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Tuesday, October 03, 2023

Our Farm Aid 2023 Concert Report

Neil Young
photo by Jim McKelvey
 (Click photo to enlarge)
Having barely recovered from our big Farm Aid weekend, we here at Thrasher's Wheat have an epic Concert Report on our finest Farm Aid experience ever -- and we have been to a few going back to FA 1999.

Here's a Farm Aid 2023 Concert Report by John Kwit along with photographs by Jim McKelvey, author and scholar (except as noted).

Farm Aid 2023: 

Neil Young is Angry and Dammit So Am I

by John Kwit 
Photographs by Jim McKelvey (except as noted)

Let’s cut to the chase.
On Saturday evening September 23, 2023, Neil Young played a solo set to a sold-out crowd of 25,000 at Farm Aid in Noblesville, Indiana. He played 4 songs: Comes A Time, Are There Any More Real Cowboys, Love Earth and Heart of Gold. 
He was angry at the pre-concert press conference and he was angry on stage. I enjoyed every act on the bill except one. Oh, and Bob Dylan unexpectedly showed up. If you weren’t there in-person you missed it. But don’t dwell on your misfortune, just plan to attend next year. 

 Farm Aid Board of Directors

Like the swallows coming home to Capistrano, Neil and Bob may just show up again. But in the meantime support your local family farmer. For some of you, that might be enough of a summary to read but I encourage all to continue.
 Neil Young
photo by thrasher 
 (Click photo to enlarge)

Thirty-eight years of Farm Aid. 1985-2023. Thirty-eight years of attempting to assist America’s dwindling number of family farms. It’s been pitted as a David versus Goliath battle. Factory Farms – bad. Family farms – good. Pesticides – bad. Organic – good. Throw in some modern day dashes of Climate Change hysterics and Diversity/Equity/Inclusion concerns and you have the recipe for a modern
day Apocalyptic Armageddon stew.

Press Conference @  Farm Aid 2023
Let me begin by focusing in on Neil Young. He hadn’t set foot on a Farm Aid stage since the Pandemic rolled into town. You could write until the cows came home about the damage the Pandemic and its related supply chain issues did to the world. It impacted Neil. It impacted you and it impacted me.

Neil retreated to his mountain cabin and touring went to the wayside. He made lots of music from his porch and shared it with the world on his massive Neil Young Archives website – still the best subscription value for the money on the web (actually tied with Thrasher’s Wheat). 
 Willie Gets the Big Day Started
Old new music, new old music, EPs, box sets, live shows, movies, lost studio albums, new studio albums: they’re all available on the Archives. In my opinion, the seed for the Archives started the minute Neil swiped one of his own bootleg records out of a local vinyl record shop in the early 1970s because it was his work. He took that simple idea that the music he created was his and 50 years later he turned it into a seemingly unending treasure trove of recorded gems (and swag) that he could share with the world at his own pace at his own price points in his own Greedy Hand shop. Record company executives and bootleggers be damned.
It was bad enough that Neil had announced that he wouldn’t be touring
until he found an environmentally friendly bus. But it’s all getting better now because Neil is concentrating on his music and he’s going out on the road and playing live music.

 Neil Young

Back to Farm Aid: At the pre-concert press conference Neil reminisced about being able to wander about in the woods with his friends as a kid and drink the water right out of the stream. Everything was natural and beautiful. He encouraged everyone to think naturally and follow natural ways. One pointed example he raised was walking. If you have a choice and the ability to walk a mile and a half to get something done then do it he said. Walking would be better than an unnatural way like hopping in your car. I’m all in favor of walking. I do it quite a bit here in Chicago if I’m not using public transportation.

 Neil Young

For the record I’m inviting Neil to join me on a walk the next time he comes through town on a tour. I would relish the opportunity to chat with him along the way as we walk from his hotel to the venue and back. I will even volunteer to carry his guitar case. Both ways. There are plenty of intimate venues in downtown Chicago that are a mile and half or less walking distance from a decent hotel. The Chicago Theater, Riveria, Aragon Ballroom and Thalia Hall come to mind.

 Willie & Neil

I love the American Farmer. I love all farmers. They feed you. They feed me. We need them to produce and they need us to consume. As the great philosopher Particle Kid pontificated from the Farm Aid stage: “It’s not rocket surgery.” Unfortunately for me, the current state of anarchy in Chicago makes walking home safely in the evening from job #2 more important on my hierarchy of needs than buying a bag of organic carrots in lieu of the standard variety. Frankly I think charging $10 for a cup of organic coffee at the Farm Aid venue was a bit steep. Economics has a way of dictating the purchasing choices of the population. Yes, eating healthy foods is important, but not if the price is out of your family budget.
John Mellencamp & Neil Young
photo by John Kwit

From the comments uttered by John Mellencamp and Neil throughout the day I got the sense that they were simply tired of seeing the dwindling number of family farms. John said he didn’t think we’d need a Farm Aid thirty-eight years later and he was disgusted that the Government had money for all sorts of things but not for the family farmer, homelessness or water issues. Neil encouraged concertgoers to read the label on food they buy, support family farms and come back to future shows in droves. 
 John Mellencamp
photo by John Kwit 
The show in Noblesville was a sellout so perhaps moving the venue to a large plot of land (know any farms in upstate New York that might work?) where 20 times as many people could come would help out. But the problem is one single concert a year is not the answer to the family farmer’s problems. It will take a seismic shift in thinking on the part of a considerable percentage of the population to make a significant dent in the problem. And with all the issues facing the U.S.: crime, immigration, politicians on both sides of the aisle under legal storm clouds I frankly just don’t see it happening any time soon.

But back to the concert. What were the highlights and low points?

John Mellencamp & Bob Irsay

The worst part of Farm Aid XXXVIII was enough to make my stomach churn. It was absolutely cringeworthy John Mellencamp graciously accepted a million dollar check for Farm Aid from Indianapolis Colts owner Bob Irsay who literally bought his way onto the stage with his band. And to rub salt in the wound, Irsay had the audacity to light up and  smoke a few cigarettes in the non-smoking venue while he was up there. Rules for thee but not for me.

The audience around me was roundly jeering Irsay’s every song.

But let’s end on some positive notes, shall we?

Bob Weir, Sturgill Simpson & Margo Price
Lukas Nelson

Lukas, Willie & Micah Nelson

The most joyful part of the day for me was seeing Bob Dylan amble out on stage as a surprise guest, along with Tom Petty's band The Heartbreakers. The photographer’s area had been cleared and the film camera crew was sent packing before he arrived. The audience was filled with excitement and theories on who was about to hop on stage. Is Pearl Jam coming, will it be Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Taylor Swift (does she have a garden)? 
"Maggie's Farm"
Bob Dylan w/ Mike Campbell 
photo by thrasher 

In my mind, the absence of photographers should have narrowed it down to two people: Dylan or his old mentor Ramblin’ Jack Elliott who is well known for stopping his show mid-song if someone points a lens his way. Of course it was Dylan. And he played the guitar for God’s-sake! God Bless him. 
Dylan & The Heartbreakers
And God Bless Neil Young for coming back on stage to play live music, especially in light of the fact that he played 2 nights at the Roxy with Crazy Horse just a day before.

 Jim, Renee & Paul
In summary, other than the Irsay debacle, Farm Aid XXXVIII was fantastic. Great food, great music, great weather, great venue staff, and a great audience. A special shout out to the Canadian FarmAidians Paul &amp; Renee. You are a treasure. 
The FarmAidian Crew
FarmAidians Rock!
Will there be a Farm Aid 39? Of course there will. And the usual cast of performers will undoubtedly be there. Shoot for those planning ahead there will probably be a Farm Aid #139.
It’s just the natural thing to do to continue to help support American Family Farmers.

John Kwit

Thanks for the coverage John! See you @  Farm Aid 39!  And FA #139, too, maybe hopefully, doubtfully.

w/ Jim

w/ Paul

w/ Craigy

"Ten silver saxes, a bass with a bow 
The blogger relaxes and waits between shows 
For his cinnamon girls ..."

"cinnamon girls ..."

w/ John (& Willie!)
Thanks again to all and it was wonderful to see everyone this year at Farm Aid. Many thanks to our intrepid TW reporter John Kwit and stellar photographer Jim McKelvey, author and scholar.  
And -- most especially -- thanks to our FarmAidian hosts Paul & Renee! We'll see you in 2024. 
Willie's Hat & Reserve Cup

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At 10/03/2023 02:56:00 PM, Blogger Timmo said...

It's nice to see that Thrasher refuses to allow AI to generate his wonderfully eloquent articles on Neil and Farm Aid. I agree the Islay debacle was embarrassing. But hey you know he's a big high roller and can throw his money around. Sad... Great article! Sounds like a great time. The Bob Dylan thing was perfect.

At 10/03/2023 03:39:00 PM, Blogger GP Rob said...

Great review and pix! Even watching on Youtube, the Ersay set was cringeworthy. And long live Heart but poor Ann Wilson - yikes, she cannot hold a note any more. Enjoyed Neil's tune and his focused "rants" this time around. And Dylan, what a treat!

At 10/03/2023 10:49:00 PM, Blogger Alan said...

Sad truths about the dwindling small American farmers.

Grave Climate Change concerns & alarm are not “hysteria” which is itself an outdated term (& offensive to women). It will all be much harder to afford later when the weather starts kicking man’s ass to the point of extinction. And that day is way closer than 99% of Scientists are ready to admit. The worst case scenario was low key, way off, 100,000’s of years in the future. Yeah, right! It’s here now, and we should all be screaming for Big Oil to get ended and pay for their literal crimes against humanity. Bu now superstorms are rolling around every week.

Back to the show: I loved Dylan’s set, tho longer would be better. Go on tour with Heartbreakers, Bob! He just might!

So ironic that at Dylan’s surprise appearance, some rich guy paid a million and got to play a set. “I played a show with Neil Young & Bob Dylan.” If I had $10 million I might pay a million too! Or just donate it and watch the show.

My uncles and their families are still farming in TRF Minnesota. They are small farmers who use Roundup. They say “We can’t even farm without Roundup.” I guess they haven’t heard about weed-pulling robots yet.

I loved Neil’s short set, especially “Are there any more real cowboys?” At Willie’s 90th Birthday show, Willie’s vocal part in that song failed to take flight as it could have. Neil made it sound great singing Willie’s part. I love Willie, absolutely. He puts out great albums all the time. His 2nd half of career might even have more great stuff than the first half!

I am so glad you got to go to that show, Thrasher, and all who made it. Your Brother Alan in Seattle

At 10/04/2023 04:36:00 AM, Blogger Flyingscotzman said...

Excellent Thrasher, really enjoyed this and the very striking photos. Made me feel like I was there!


At 10/04/2023 09:59:00 AM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

if we want to look at recent developments with Big Ag, check out the EATS act which is currently holding up the new farm bill. The EATS act effectively and completely nullifies any and all state rights to resist "factory farming." If the EATS act passes, sponsored by Ashley Hinson (Iowa), California's proposition 12 will be gone (the bill that prohibits purchase of pork from CAFOs). California voters passed proposition 12 with 68% approval. The EATS act argues that such bills interfere with the rights of other states to produce food products in the way they want "pre-harvest." This is wrong. California citizens voted NOT TO PURCHASE pork grown in confinements. Iowa "farmers" can keep growing and raising pork however they want but why the hell should we be forced or coerced to buy it? If you don't know, you should: Big Ag is scary and dangerous.

The foremost water quality expert in the state of Iowa was recently forced to retire. He was consistently pointing out the extreme damage to water quality in Iowa and then downstream (dead zone in Gulf). State Legislators threatened to cut funding at University of Iowa unless he retired. And guess what? Once he did retire (he did not want others to lose their jobs) they cut the funding anyway. You can't believe that is happening here and if you think these people are concerned with Farm Aid, you are seriously mistaken.

At 10/04/2023 11:30:00 AM, Blogger Jim said...

Clearly, I'm the adopted Farmaidian next to the superb hosts, Renee and Paul, in the white shirt. Told Renee I'd put the green shirt on later in the day when it got cooler. When I put it on she remarked, "it is getting cooler isn't it?" The venue, the weather, the kind people everywhere and the musical acts that started out strong and only got better made this my favorite Farm Aid of the four I've attended (2002, 2014, 2022 and 2023).

Was told in an email that I wouldn't have access to the photo pit so really wasn't sure what I could photograph before I picked up my photo pass. When I got there the kind rep who I'd be chatting with online said, "you've been taken care of." I was allowed to just use the photo pass from my seat and off to the press conference I went with the pass.

My grandparents ran a dairy farm and delivered milk to the small town. Was aware of the family farm issues from a very young age. I first got involved with Farm Aid after a Neil Young & the Grey Riders show at Meadowbrook Music Theater in early September of 1985. After the show I was the first person allowed backstage by Elliott Roberts and just sat down with Neil Young who was already seated at a table. We chatted for 15 minutes about his dad's book, “Neil & Me,” that had just come out. I was in mentioned in the book in the chapter about the Michigan concerts. Then Neil Young picked up my tape recorder and said, "I'm going to arrange an interview with Willie Nelson for you and if you don't get it published I'll never talk with you again" but said with a sort of wry smile. Laughter broke out and I looked up to see we were surrounded by about 40 people who I had not noticed up until then.

Early afternoon the next day I got a call from Lookout Management in L.A. with the message when and where to meet with Willie Nelson. I'd just had a long phone and in-person interview with Waylon Jennings so was really looking forward to talking with Willie Nelson. Willie Nelson was playing the Pine Knob Music Theater close to my house so I arrived there around 10:30 p.m. for the interview. I brought two 90 minute cassettes but like my interview with Aretha Franklin should have brought three. For the last hour of the interview that went unrecorded we talked about Joseph Campbell and Texas mythology and his 1982 film, “Barbarosa”

We talked till 2:30 a.m. at the table behind the bus driver. It was one of the coolest interviews I ever did and he was so open about the start of Farm Aid. The weekend of the show some of the interview was on the front page of the Thursday evening edition of the Detroit Free Press. That Friday morning it was also on the front page and my parents having coffee read it. I’d gone from Detroit Free Press paperboy with 90 daily papers and 130 Sunday papers to a front page byline. In the entertainment section another article used quotes with my byline and there was also a Q&A that I did. What a thrill and I think my parents called everyone they knew about it.

Thanks for the kind comments on the Farm Aid photos and I honestly don't think the day could have gone any better thanks to Renee and Paul. We were almost so close we could shake hands with people and the artists loved pointing at the Farmaidians for a reaction. What a great group of people to hang with!!!

Dozens and dozens of people came up to the Farmiadians asking, “who are you guys?” They are clearly music fans from Canada who are inclusive adopting others to their musical tribe.

At 10/05/2023 02:06:00 AM, Blogger Alan said...

@ Jim : Nice Photos, and writing.

@ Thrasher: Great post! Thank you!

@ Abner : Thanks for the info & specifics on the latest way the Government is going to screw us and the livestock. What a nightmare. Perhaps ignorance is bliss, for those unaffected. But we are all connected and what they do to these poor animals is inhumane, to say the least. Inhumane but All-American.

@ NY fans: On a brighter note I was just reading a very interesting bit about NY’s old boat, WN Ragland. An amazing ship, and was based in Port Townshend WA. To think Neil & DH got married here locally out in the San Juan Islands, so cool. I would recommend a read of these 2:

At 10/05/2023 10:03:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ Timmo - thanks for unwavering support for TW over the decades.

@ Alan - same as comment above to Timmo. Much appreciated & keeps us going. And thanks for yachting links, too.

@ Scots - praise from the Scots is not taken lightly. An honor and pleasure to share this space w/ you and your Neil musings.

@ Abner - as Alan mentioned, many thanks for the word on Big AG not being our friend.

That is why the FA messaging about supporting family farms is really a life or death matter.

just say no to the industrial food complex.

@ Jim - again, your photography at FA was outstanding and would like to publish more of your work. The road trip to Indianapolis was epic. See you and FarmAidians in 2024!

At 10/05/2023 12:04:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

It is difficult to express the systemic nature of the problems. It is so great to see these great artists supporting "family farms."

Back to the depressing. In Iowa, there are no "corporate farms." You might say, what the hell are you talking about?

Corporations cannot legally own farms and so what they do is provide the infrastructure to consolidate and they also contract with farmers (for pork, corn, soybeans, ethanol). So you will hear a lot of bullshit coming from the center of industrial agriculture (Iowa) about how they support family farmers.

At 10/05/2023 12:21:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

European friends- I will be in Ireland from March-May, and would love to meet up. I am giving a keynote address!! and some other lectures!! Getting really excited.

At 10/06/2023 09:32:00 PM, Blogger Alan said...

It’s a shame the FDA is in bed with Monsanto Bayer, trading employees back and forth through the decades of research fraud and self testing. “Mice had No Tumors in our 90 day test” said Monsanto. So many Great Schools let them do it and bought the story. Roundup kills, and it does not stop killing. That is why insect populations around the world are racing to extinction. Bees have suffered horribly, our little pollinators who worked so hard to keep us alive for no pay… and we are just killing them off. Research fraud is still fraud, no matter how many people say it’s good research. Why in hell would the FDA let Monsanto do its own research and accept it, ridiculous as it was. 90 days, no tumors yet.

And it is a crime against humanity that “progress in seed development” was actually just a way to stop plants from re-seeding, to corner the market, to develop a monopoly on our ability to grow crops; Bill Gates, the largest owner of farmland in the US used his Evil Gates Foundation to “help people grow food around the world” as long as they used Monsanto products. It’s really just a way for a Colonial power to entirely dominate food production. The owner of the single use seed contaminates other crops, erasing re-seeding, and holding countries hostage in food production.

Many view Gares as a benevolent savior. He is in fact doing with seeds exactly what he did with Windows: create a monopoly.

Unfortunately Global Warming has kicked in just as all of this played out. And the weather ain’t what it used to be. Superstorms rolling around every other week. Bad timing for food production. Weather gone haywire is no way to grow crops.

I am glad my music heroes gives a crap about this stuff. Farm Aid is a noble cause and we sure as hell need an intervention.

I saw a truck on the highway yesterday with little cages crammed full of chickens. Those poor creatures live in truly hellish conditions. Meat production in US and elsewhere is disgusting and horrible.

Don’t forget Love….. Love Earth.

Most all of what I said is True today. The rest will be true tomorrow.

Thanks for Farm Aid Neil, Willie, John, Dave & all!

Your brother Alan in Seattle

At 10/06/2023 09:43:00 PM, Blogger Alan said...

@ Thrasher : I am so glad to support TW, which reminds me that I need to send you some money!

All Thrasher’s Wheat readers : This awesome blog is in the Red year after year, not turning a profit, kept alive by cash infused by Thrasher for bandwidth requirements. Not to mention donated hours upon hours of labor for us all to enjoy the fruits of the blog.

Please consider making a donation to TW, see right side of home page for details.

Thank you Thrasher & Thrashette! You have made our lives way better by bringing us the Neil News that we need, and nearly countless doses of Wheat, not chaff. “Got to keep ‘em separated.” You all are heroes of mine, along with the thoughtful contributions of those who take time to post writings.

And Thanks to Neil Young / DH for the Climate Activism, Farm Aid, benefit shows, and a mountain of great music! There are so many live shows now on NYA that everyone who loves Neil should join to enjoy. Best band for the buck (other than TW, which is “free.”).

The world on a string doesn’t mean a thing.

Still your Brother Alan in Seattle

At 10/06/2023 09:46:00 PM, Blogger Alan said...

Best Bang for your buck, best band for the buck too, though that was a typo!

Brother Alan

At 10/09/2023 06:19:00 AM, Blogger wsanjose01 said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 10/10/2023 01:37:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

I am currently in a state of overload as I try to write a synthesis paper on "what is industrial agriculture?" I just finished a paper that uses literary tragedy as a template for what is occurring in the United States.

Alan, the seed issues are indeed troubling. Check out "Stine Seeds Iowa" and take a look at what is probably the most profitable seed company in the world.

And it looks like glyphosate is not responsible for the problems with bees, but instead the inert ingredients in the roundup. Either way, it is poison.

On my way to the college today I saw the "lawn crew" in the local park. I couldn't help but to notice some herbicide tanks. Incredibly, the ingredients included dicamba!! Iowa is leading the United States in new cases of head and neck cancers.

At 10/10/2023 04:50:00 PM, Blogger Alan said...

Thanks Abner. God that is so crazy that they are spraying Dicamba. I guess we are in the Eugenics phase now. Head and neck cancers popping up. Bankruptcy follows cancer. It looks pretty same to say “They are trying to kill us” at this point.

“Bee Against Monsanto” is a group I was in, marching against Monsanto. They had paid employees there to “correct out misunderstandings about Roundup.” What a load of shite.

Thanks for doing what you do, enjoy Ireland.

It’s really a shame that both parties in the US have the same policy on poison in food: “It’s a Good thing!”

Tim Kaine was Hillary’s pick for VP running mate back in 16. I recall he was owned by Big Ag.

It is very hard to fight Oligarchy. Whoever wins the Presidency will not do anything to stop this nightmare of poison in the food (& rain, & in can be found in all of our bodies.

Your Brother Alan in Seattle

At 10/10/2023 08:04:00 PM, Blogger Alan said...

FDA just too darn busy to check all pesticides inactive ingredients for human (or Bee) safety:

At 10/12/2023 10:49:00 PM, Blogger Alan said...

Kidney damage linked to Roundup :


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