Farm Aid press conference

By Mark Guarino

Farm Aid will celebrate its 20th anniversary in the Chicago area in late September, organizers said Monday. The longest-running benefit concert series in the nation will feature Neil Young, John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson, the Dave Matthews Band and others.

“Farm Aid is always in motion,” Mellencamp said Monday during a Grant Park press conference. “In an individual person’s life, Farm Aid makes a great difference. In the big scope of government, not so much. But in someone’s life, we can make a difference.”

The show is September 18 at Tweeter Center in Tinley Park. The onsale ticket date is July 30. Ticket prices are yet to be determined and organizers will announce additional artists to the bill as the concert nears. The show will be produced and promoted by Chicago-based Jam Productions.

Farm Aid’s roots go back to1985 when organizers had less than 20 days to stage the first concert in Champaign. The action was inspired by onstage comments made by Bob Dylan at Live Aid that summer, asking why no one was hosting benefit concerts for American farmers. Since then, said Nelson, the non-profit organization has grown to endorse the “good food” movement by supporting local organizations working to keep farming local and to promote organic food and biodiesel fuel.

“I was always told farmers were the backbone of this country,” he said Monday. “We need clean soil, I’m not sure if the big corporations have that dream in mind.”

Nelson is also working with Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) on a bill to bring federal relief to family farms. Doug Gordon, Kucinich’s press sectary in Wash. D.C., confirmed the relationship he said started last year. The bill is still being written. “Hopefully we’ll have something to announce shortly,” he said.

Farm Aid works by streaming money to organizations like the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, a grassroots group that campaigns against factory farms, and Seven Generations Ahead, that reaches out to urban and suburban consumers to promote local farmers markets. Farm Aid has raised over $27 million since 1985.

To celebrate the 20th anniversary, there will be many events the week of the concert. A county fair is scheduled at the Garfield Conservatory on Sept. 17 and there will be a series of small club dates by many of the headliners yet to be announced. “It keeps us in the public eye a little bit more,” said Ron Stern, a Farm Aid producer.

Of the 18 shows staged in its 20-year history, Farm Aid has had a diverse line-up of artists, from Lyle Lovett to Guns N Roses to Ringo Starr to Wilco. The concerts have been staged all around the country. The last time it arrived in the Chicago area was in 1998 at the Tweeter Center.

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