Margo Price with Wisdom Indian Dancer - photo by Linette Britt
Nestled in the very type of community they set out to support, this year’s Farm Aid at Alpine Valley Music Theater in East Troy, WI had many stories to tell, but none so on point as one with one of its musical participants, Margo Price. Herself a product of a farm family that experienced firsthand the economic downturn of Family farms struggling to survive in the face of corporate competition, Ms Price attended the press conference, opened the festivities singing, “This Land Is Your Land,” alongside Native American dancers, sat on a panel focused on stress among farmers and then gave a kickass performance that had a rock choir’s fire and country-gospel tenderness. No surprise then to find her back on stage at the end of the night singing with Willie and family, clutching her newborn who wore the cutest pink ear protectors.
Family really sits at the heart of Farm Aid; from the sons, fathers and cousins that populated the stage to the artists who supported each other performances. As a mid-afternoon high point, Lukas Nelson had the Night Sweats’ brass, songbird Margo Price and British sensation Yola singing back-up, Particle Kid on guitar and his drummer’s son, half the size of his electric guitar, throwing devil horns and enjoying every minute in the limelight. Many performers mentioned returning time and time again to play Farm Aid, donating their services to the cause and reuniting with old friends whose mutual admiration is palatable as voices soared and roared and guitar licks ripped and ricocheted filling the ears and feeding the soul.
During Price’s time on the panel she talked about the concerns musicians and farmers share regarding stress, mentioning the lack of health insurance and mental health resources, the economic uncertainty and burdened family dynamics. Wisconsin lost almost 700 dairy farms in 2018 and 2019 is on pace to be even worse. Hit by tariffs, seed patents and extreme weather, farmers nation-wide suffer as does the land they tend. Currently, the U.S. farm rescue is more than twice as expensive as the 2009 bailout of Detroit’s Big Three automakers, which cost taxpayers $12 billion. 34 years ago Farm Aid was about bankruptcy and foreclosures, today it is about sustainability and the future. Despite the bleak economic forecast and the relentless drizzle that beat down on the sold-out show, the vibe was downright happy. “Buy Local Food,” “take care of the people who take care of us,” “reconnect to the earth,” the sense of active community went from the human ridge that helped people across a particularly slippery hillside with calls of, “Come up high, come up high,” to the food stand helping out their local marching band by selling one of the tastiest cheeseburger and fries I’ve ever devoured.
This year’s line-up included a slew of exceptionally strong songwriters playing their tunes and honoring their influences, covering Crosby Still and Nash, Elton John and the Talking Heads; building from country-blues roots, the fifteen bands covered soul, rock, honky-tonk, funk and folk. From Neil Young playing, “Heart of Gold,” and giving you a piece of his mind to John Mellencamp admonishing the crowd for missing the second verse of, “Jack and Diane,” Tanya Tucker singing the hell out of, “Delta Dawn,” and a recovering Willie Nelson opening with, “Whiskey River,” Farm Aid 2019 created good vibes, lasting memories celebrating the year-long efforts to promote a cleaner, healthier world.