This guest post was written by Joe Schroeder and David Senter
We’ve both always known that Willie Nelson was a good guy.
Throughout the years, listening to his music, we knew he must be good. But after working with Willie on issues affecting family farmers and having the chance to listen to Willie speak from the Farm Aid stage, we know his character is unquestionable.
He understands the struggle on the ground — the daily economic and political struggle facing so many in the countryside and elsewhere — and he isn’t afraid to take a stance against the powerful and the greedy.
In 1985, Willie realized that, through music, he and several dozen of his artist friends could take a stand and bring attention to the struggle family farmers were facing at the time. Farmers were being forced off their land by the hundreds every day. There were no legal resources available for folks, even though they had legal rights.
Someone needed to take initiative and support their struggle. So he started Farm Aid.
Willie stood up then and he’s still standing with family farmers today.
He often says that he was naïve to think that one concert would be enough to solve the problems facing family farmers. So 30 years later he continues to use the power of music for family farmers through his work with Farm Aid.
Since the farm crisis of the 1980s, Farm Aid keeps confronting new issues. Today, it represents the resilience and creativity of farmers who are facing a deck stacked against them. Farm Aid has given all family farmers the ability to have a voice. Willie has given many of us the strength and inspiration to continue the fight. He understands the fight and he isn’t afraid to join his friends and family farmers on the front lines. That makes a difference to all of us.
Willie Nelson is one of the greatest songwriters in the world. His songs tell his life’s story, which is a story that the average person can relate to. He’s an innovator who brought different strains of music — from gypsy jazz to hippie concept albums — to Nashville, while sustaining his outlaw credibility and genuine southern charm. He honestly represents the best of American music and the grit of rural culture.
And despite his talent, Willie’s humility is second-to-none; he takes time at his concerts to get to know his fans and hear their stories. At the annual Farm Aid concert and when he’s on the road throughout the year, Willie sits down with family farmers to discuss the challenges they are facing. The time he has spent meeting fans for autographs, taking pictures with fans or engaging in conversations is immeasurable. He shows people that they are important and remind them that they are not alone.
One time, before a Farm Aid concert in Tinley Park, Ill., Willie and Neil Young wanted to know more about what was happening with farmers. When they heard that farmers were marching to oppose factory hog farms, Willie grabbed his hat and said, “They don’t need to be marching by themselves. I’m going to march with them.” Willie and Neil headed out of their buses and joined the farmers in protest. As they met with farmers and listened to their stories, the farmers’ faces showed gratitude: They were not alone.
That’s how Willie is. He gets off the bus and stands with his friends.
Last week, Willie received the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, because he is a talented songwriter. We celebrate him, too because he is a tireless advocate for family farmers.
His commitment gives us hope for the future. With Willie Nelson beside us, we feel unstoppable.
Joe Schroeder is a Kentucky farmer and farm advocate. David Senter is a retired farmer from Texas and the former executive director of the American Agriculture Movement.