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September 16, 2007

9/9: Farm Aid Press Conference @ Randall's Island, NYC

If there was one show I really wanted to cover to this summer, it was Farm Aid…even writing a letter to the Farm Yard advocating for myself (which proved unnecessary anyway when you have Billboard in your corner). For those of you unfamiliar with this annual event (calling it a concert just doesn’t do it justice), here it is in a nutshell:  “Farm Aid is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to keep family farmers on their land.” Rock legends Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp organized the first Farm Aid show 22 years ago in 1985 to raise awareness about the loss of family farms and to raise money so that family farmers could keep their land. Dave Matthews joined the board of directors in 2001. Over the past 2 decades, it’s turned into a huge, all day affair that includes incredible musical performances, delicious food (all organic and family grown, of course) and information about how we, as music abiding citizens, can help support Farm Aid’s “Good Food Movement.” As a lover of both good music and good food (those of you who know me know that one doesn’t necessarily supercede the other), there’s no way I was missing the chance to blog about Farm Aid, especially since this was the first year it was going to leave its footprints on New York soil! Rather than staging this “longest running benefit concert series” somewhere in America’s heartland, as it has more often than not done in years past, Farm Aid’s board decided it was time to bring their big show to the Big Apple. Woohoo! I’m not the biggest fan of festival type shows (usually feeling cheated by the shorter set times, overwhelmed by the massive crowds and frustrated with the usually restricted general admission view), but Farm Aid is different…aside from the obvious (i.e. great music and food), it’s for a good cause and there’s a great “we’re one big happy family” vibe in the air. Quite simply, it’s just a really fun day! Oh, and Randall’s Island has actual seats in addition to GA lawn.


Setting up shop at Icahn Stadium on Randall’s Island was the perfect choice, allowing the perimeter of the open field to be lined with concession stands of organic, family farm grown goods. From healthy versions of concert staples like French fries and chicken tenders (my personal concert meal of choice) to falafel, chicken kabobs, Cliff bars, granola and yogurt…us urban folks had a virtual smorgasbord of fresh, delectable choices to sustain us throughout the unusually hot September afternoon. Even the performers weren’t immune to temptation. Early in the day we spotted Tim Reynolds sampling some of the eats, and mid his acoustic set, Dave suggested we get some of the organic corn dogs, admitting that he “already had five.” Umm, perhaps a night I’m not tempted try to sneak onto his bus after the show. See, I’m not completely insane ;-).


I was a little disappointed when I got a call from Farm Aid late Friday afternoon telling me that I would no longer have photo privileges because the pit was being reserved for only “professional” photogs. I mean, is an LG not official enough?? No worries…they assured me I still had media access to the press conference prior to the show as well as the media tent throughout the day/night. And after seeing the gazillion hungry photographers rushing the stage for the first 2 songs of each artist’s set, I was relieved not to be in the mix.

Not having any idea what to expect from a press conference, I was having slight panic attacks throughout the week over the thought of actually being able to talk to any of the 4 music icons headlining the event. No joke, my palms are re-clamming just typing about it even though it’s been a week since the event and one on one time with the artists never even happened! The press conference was set to start at 11:00 am, but it was suggested we get there about 9:30 for press check in. Heading onto the Bronx River Parkway at 9:30, only to discover my tickets were still home did NOT help the nerves. Thank goodness Dave’s sound check was running a little late, which we were lucky enough to hear from where we were sitting.


At the press conference were the four board members, as well as representatives from Farm Aid and NY State, including Elliot Spitzer and a speaker from Bloomberg's office. To open the conference, Spitzer proudly announced that it was officially "Farm Aid Day" and reminded us that despite housing the largest city in the country, NY was also a farming state and one of the country's biggest apple suppliers (the first of many mini history lessons I'd learn over the next hour). "We're the biggest media city," boasted Spitzer. "If we can get the message started and out from here, we'll be doing something huge!" Following Spitzer's NYC plug, the four rock star headliners each took turns discussing the importance of Farm Aid and brining the event to NYC.

Farm Aid's founder, Willie Nelson, fielded the first and most pressing question of the day, "Why NYC?" by explaining that since ours is the most populated city in the nation with different ethnicities who appreciate good food, it was an obvious choice. "Plus, it's always good to go somewhere we're wanted." 


So after all these years I've finally learned that if I wanted to meet Mr. Matthews, I should have… brought him a bag of fresh picked tomatoes?? If food is the way to a man's heart, tomatoes might be the way to his. But not just some almost red sad lookin' tomato...these tomaters gots to be the good ones! When asked "Why should we care where our food comes from?" Dave, always adding a taste of humor, told us about a time when his family's septic tank had problems (ironically when they lived north of NYC) and all of a sudden tomatoes started sprouting. Apparently he wasn't as concerned with the origin of his food back then, as his wiser, older brother was the only one who wouldn't eat 'em. "Food is fine, but food can be great and there's a big difference between ok food and great food. I mean, the difference between a tomato that you buy off a rack that doesn't tell you anything about it in a giant supermarket and a big fat juicy blowin' up on itself tomato, a multicoloered thing that grew out in the sun being tended to beautifully is sorta immeasurable...Good food that's grown beautifully and lovingly...It just tastes better, and it makes ya a lot smarter too! When I first came to Farm Aid, I was even slower than I am...and it's good for the farmers if ya eat good food too."


Neil Young reinforced the fact that family farmers protect the environment by stopping big corporations and factory farms from destroying the land. "It's economically sound to protect the land we live off." Seems like a no-brainer, right!?! Too bad it's still a novel concept to so many. Neil's not just another celeb-turned-trendy activist...he's done his homework and can back up his claims about why "family farms/sustainable farming is the key to the future of not only us but the human race." He even taught us native NYers a thing or two about our great state, explaining that the reason "New York's got the best water in the United States" is because when you go upstream, only sustainable farms are allowed to exist along the riverbanks.  You mean, I can drink the...dare I say it...tap water!?!? But what will I do without my Brita Filter?

Finally, the ultimate "everyman" man, John Mellencamp, reassured skeptics that healhy, organic food isn't just for rich people who shop at fancy boutique supermarkets...where he lives, there are no fancy food markets. "Fancy markets are the local markets." And for those of us obsessed with Whole Foods (guilty as charged...brown rice sushi anyone? YUUMM!), Spitzer claimed there are 70 greenmarkets all over the city for local farmers.

The best news of the day came from Neil Young when he volunteered he and his friends to come back to NYC any time we'd like and have "Farm Aid Week." Fingers crossed, Neil...fingers crossed!!

Now, onto the show...

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Michael R

What an expirience! How's it feel being so close?


Another great review and thank you. I actually grew up on a farm and my parents still grow alfalfa so alot of what they were saying hits home.
And you got to hear dreaming tree!!!! I about drove off the road listening to that version yesterday.


Hey Leslie,

Looks like you had an awesome time at Farm Aid (and to meet Timmy no less!). Is life gettin back to normal now or is concert season still on for you?


Leslie, again, beyond jealous. You get to see firsthand these amazing things. I officially live too far away from you....


Sooo lucky you got to Farm Aid @ Randall's Island !! I attended my first, last year at Camden/Tweeter. Standing near the gates, another artist's bus driver gave me a Guest Pass ... well - it was a GREAT time...and everyone is there to enjoy & share & support the amazing families that feed us across this great land. It feels good to admire and enjoy artists who truly give of themselves and care about folks who work just as hard and rarely get the thanks and recognition given to the famous. Thank YOU, Leslie, for spicing up MY summer with your great reviews and beautiful pix. A real treat to meet you and look forward to more meet-ups in the near future! [Tim signed a "Miller's t-shirt" for me in "the green room" at The North Star/Phila - quite the philosophical conversationalist, he is!!] - nice pic you got w/ him. Rawk on, dudette !!! <3 Regina


leslie. sorry i fell off the map. i really enjoyed living my summer vicariously through you. you should consider a blog just for kicks.


leslie. sorry i fell off the map. i really enjoyed living my summer vicariously through you. you should consider a blog just for kicks.

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