On The Road Again: Farm Aid 2017 Comes To Pittsburgh Area

Jun 13, 2017

Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp will headline Farm Aid 2017 at KeyBank Pavilion in Burgettstown in September, along with Dave Matthews, who became a board member in 2001.

The annual multi-artist concert to support and raise awareness about family farms and agriculture has been going since 1985. At that time, its goal was to keep small farms alive. The goal today has evolved, but organizers say the spirit remains.

“We’re constantly talking about the need for policies that keep family farmers on the land instead of pushing them off in favor of these giant operations that make food a global market when we want to see it be more of a local market," communications director said Jennifer Fahy said.

Fahy said she wants farming to be competitive and independent, with farmers able to autonomously decide how to run their own farms.

Mike Sauter, director of content and programming for WESA's sister station, WYEP, said he's seen several Farm Aid regulars at other shows. The annual benefit pushes artists to collaborate organically on stage "to raise broader awareness of our food supply and environmentalism,” he said.

Farm Aid was born from Live Aid, a fundraising concert for famine relief in Ethiopia.

Bob Dylan was one of the performers. He said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we did something for or own farmers right here in America?”

“The myth goes that Willie was on the bus, watching the concert and said, ‘Hey, I know this is true from traveling the back roads of the U.S. and talking to farmers in diners and truck stops, and he’s right, we’re going to do something,” Fahy said.

The first concert was organized in six weeks and took place in Champaign, Illinois. It raised $7 million for U.S. family farms. It evolved from a one-off music festival to a year-round organization.

“We have programs in-house to directly serve farmers. Five days a week I answer our farmer hotline; any farmer from anywhere in the country can call for any reason and we help them directly," said Laura Brookshire, Farm Aid program director. "We also act as a referral service, so we connect them with an organization that’s part of our farmer resource network in their local region."

The concert is a big draw, though. Last year’s show in Bristow, Va., drew 20,000 people. KeyBank Pavilion has a capacity of about 23,000.

Brookshire said the food is always terrific.

"We work with the vendors at the concert venue so all the concessions served are sourced from family farms or local farms or they’re organic," she said. "We also have activities throughout the day in our homegrown village area.”

Those activities include learning about beekeeping or how to make your own paper.

This year's show also includes acts new to the Farm Aid lineup, Sauter said.

“Coming on board this year is Jack Johnson, the Avett Brothers, Sheryl Crow, Valerie June, Willie Nelson’s son, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, and a couple of other bands," he said. "And a few that have not been announced that they will be adding to the bill."

Presale tickets go on sale Wednesday.