song about a man realizing his prankster days are over. "I used to fake a heart attack and fall down on the floor/ But wait, did you hear the one about the dirty whore?/ You don't think I'm funny anymore."
| Willie Nelson :: Farm Aid 2007|
It is inspiring for a younger generation to witness a singer-songwriter of Nelson's stature at the helm of a colossal awareness raising effort for such an important cause. For 22 years, Farm Aid and all its contributing artists have paved a way between celebrity and humanity by bringing the spotlight onto those who maintain America's farming tradition, proving everything, even music, must play second fiddle to tradition.
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