Growing up in Wisconsin’s Driftless Area, I was heavily influenced by family farms and a surging folk movement. My father descends from several generations of farmers and my parents had a dairy farm when I was born, but times were tough and they sold the farm a few short years later. Even after we sold the farm, we were still connected to farming through various relatives and community activities. As a result, I have always had deep appreciation for the struggles and perseverance of today’s family farmers.

Over 30 years ago, Farm Aid was created to support those hard working family farmers and they continue with that mission today. The annual Farm Aid concert raises awareness and funds to support the mission. Attending a Farm Aid concert has been on my bucket list for years. I’ve mainly been drawn by the big four artists (Willie  Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, and Dave Matthews), but each year they have a great line-up of opening acts. The concert is usually made up of over 10 different musical acts and lasts nearly 12 hours!

Farm Aid 2016 Comes to Virginia

It takes a lot to make me totally geek-out, but a simple posting on social media announcing that Farm Aid 2016 would be held in Bristow, Virginia sure did the trick! I distinctly remember my husband’s blank stare while I rambled on about how I always wanted to attend Farm Aid, how excited I was that it was coming to town, and how we just had to attend. Eventually, I settled down when I sadly realized that it would be held while Hubs was out of town for business. Hubs is my official concert partner and I knew it would be nearly impossible to find someone else out here to attend with me because I don’t have many hippie friends in DC. :(

After thinking about it for several weeks, I decided that I would attend by myself and splurged on a ticket in the orchestra section. First, I have no problem going out to dinner or traveling by myself, but had reservations about attending an all day concert alone. In the end, it ended up being an amazing experience and I would do it again without question. Second, we rarely splurge on concert tickets. Most often, we end up with middle-of-the-road seats, but we’ve been know to view from the lawn a time or two. Splurging for a seat in the orchestra pit was NOT in our budget, but I cut back on eating out for an entire month to make up the difference. Again, it was totally worth it – not to mention, it was much healthier!

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The Homegrown Village at Farm Aid 2016

After arriving 30 minutes later than I intended, I headed directly to the Homegrown Village to ensure I had time to wander before the musical acts I wanted to hear. Prior to the concert, I was not familiar with the Homegrown Village, but learned on the Farm Aid website that it “is a space for concertgoers to mingle with farmers, engage in hands-on food and farm activities and learn about the ways family farmers are enriching our soil, protecting our water and growing our economy, in addition to bringing us good food for good health.”

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As I walked around, I learned about everything from water conservation efforts to raising backyard chickens. My favorite stop was the HOMEGROWN table, which is an affiliate of Farm Aid. HOMEGROWN had numerous fact/information cards that walked visitors through everything from saving tomato seeds to raising backyard chickens. I picked up several of these cards and am going to give a couple of them ago in the next few months.

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The Homegrown Concessions at Farm Aid 2016

One of the most unique things about Farm Aid are the Homegrown Concessions. These concessions feature local vendors and/or locally sourced products and eats. It was a great way to localize the concert and introduce attendees to producers who they may not have been aware of prior to the event.

Apple Cider Donuts

I am OBSESSED with apple cider donuts. I spent many fall weekends of youth working in the bakery at one of the local apple orchards in my hometown. Our best selling item were apple cider donuts and people would drive from all over the Midwest to get them, often times causing a queue to form. As soon as I saw these donuts advertised on the menu boards, I knew I would be getting them before the day was over … and I’m pleased to report that they were delicious!! If you are in the DC area, check out Mama’s Donut Bites during the week downtown or on the weekends are various farmers markets.

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Refillable Water Bottles

One of the things that I disliked the most about going to this venue is the inability to bring in reusable water bottles, especially at a concert like Farm Aid. However, Farm Aid did provide a unique solution in selling refillable water bottles at the concession stands. After purchase, you could return to the concession stand for the rest of the day and get a free refill… so of course, I got one! The merchandise booths also had the water bottles for sale, but as someone who stood in line for nearly an hour to buy a sweatshirt, I recommend picking one up at the concession stand in the future.

The Music of Farm Aid 2016

The Farm Aid Concert is all about bringing artists that have a connection to the organization and/or family farmers. While I had heard of most of the acts, there were a few of the opening acts that I was unaware of prior to purchasing my concert ticket. I’ve included a brief summary of the sets I listened to below. I apologize for the horrible quality of many of the pictures (can I blame a contact high?), but didn’t want to leave any out.

Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real

I got a late start leaving home, which delayed my arrival at the venue. Of course, this set back the time I had set aside to explore the Homegrown Village and Concessions. Which in turn, meant that I spend a good hour in the merchandise line and missed Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real (the first group I really wanted to see). Thankfully, the merch line I was in was near the stage and I could hear their set. Note to self for next time… get in the merch line first!

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Margo Price

One of the most amazing things to come out of my Farm Aid 2016 experience was finding Margo Price. I was riveted throughout her entire performance and as a result, have really crappy pictures, but I don’t even care because her performance lives in my soul. Her story is eerily similar to mine and our parents both stopped farming around the same time in the 80’s. My favorite performance of hers was her new song called “Heart of America” and it seriously gave me chills. I, of course, bought her album shortly after the concert and have had her in heavy rotation since. Also, she totally retweeted me after the show, so even if I wasn’t a fan girl, I would have been after that. :)

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Jamey Johnson with Alison Krauss

Let’s me start by saying that Jamey Johnson was one of the acts I was most excited about listening to at the concert. For years I have admired his sound, his dedication to his roots. Then… a few days before the concert, it was announced that Alison Krauss (*high pitched fan-girl squeal*) would be his special guest. I freaked! These two are amazing together and I would pay good money to see them together in a full-length concert. My favorite songs from their set were “Make the World Go Away” and “This Land is Your Land” (I love a good Woody Guthrie song and it fit perfectly at Farm Aid).

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Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

I had previously listed to Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats on some of random Spotify playlists. I’ve been a big fan of S.O.B. for a while, but was pleasantly surprised by the rest of their setlist. This was the first act of the night that really brought a horn section and I loved it!

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Sturgill Simpson

I’ve been listening to Sturgill Simpson for a while now and love the driving beats of many of his songs. There is just something about his voice and beats that makes you sit up, take notice, and grove along. He’s another act that I have had in heavy rotation as of late and I find myself actively listening to his music, which isn’t something I can say about a lot of folks these days. If you aren’t a fan already, be sure to check him out soon!

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Alabama Shakes

Dang, that girl can sing! The Shakes were great, but lead singer Brittany Howard is one amazingly powerful woman. Love her!

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Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds

My bucket list is a mixture of travel, music, and personal goals. For a couple years now, I have had seeing Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds in concert on it. I’ve never seen DMB in concert, but have always been pulled to see the stripped down performance of Dave and Tim. Thankfully, they surely did not disappoint! The only surprising thing about their set was the insane amount of people who lit up their joints as Dave and Tim began their set. :)

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John Mellencamp

I’m going to put it right out there and say that I was not a huge John Mellencamp fan before Farm Aid. I knew a few of his bigger hits and could even sing along to several, but I had never considered myself a “fan” of his. It was a bit odd to me that my wanderings around the Farm Aid grounds and looking at relevant hashtags online didn’t reveal many mentions of him either. Seriously, I didn’t see a single John Mellencamp shirt or tattoo (sidebar – there is real money to be made in Willie Nelson tattoo’s), so it’s should come as any surprise that his set didn’t mesh well with the crowd.

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Neil Young + Promise of the Real

In full disclosure, I wasn’t sure if I would recognize any Neil Young songs. However, I recognized “Heart of Gold” and “Harvest Moon” and was able to sing along to them, which was cool. Actually, his whole set was pretty amazing and he was still rocking out like he did 20 years ago. He had the crowd on their feet and completely engaged. Also, the multiple encores of the chorus of “Rockin’ in the Free World” made his set an experience I will never forget.

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Willie Nelson & Family

This is the second time I’ve seen Willie Nelson in concert, but the first time I really enjoyed the show. The last time I saw him was a dual-headline and we legit went to only see Alison Krauss and Union Station. We stayed for a few Willie songs, but left early in his show. The sound seemed off and we were sitting by some super rude people, so we bailed. As a result, I was really looking forward to this show and Willie did not disappoint! I loved that his set included his family and a few friends.

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Closing-out Farm Aid 2016

I loved that all the acts came back and joined Willie Nelson and Family for the final couple songs. Their rendition of Amazing Grace was fantastic. Also, Dave Matthews and Alison Krauss (and their quirky grins) sharing a mic was totally adorable.

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Tips for Attending Farm Aid

  • Make time to visit the Homegrown Village, even if you are only their for the music.
  • The locally sourced food and beverage vendors offer delicious options that allow you to support your local farmers.
  • If you want to buy merchandise onsite, get in line as early as possible. Trust me.
  • People will be smoking pot, if you aren’t ok with it, don’t go.

TL;DR

  • If you aren’t listening to Margo Price and Sturgill Simpson you should be.
  • Jamey Johnson and Alison Krauss need to record an album together.
  • Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds = amazeballs. They totally deserved their spot on my bucket list.
  • Willie Nelson and Neil Young still have it, John Mellencamp does not.

Be sure to check out the Farm Aid website if you want to learn more about the cause (or make a donation if you have a few extra bucks this month and want to support family farms).