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Farm Aid 2003: Part 1

Ben Fong-Torres

Ben Fong-Torres

Posted to Center Stage on June 12, 2014

We’ve all heard of Farm Aid. Willie Nelson organized the first concert in 1985, to raise money for, and awareness of, the plights of the independent, American family farmers. But many of us haven’t seen or heard a Farm Aid concert. That changed when TNT recorded and broadcast the 2003 fundraiser, in Columbus, Ohio. Now, on Qello, we all get to see it.

We start with the jingo jangle of Brooks and Dunn—here, it’s Ronnie Dunn up front on lead vocals, with Kix Brooks alongside (they split up in 2010), along with a group of representatives of the Armed Forces.

Then it’s all about diversity, with Hootie and the Blowfish, about five years before Darius Rucker went country, and Los Lonely Boys, the “Chicano rock” band from Texas who made their first album in Nelson’s studio in Austin. Their hit, “Heaven,” is a primo example of what they call “Texican rock and roll.”

The surprise act of the day probably was Billy Bob Thornton, who’d made his second album that year and expanded his portfolio beyond character acting. He’s OK (despite an affectation of dipping low at the end of phrases), but isn’t about to make people forget his lead role in the 1996 classic, Sling Blade.

Emmylou Harris is the first performer who makes me wish the show could have had more time. (This is part one of two, totaling under two hours for the Soundstage series on PBS; it was originally broadcast by CMT.) Harris, luminous in a short-sleeved, satin Chinese shirt, is represented by a lovely rendition of Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty,” which Nelson and Merle Haggard made the title track of their duet album in 1983. (Emmylou did a purty good job, too, back in 1977, for her Luxury Liner album.)

A band I’ve never seen, Trick Pony, revs things up with “Pour Me,” and the rock energy remains with the entrance of Farm Aid first-timer Sheryl Crow and her band, doing the hook-heavy “Steve McQueen,” followed by her recover of “First Cut Is the Deepest,” the Cat Stevens composition done not only by him and by P.P. Arnold in 1967, but, almost a decade later, by Rod Stewart.

Crow, hot in black leather and shades, nails the song.

This is one satisfying array of music and performances, for a good cause. And it’s just the first half.

(For more info on Farm Aid, check the book, A Song for America, by Holly George-Warren, with a foreword by ol’ Willie himself.)

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