Remembering when Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings joined forces for ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ at inaugural Farm Aid
September 22nd, 1985, saw the launch of ‘Farm Aid’ a movement which saw artists like Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and more perform for charitable causes while creating iconic moments in the process—none more so than when Waylon Jennings joined Johnny Cash to perform ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ in front of 80,000 adoring music fans.
The idea for Farm Aid stemmed from a controversial performance at Live Aid involving Bob Dylan when he commented that “it would be nice if some of this money went towards American farmers”. Given his very public stance, it meant when the offer to perform at the inaugural event was put to Dylan, he could hardly turn it down.
Dylan’s comment certainly stoked some fires and, consequently, it irritated Live Aid creator Bob Geldof who would later write in his autobiography: “Something so simplistic and crowd-pleasing was beyond belief. Live Aid was about people losing their lives. There is a radical difference between losing your livelihood and losing your life. It did instigate Farm Aid, which was a good thing in itself but it was a crass, stupid, nationalistic thing to say.”
Despite the international uproar around Dylan’s comment, American farmers at that time continued to struggle with looming mortgage repayment deadlines. Dylan, who was attempting to shine a light on the issue during the biggest stage, saw his tone misjudged. However; these words uttered by Dylan would go and spur Neil Young, Willie Nelson, and John Mellencamp to organise the first Farm Aid later that year. It was a star-studded one day festival like no other in American history and raised over $9 million for farmers.
The cause saw names ranging from Carole King to Joni Mitchell to Eddie Van Halen and Kris Kristofferson all take part in uniting for the greater good. Sammy Hagar told MTV’s on the day of the event: “As soon as I read in the paper that there was gonna be such a thing I called my manager and said, ‘I wanna do it.’ And he said, ‘It’s all country.’ I said, ‘I don’t care. It’s America. I wanna do it.”
One performance from that historic day at the University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium stole the show, however, and that was when long-time friends and country juggernauts Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings shared the stage.
The duo performed a wonderous rendition of ‘Folsom Prison Blues’. Jennings introduced his counterpart to a raucous ovation, saying: “This is my friend from the road, home and everywhere for about 25 years. He’s truly a legend in his own time, this is Johnny Cash.”