"Musicians know as well as anybody else what's going on in the heartland because we go up and down the highway all the time and we talk to people. I saw farmers around me going out of business cause they couldn't pay their bills." -Willie Nelson
In the 1980s
, family farmers faced a crisis the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the Great Depression. Plummeting farm product prices and land values, rising interest rates, troubled credit markets and unfair lending practices pushed tens of thousands of farms out of business, forcing millions of people off their land. The crisis had a widespread impact
on all of rural America.
It was in this context that Willie Nelson, joined by John Mellencamp and Neil Young, organized a groundbreaking concert in 1985 to raise awareness and funds to keep America’s family farmers on their land, sparking a family farm movement that continues to this day.
The first Farm Aid was put together in six weeks and was held on September 22, 1985 in Champaign, Illinois before a crowd of 80,000 people. Selling out in 24 hours, the show raised over $7 million for America's family farmers. Performers included Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King, Loretta Lynn, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and many more.
In the years following, the artists organized hay lifts and rallies; they protested, testified, and advocated on behalf of family farmers, eventually securing legislative victories. The concert continued to be a powerful gathering that raised money and awareness surrounding the loss of family farms.
In 2001, Dave Matthews joined the Board of Directors, adding another important voice to our work.