36 Years Ago: First Farm Aid Held in Champaign, Ill.
Thirty-six years ago today, on Sept. 22, 1985, the very first Farm Aid was held in Champaign, Ill.
Farm Aid, hosted by Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Neil Young, was created after Bob Dylan said during Live Aid, which raised money for Ethiopian farmers during the famine, "Wouldn’t it be great if we did something for our own farmers right here in America?" The inaugural event was held at the University of Illinois' Memorial Stadium, with Dylan, BB King, Roy Orbison, Loretta Lynn, Billy Joel and Tom Petty among the list of performers. More than 80,000 people attended, kicking off an annual event that has, as of 2020, raised nearly $60 million.
“We organized the first Farm Aid concert in Illinois in 1985 to respond to the people suffering during the farm crisis,” Nelson says. “In the ... years since, hundreds more artists have given their time and talent to support family farmers."
Adds Mellencamp, “In 1985, alternatives didn’t exist for most farmers, and people didn’t understand that there was a role for them in changing the system. People thought the farm crisis was a rural problem. But after that first concert, people listened. They realized that if we lost family farmers, we lost Main Street, and we lost our food. They stood up with family farmers, and now things are changing. We’ve got a lot more work to do, but the connection between rural and urban communities is more real and important to people.”
Since 1985, Farm Aid has been held in Texas, Nebraska, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Kentucky and Virginia, among other states. Information on the annual Farm Aid — which, in 2021, is set for Saturday (Sept. 25) in Hartford, Conn. — can be found on the event's website.
A Look Back at Farm Aid 2018: