MANASSAS, Va. — Her husband, Al, didn't make it to the pre-concert presidential candidates' forum, but Tipper Gore banged the bongos with Willie Nelson at Farm Aid 2000, held Sunday in Manassas, Va., outside of Washington, D.C.
The benefit to raise funds for struggling family farmers and increase awareness of their plight also featured co-founders John Mellencamp and Neil Young (who also appeared with pals Crosby, Stills & Nash). Among other artists performing were Barenaked Ladies, Travis Tritt, Alan Jackson, Arlo Guthrie, North Mississippi Allstars, teenage blues sensation Shannon Curfman, polka king Jimmy Sturr, and Brazilian artist Badi Assad.
Al Gore was represented by U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who was among several voices decrying corporate-controlled farming, foreign trade deals, genetically altered food, and the 1996 Freedom to Farm Act, which farmer Ralph Paige said "gives us freedom to farm nothing and freedom to lose everything."
Fringe candidates Pat Buchanan, Ralph Nader, and John Hagelin also made appearances, but as Young observed at a post-forum press conference, "notably absent was anyone from the Republican camp, even though they were invited. It looks like another one of Bush's great moves."
He also noted that the 15th anniversary of Farm Aid, organized in 1985 as a one-time benefit, à la Live Aid, was not a celebration. "Still being here, obviously, it's not what we wanted," he said.
At another press conference, Barenaked Ladies jokingly challenged Eminem and Kid Rock to play Farm Aid, then treated listeners to snippets of those artists' tunes in a hilarious, over-the-top medley that referenced Britney Spears, Biz Markie, Cats, Celine Dion, Cher, Fatboy Slim, and Sesame Street. Keyboardist Kevin Hearn, unable to perform during BNL's 1999 Farm Aid appearance due to his battle with leukemia, made it this time, looking frail but not gaunt, and was strong enough to perform "One Week," "If I Had $1,000,000," "Brian Wilson," and "Pinch Me," from the band's new Maroon.
Not all the performers were quite as outspoken. Nelson's stumping, like his personality, remains low-key, and Mellencamp let his songs — acoustic versions of "Small Town," "Rain on the Scarecrow," "Pink Houses," and a slowed-down, compelling reading of the Stones' "Street Fighting Man" — do the talking. He also had a couple of surprise guests: former teen pop star Tiffany on "Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First)" and singer Greta Gaines on "Pink Houses."
Young, in contrast, used every between-song moment to push the cause and remind viewers of Country Music Television's live broadcast to "send us a lot of money.
"I'd like to set a record … make Jerry Lewis move over," he joked. Before hitting the opening notes to "Cowgirl in the Sand," he said his next song was going to be a long one, and he didn't mind if TV viewers went to the phones during the instrumental parts. Chances are they were riveted to their screens, though; Young's segments, both with CSNY and his own band, were highlights of the 10-hour concert.
Backed by bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn, keyboardist Spooner Oldham, and drummer Jim Keltner, as well as guitarist Ben Keith and his wife, Pegi, and sister, Astrid, on vocals, Young gave moving renditions of "From Hank to Hendrix," and "Daddy Went Walkin'" (dedicated to his Dad's Canadian farm) before ripping into "Powderfinger," "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere," and "Cowgirl in the Sand."
As if that wasn't sublime enough, the CSNY set matched it with "Marrakesh Express," an electric "Helpless," the gorgeous harmonies of "Helplessly Hoping," and "Our House."
On the CSNY opener, "Love the One You're With," Young and Stephen Stills delivered seamless call-and-response guitar riffs. They dueled wildly on "Almost Cut My Hair" and "Cinnamon Girl," ripping out incendiary notes with more passion than any other artist of the day. Stills was so pumped, he jumped up and down and nearly had to be dragged from the stage.
Unfortunately, odds are good he can return for another Farm Aid next year.