Knowing the origins of the cause, and the general stereotypes that surround the target demographic, it would be easy to write off Farm Aid as being a highly conservative political reclamation of a more old-school image of American idealism. I’m sure you can see it: trucks and wagons filled with bumpkins wearing MAGA hats sporting denim overalls and chewing on a piece of hay.
The reality is pretty far from that: Farm Aid was organised by founded by one country legend, one folk-rock legend, and one heartland rock legend who all have ties to predominantly left-wing causes. No one would ever mistake Willie Nelson’s longstanding advocacy for marijuana, Neil Young‘s famous anti-war stance, or John Mellencamp’s rebukes of presidential candidates ranging from Ronald Reagan to John McCain as signs of secret conservative leanings.
But Farm Aid is a bipartisan affair, and it has been for its entire existence. Part of the fun of the annual event is seeing how different acts adjust to the decidedly country-strong atmosphere. Young and Mellencamp can pull off the more down-home feeling, but bands like Wilco, The Pretenders, and Jack White have all made appearances in settings relatively out of their respective elements. That’s part of the fun: see how all these people play a festival that’s the complete opposite of Coachella or Firefly.
Another major part of the fun is seeing some of the best artists on the bill occasionally collaborate. Back in 1995, the festival was celebrating its 10th anniversary when Willie Nelson decided to join Neil Young during his set. The two did their own version of Nelson’s ‘On the Road Again’, and Nelson provided some guitar flourishes for Young’s ‘Heart of Gold’.
The best part of the video is Nelson seemingly picking up the chords and changes in real time. Did he and Young work through the song beforehand? Did Nelson even plan on coming up during Young’s set? Has he ever heard ‘Heart of Gold’ before? All unanswerable questions, but it doesn’t matter because the performance illustrates the loose and familial atmosphere that makes Farm Aid such a unique festival experience.
Check out the performance of ‘Heart of Gold’ down below.