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Farm Aid 2013, Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, NY- 9/21

Photo by David Barnum

Farm Aid 2013 took place this year at gorgeous SPAC located, in New York’s scenic upper Hudson Valley. The sold-out concert event was a celebration of the American family farm and an opportunity to help raise awareness of the current issues facing the people who grow our food. Farmers are on the front lines of climate change and are affected by natural disasters, experience loss of land due to development and pollution, and face fierce competition from corporate factory “farms.” They need our economic and political support now more than ever.

The line up of artists, who donated their performances this year, include Farm Aid Board of Directors and regulars Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, and Dave Matthews, as well as guests Jack Johnson, Tim Reynolds, Amos Lee, Jamey Johnson, Carlene Carter, Bahamas, Pegi Young and the Survivors, Kasey Musgraves, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real, Insects and Robots, Jesse Lenat, Sasha Dobson, and the Blackwood Quartet.

Early in the day, fans were treated to short sets by a variety of acts including the California jam-friendly psychedelic/experimental band Insects vs. Robots. The talented country singer-songwriter Kasey Musgraves performed Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” as well as her hit “Merry Go Round.” The Canadian band Bahamas, (labelmates with Jack Johnson) brought a sunny vibe with the guitar and vocals of Afie Jurvanen. Backed by only a drummer and two vocalists, they had a surprising depth to their sound. Carlene Carter, performing solo acoustic, sang a stirring rendition of “Troublesome Waters” and got everyone singing along to Maybelle Carter’s “Will the Circle be Unbroken.” The soulful Amos Lee performed a moving cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Lukas Nelson (Willie’s son) and his band The Promise of the Real played a raucous set including the rocking blues number “Don’t Take Me Back” and he played a short jam on guitar with his teeth. Jamey Johnson’s country band, looking more like the cast from The Sons of Anarchy, played a slow, dark version of “You Are My Sunshine” that was downright menacing.

Toad the Wet Sprocket, the 90’s indie band, performed “All I Want” and the infectious new song “New Constellation” from their recent album. Lukas Nelson assisted on “Shotgun Willie” They were joined by Amy Nelson on vocals and Mickey Raphael on harp during “Walk On the Ocean.”

In the early evening, the large amphitheater instantly filled to capacity when Jack Johnson hit the stage. He doesn’t travel too often to the Northeast and the crowd went wild during his performance. He ran through earlier favorites “Better Together,” “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing,” “Bubble Toes,” “Banana Pancakes,” and “Shot Reverse Shot.” Johnson laid down a gentle groove on his new song “Radiate.” Lukas Nelson stepped out for “Flake,” and “Staple It Together” that started with a “Whole Lotta Love” teaser and a rap thrown in by Johnson’s bass player Merlo Podlewski. The set closer was a mix of “At or With Me” and Hendrix’s “Crosstown Traffic.”

DMB usually plays a three night run at SPAC every summer, so the crowd was riled up for the Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds’ set. They dueled on acoustic guitars for the first time on “If Only,” and performed “Save Me,” “#41,” “Cornbread,” and “Grace Is Gone.” Reynolds’ slide work was masterful and truly amazing.

John Mellencamp played his rock classics “Authority Song,” “Jack and Diane,” “Pink Houses,” and a solo acoustic version of “Small Town.” He really lit up the stage with “Paper in Fire,” “Crumblin’ Down,” and “Rain on the Scarecrow.” Mellencamp then called out a surprise guest, Hudson Valley’s own Pete Seeger, at age 94, he asked the audience to help him sing along to his Weaver’s anthem “If I Had A Hammer.” Seeger, playing a longneck banjo, called on Mellencamp, Matthews, Young, and Willie Nelson to come out and sing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” and, referencing New York’s current heated battle on anti-fracking, ended the song with the line “New York was meant to be frack-free” to extended applause.

Neil Young only played two of his own songs “Heart of Gold” and “Old Man,” but performed some interesting covers including Dylan’s “Blowin” in the Wind,” Gordon Lightfoot’s “Early Morning Rain,” and Ivory Joe Hunter’s “Since I Met You Baby.” He did beautiful versions of Tim Hardin’s “Reason to Believe” (also covered by Rod Stewart) and Phil Och’s “Changes.”

The much anticipated set by Willie Nelson and Family began with an 80th birthday video montage from friends and fans followed by a set of fan favorites including “Whiskey River,” “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To be Cowboys,” “Crazy,” “City of New Orleans,” and “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.” The peak moments were duets with Lily Meola on “Will You Remember Mine” and an emotionally charged version of Eddie Vedder’s “Just Breathe” with Lukas Nelson that ended with a tear and a hug. All of the remaining artists assembled on stage for a final group sing-along to Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light.”

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