Farm Aid celebrates 35 years of benefit concerts helping to raise money and bring attention to the plight of family farmers in the U.S. with a virtual festival this coming Saturday, September 26. Willie Nelson organizes the annual event with fellow Farm Aid board members John Mellencamp, Neil Young and Dave Matthews. Each will perform at Farm Aid next weekend as part of an impressive lineup of artists.
The first Farm Aid was held on September 22, 1985 at the University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Illinois. Farm Aid moves locations each year and in 2020 will go virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Black Pumas, Bonnie Raitt & Boz Scaggs, Brandi Carlile, Edie Brickell & Charlie Sexton, Chris Stapleton, 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 & Treaty are among those joining the board members in presenting performances for this year’s Farm Aid.
Farm Aid organizers have kept footage from past festivals flowing to YouTube. The JamBase Live Video Archive (JBLVA) features over 1,800 Farm Aid videos. The Red Headed Stranger’s performances are a staple of the event, so it should come as no surprise the JBLVA contains a whopping 276 Willie Nelson videos from past Farm Aid festivals. Get ready for Farm Aid 35 with a look at 10 Willie Nelson collaborations from the event’s illustrious history.
Old Friends with Roger Miller | 1985
The inaugural Farm Aid was a marathon affair spanning 12 hours and featuring dozens of performers. Willie’s set included a guest appearance from acclaimed singer-songwriter Roger Miller on “Old Friends.” Miller penned the song for inclusion as the title track on his 1982 collaborative studio album with Nelson.
To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before with Julio Iglesias | 1986
Farm Aid moved to the Manor Downs Racetrack in Manor, Texas for its second outing on July 4, 1986. Willie Nelson invited his pal Julio Iglesias to join him during his set for “To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before.” Nelson and Iglesias scored a big hit with the song in 1984, which helped Julio break through to an English-speaking audience.
In 1992, Farm Aid returned after a one-year hiatus and has been held each year since. Paul Simon was among the performers who played at the event, which took place on March 14 at Texas Stadium in Irving, Texas. Simon emerged during Willie’s set to duet with Nelson on “Graceland,” the title track from Paul’s 1986 studio album. The pair would reunite for another performance of the song the following year as part of the Willie Nelson: The Big Six-O television special.
Neil Young has collaborated with his fellow Farm Aid board member a number of times over the past 35 years at the event. Young played a four-song (mostly) solo set at the 1996 festival, held at the World Music Theatre in Tinley Park, Illinois near Chicago. Willie and his longtime band mate, harmonica player Mickey Raphael joined Young during his set for a gorgeous version of “Long May You Run.” Nelson took a heartfelt solo on trigger towards the end of the performance featuring the title track from Neil’s 1974 collaborative studio album with Stephen Stills.
Moonlight In Vermont with Phish, Paul Shaffer and Neil Young | 1998
Phish had the honors of closing out Farm Aid in 1998, the second year in a row the event took place at Tinley Park’s World Music Theatre. While the Vermont-based quartet’s set may be best remembered as the first time Phish shared the stage with Neil Young, he wasn’t their only guest. Phish welcomed Willie Nelson and keyboardist Paul Shaffer for a run of “Moonlight In Vermont,” “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?,” “Amazing Grace” and “Uncloudy Day.” Willie recorded “Moonlight In Vermont,” a song penned by John Blackburn and Karl Suessdorf dating back to 1944, for his 1978 studio album — Stardust. The October 3, 1998 performance of the tune marks Phish’s only rendition of the unofficial state song for their home state.
Fellow Texans Los Lonely Boys were among the artists who joined Willie Nelson on the lineup for Farm Aid 2006. Nelson emerged during Los Lonely Boys to augment the band on “Outlaws” on September 30, 2006 in Camden, New Jersey. Los Lonely Boys originally released “Outlaws” earlier that year on their sophomore studio album, Sacred. Willie appears on the studio version of the track, making it a ripe song for a guest spot.
One Time Too Many And Once Is Enough with Steven Tyler | 2010
The 25th anniversary of Farm Aid was celebrated at Milwaukee’s Miller Park on October 2, 2010. Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler was Willie’s guest for the pairing of “One Time Too Many” and “Once Is Enough.” Tyler wrote “One Time Too Many,” which Aerosmith recorded with Willie Nelson in 1987. “One Time Too Many” was released in 2003 on the Willie Nelson compilation, The Essential Willie Nelson.
Gravedigger with Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds | 2010
Farm Aid’s 25th anniversary concert in Milwaukee also featured a collaboration between Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds and Willie. Nelson and Matthews dueted on Dave’s “Gravedigger.” The performance was the last of eight times Willie Nelson has performed “Gravedigger” with Matthews dating back to a DMB show in Louisville on August 1, 2008. Nelson put Trigger to work with a solo towards the end of the rendition at Miller Park.
Lukas Nelson, Willie’s son, has been a regular contributor to his dad’s Farm Aid sets over the years. One particular highlight came on September 21, 2013, when Lukas shared the stage with his pop at SPAC in Saratoga Springs, New York for a cover of Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe.” Willie Nelson originally recorded his take on the song with Lukas for his 2012 studio album, Heroes. Eddie Vedder originally wrote “Just Breathe” for inclusion on Backspacer, an LP Pearl Jam released in 2009.
Are There Any More Real Cowboys with Neil Young And Promise Of The Real | 2016
In 1985, Willie Nelson was among the contributors to the Neil Young album Old Ways. One of the songs featured on the LP is “Are There Any More Real Cowboys?” Young performed the tune live with a variety of projects between 1983 and 1985. Neil dusted off “Are There Any More Real Cowboys?” for a version with Willie at the 1993 installment of Farm Aid before the song was shelved once more. Then, in 2016, Neil Young & Promise Of The Real — a group featuring Lukas Nelson among its members — put “Are There Any More Real Cowboys?” back into rotation. Willie Nelson joined Neil & POTR for a rendition of the tune at Farm Aid 2016, which was held at Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, Virginia on September 17, 2016.