When delving into the Farm Aid archives, you can come across a myriad of hidden treasures – of both artistic ingenuity and fashion faux pas. For 29 years, Willie, Neil, John and more recently Dave have gathered influential musicians together to perform at our annual concert. Recently, I’ve been converting footage of Farm Aid past to digital form for our YouTube channel and have gotten to experience all of the magical moments and interesting hair styles all over again. Some things are constant, like Willie playing "On The Road Again" but there are plenty of surprises that make each concert memorable. From the inaugural 1985 concert in Illinois to Raleigh, North Carolina this past fall, here are some of Farm Aid’s best (and worst) kept secrets.
This year, Willie’s son Lukas Nelson and his band The Promise of the Real brought an unforgettable performance to Farm Aid 2014 in Raleigh.
Turning the clock back a decade, however, you can find a much younger Lukas performing alongside Willie four years before The Promise of the Real formed. On this version of "Texas Flood," 15-year-old Lukas steals the show with bluesy solos and proves it won’t be the last time you see him on stage.
For some sets, it’s all about the perfect cover song. Sure, fan favorites and trademark hits make eager audiences happy, but there’s something even more special about your favorite artist taking on a legendary hit and making it their own. Deep in the Farm Aid archives, you can find John Mellencamp playing an acoustic version of The Rolling Stone’s "Street Fighting Man" and Led Zeppelin’s "In My Time Of Dying." Don’t forget to check out Dave Matthews channeling some Bob Dylan in 2004 with "Oh Sister." When the Barenaked Ladies stopped by the stage in 2000, they whipped out an entire medley of cover songs including “Memory” from Cats and Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady” that the Internet could probably do without.
Did you know that Bill Clinton has a younger brother? Did you know that his brother was a musician in the early 1990s and that we have live footage of him performing at Farm Aid? If you’d like to see Bill’s baby brother Roger take on the stage, look no further than this clip from 1993 in Ames, Iowa. One of the most unusual artists to land a spot on the bill, Roger Clinton showed up in acid wash jeans to sing about, you guessed it, politics. That same year, actor Lou Diamond Phillips took the stage to prove he has musical talents of his own.
Each year, Farm Aid packs a venue full of artists that don’t have many chances to meet throughout the year. This special occasion calls for celebration through collaborations and reunions. In the realm of unexpected, Willie and Beck covered the classic country tune "Peach Picking Time in Georgia" together. Another year, Ringo Starr played drums for a band called The New Maroons – a group I’ve never heard of and can’t find anywhere on the Internet, so I’m still not sure how they managed to snag Starr. In terms of reunions, you can check out Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in 1990 and 2000, as well as performances by the Highwaymen, who played Farm Aid together in 1985, 1992 and 1993.
If you’re up for the task of weeding through nearly 30 years of music, the Farm Aid YouTube channel is the place to do it. As you scroll through all the mullets and questionable fashion choices, you’re guaranteed to find some musical treats – some of which no one has seen in 20 years. Share your finds with your friends!