by Julian Spivey
Farm Aid 32, the annual benefit for the family farmer, took place this year at the Xfinity Theater in Hartford, Ct. on Saturday, Sept. 22 with performances from numerous performers, including the four members of the board of directors Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp (all who formed the benefit concert in 1985) and Dave Matthews. A five-hour edited down telecast of Farm Aid 32 aired on AXSTV on Saturday evening, which is how I saw Farm Aid this year, and thus my list of the 10 best Farm Aid 32 performances comes from this presentation and may not include terrific performances that I didn’t have the pleasure of seeing.
10. “Cocaine Cowboys” by Margo Price
Margo Price made her second appearance at Farm Aid this year, having previously performed the benefit show two years ago, and showed off to the crowd not only with her great vocal performance on “Cocaine Cowboys,” from her acclaimed 2017 album All-American Made, but also on drums providing a jam band finish to the song. It was pretty dope seeing Price on drums.
9. “Hey Mama” by Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats also performed their second time at Farm Aid on Saturday, with their first appearance also having come two years ago. The group performed a terrific version of “Hey Mama,” one of the highlights off their 2018 release Tearing at the Seams, with a great vocal performance by Rateliff.
8. “Crumblin’ Down” by John Mellencamp
John Mellencamp, one of the founders of Farm Aid, had what I believe was the best Farm Aid 32 set on Saturday evening. One of the many highlights was his 1983 hit “Crumblin’ Down,” which he told the Farm Aid crowd he had written about the Reagan administration, but “it’s even more about today.”
7. “Powderfinger” & “Ohio” by Neil Young and Promise of the Real
Neil Young and Promise of the Real’s rocking performances of “Powderfinger” and “Ohio” were both so excellent and epic that I couldn’t choose between the two. They were jam-band delights with Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real as an excellent backing band for Young (they’ve been his backing band for much of the last few years).
6. “Ants Marching” by Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds
I like Dave Matthews, but he also has a lot of music that really hard for me to get into and he plays a lot of that music in concert, but I’ve always found “Ants Marching” to be one of Matthews’s best songs (it’s also one of his oldest coming off his debut album) and it’s particularly great played acoustic with his close friend and collaborator Tim Reynolds.
5. “In Color” by Jamey Johnson
Jamey Johnson has been a mainstay at Farm Aid for quite a few years now with 2018 being his 11th consecutive year performing at the benefit. The AXSTV telecast only showed one performance from his Farm Aid set, but it was the biggest hit of his country career “In Color,” which is one of the 100 greatest country songs of all-time, in my opinion, and absolutely breathtaking seeing him perform alone with just his acoustic guitar on stage. It was simple, but stellar.
4. “You Don’t Miss Your Water” by Sturgill Simpson
Sturgill Simpson has turned himself into quite the jam-band rocker recently, which actually has some of his fanbase perturbed, but it’s something I find intriguing. His frequent cover of William Bell’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water” is always a stellar vocal performance in his repertoire and Saturday’s Farm Aid performance didn’t fail to drop jaws. It was Simpson’s second Farm Aid appearance, with his first coming two years ago.
3. “Texas Flood” by Willie Nelson & Lukas Nelson
I saw this performance initially in person at the Outlaw Music Festival stop in Little Rock, Ark. in late June and was blown away. I was equally blown away on Saturday night when Willie Nelson let his son Lukas take lead vocals on the blues classic “Texas Flood,” which was originally recorded in 1958 by Larry Davis and popularized by Stevie Ray Vaughan. Lukas’s vocals on this song are perfection and it’s fantastic seeing father and son take guitar solos on such a blues classic.
2. “Scarecrow in the Garden” by Chris Stapleton
My favorite track off of Chris Stapleton’s late 2017 release From A Room: Volume 2 was “Scarecrow in the Garden” are song about a farm handed down from generation to generation of a family and the struggle and hurt that farming can lead to. It was a perfect performance for the Farm Aid crowd and Stapleton’s voice as terrific as ever.
1. “Rain on the Scarecrow” by John Mellencamp
John Mellencamp’s “Rain on the Scarecrow,” from his 1985 album Scarecrow, could essentially be the theme song for Farm Aid. The song, which came out the year that Farm Aid began, is about the financial difficulties experience by the hard-working farmers of this country not only putting food on their family’s table, but the tables of families throughout our country. It’s always an epic performance every time Mellencamp breaks it out at the benefit.