Event Reviews

Farm Aid 2000

featuring Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, Neil Young, Barenaked Ladies, Travis Tritt, Alan Jackson, Sawyer Brown, Arlo Guthrie, North Mississippi Allstars, Shannon Curfman, Badi Assad Menagerie, Pat Green, Jimmy Sturr, Cowboy’s Nightmare, Trent Summar and the New Row Mob, and Chris DiCroce

Nissan Pavilion, Manassas, VA • September 17, 2000

For the tenth time in fifteen years, Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and friends put on a benefit concert to raise funds for struggling family farmers. And if the fund raising aspect of the event was as successful as the music aspect, Farm Aid 2000 was a rousing success.

The daylong show got underway shortly after Noon with several brief performances by up and coming performers. They included folk-y Chris DiCroce, rambunctious honky-tonk outfit Trent Summar and the New Row Mob, and Dixie Chicks wannabes Cowboy’s Nightmare. Willie Nelson also made an early guest appearance joining Jimmy Sturr’s big band for a number.

The CMT-televised portion of the event kicked in a couple of hours later, with Nelson joining singer Pat Green and his band for “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.” The mid-afternoon also included a performance by Brazil’s Badi Assad Menagerie, an unusual band that combined stellar guitar work, Bobby McFerrin-like mouth percussion and vocal improvisation.

Blues music was also well represented by a couple of rising star acts. Fifteen-year-old (!) Shannon Curfman underscored her unbelievably mature-sounding vocals with some solid guitar playing. And country-blues trio North Mississippi Allstars turned in an incendiary live set. The band is fronted by brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson, the sons of legendary Memphis producer Jim Dickinson.

Another highlight of the afternoon was an all too brief set by Arlo Guthrie. Accompanied by two of his children, Guthrie kicked off his set with a song written by his father, Woody, “Plane Wreck At Los Gatos (Deportees).” He also took on “City of New Orleans” and “Coming Into Los Angeles,” a song about drug smuggling that he prefaced by expressing his support for decriminalizing marijuana. The comments took on an ironic subtext, though, because of the strong police presence at the venue, which probably made partaking of illegal substances a difficult (but not impossible, as it turned out) challenge.

Speaking of the evil weed, a booth selling hemp products set up at the venue offered hemp clothing and accessories. My girlfriend and I decided that you’ll know when hemp goes legit as a fabric when they start including a hemp setting on irons. Then they’ll start making those hemp/rayon blends. I wouldn’t smoke that rayon, though. That’s some really nasty weed. We’re thinking of mass producing bumper stickers that say “Hemp – Ironize It.” Of course, all of this was really hilarious while we were catching a contact buzz from the guys next to us smoking their, er, hemp.

The late afternoon was taken up mostly with mainstream country superstar acts like Sawyer Brown, Travis Tritt, and Alan Jackson. Sawyer Brown turned in one of the more energetic sets of the day, incorporating covers of “Six Days on the Road” and “Taking Care of Business” along with their own big hit “Some Girls Do.” Singer Mark Miller tirelessly worked the crowd in his red pants and lime green shirt, and kicked the show up a notch.

Tritt was a big hit with the good old boy contingent in the crowd, taking on tunes like “Here’s A Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)” and “T-R-O-U-B-L-E,” as well as the occasion appropriate “Where Corn Don’t Grow.” And Jackson was a hit with the female contingent, crooning favorites like “Chattahoochie” and “Don’t Rock the Jukebox.”

And then before you could say “and now for something completely different,” popsters Barenaked Ladies took the stage for a wacky set dressed in matching red shirts and gray pants, which they claimed was a total coincidence. Their latest CD, Maroon, may be their most mature work to date, but that didn’t seem to affect their always entertaining stage show. The new record was represented by the catchy “Too Little Too Late” and the new single “Pinch Me.” But favorites like “One Week” and “If I Had $1 Million” also made appearances, as well as “Brian Wilson,” which the ex-Beach Boy himself has taken to covering at shows, in one of the weirder self-referential events of recent years. But BNL brought the house down with a set-closing medley that incorporated “Memory” (from Cats), Celine Dion, Eminem, Fatboy Slim, Bloodhound Gang, Britney Spears, and Cher, among others.

One of Farm Aid’s “big three,” Neil Young, was up next, backed by legendary bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn, guitarist Ben Keith, keyboardist Spooner Oldham, and big time session drummer Jim Keltner, as well as Young’s wife and sister on background vocals. In between giving the hard sell for the cause, Young trotted out a country tinged “From Hank to Hendrix” and a rocking electric “Powderfinger.” Young also performed later in the evening with David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash. That set included “Love the One You’re With” with both Stills and Young tearing into fiery solos. Nash was showcased on “Marrakesh Express” and “Our House.” Crosby turned in an inspired vocal on “Almost Cut My Hair” as Stills hopped up and down as he leaned into a solo on his “flying V” guitar. And Young sounded great on a beautiful rendition of “Helpless” and the set-ending “Cinnamon Girl.”

Unlike the loquacious Young, another of the original Farm Aid co-founders, John Mellencamp, chose to let his music speak for itself. Mellencamp performed with an acoustic combo (guitar, dobro, fiddle), much as he has been doing this summer on a sort of busking-style mini tour. It’s good to see Mellencamp returning to the rootsy sound that made his mid-‘80s work like Scarecrow and Lonesome Jubilee so strong, after experimenting in recent years with more modern, techno-fied sounds, including at last year’s Farm Aid performance. But his seven-song set this year was almost too low-key. Opening with a subdued take on the Stones’ “Street Fighting Man,” Mellencamp revisited the usual suspects like “Small Town” and “Rain on the Scarecrow.” But as if to say he can no longer be bothered to sing his own songs, he brought out Tiffany (yes, that Tiffany) and singer Greta Gaines to take over lead vocals on “Key West Intermezzo” and “Pink Houses,” respectively. Mellencamp and company also played one not very promising new song that may be on a new record due next spring.

This edition of Farm Aid wrapped up with a set from the President of Farm Aid, Willie Nelson. Backed by a nine-piece band, including Tipper Gore on percussion, Nelson took on a selection of his classics, including “Whiskey River,” “On the Road Again,” and “Always on My Mind.” He also brought out all of the show’s participants for a finale of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”

All in all, a good day for a good cause. And for a change, no problems getting out of Nissan Pavilion’s notorious parking lot. Can’t beat that.

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