The First “Farm Aid”


On this day in Labor History the year was 1985.

That was the year that the first Farm Aid concert was held in Champaign, Illinois.

A retrospective article in Time magazine reported, “In the 1980s, American farmers were hit hard by what were, at the time, the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression.  Droughts ravaged the fields, property values plunged, loan interest rates soared, thousands were forced off their land and faced foreclosure and bankruptcy.”

Farmer suicides rose at alarming rates.

The idea to use music to aid the farmers began with Bob Dylan at an event to help African famine victims.

Then, musicians Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, and Neil Young took up his idea and ran with it.

Fifty musicians took the stage at the University of Illinois football stadium.

The organizers were joined by such headliners as Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Billy Joel, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, Bonnie Raitt, Kenny Rogers, Joni Mitchel, the Beach Boys, Jimmy Buffet, Bon Jovi, Foreigner, and more.

The musicians played for fourteen hours to a rain-soaked crowd of nearly 80,000.

A telethon also helped to bring in donations.

It raised $9 million for farm relief.

More importantly it helped raise national awareness of the dire economic conditions faced by many small farmers.

Farm Aid has continued to hold concerts for small farmers.

In 2015 the thirtieth anniversary concert was held in Chicago.

As an organization Farm Aid has raised more than $50 million for small farmers.

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