Farm Aid started at a crisis point for plenty of farm families in 1985. The politics of the time seemed to have completely lost sight of the people who put food on America's tables and provide millions of more meals across the world. Auctions of everything saved for over a lifetime filled new stories every day. Willie Nelson didn't need to read the newspapers to know what he saw traveling down the road through rural landscapes. He saw the need and heard the stories from the families living the reality of losing what had been theirs for generations.

The first event was held in Champaign, Illinois on September 22, 1985. Hopes were that if only a few farm families and their property could be saved, the effort would be well worth it. Founders Willie Nelson, Neil Young, and John Mellencamp wanted the plight of farmers to be recognized from the nation's capital to Walla Walla, and every nook and knoll in between.

Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp brought farm families to speak for Congress, and ultimately, legislation like the 1987 Agricultural Credit Act was enacted to save family farms from foreclosure.

To date, Farm Aid has raised $50 million to be direct assistance to farm families. This year’s 2017 Farm Aid returns to Burgettstown, Pennsylvania, where it was last held in 2002. In a very real sense, this year’s roster of regulars and guests seems like a family homecoming in more ways than one.

A warm welcome for a very familiar friend

Neil Young will be joining his performing pals this year, which normally would not be anything new, except that this year, Neil Young's rare talent and raucous spirit has been less evident.

He was around for a short harmonica head-bang (anyone who knows Neil Young understands that) with Willie Nelson at the Stagecoach Country Music Festival in April. He has not performed a show since the Bridge School Benefit last October. The uncompromising singer-songwriter canceled his planned Australian tour. He has been seen at a few recording sessions, including one with Willie Nelson’s son, Micah, on a song called “Children of Destiny”

Along with Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp, Neil Young is on the Farm Aid Board of Directors, and joining these three big names will be very familiar friends.

Dave Matthews, who has performed numerous times through past shows, and Sheryl Crow, who is no stranger to the Farm Aid cause will be joined by Jack Johnson, the Avett Brothers, Valerie June, Jamey Johnson, Blackberry Smoke, and Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, and Insects vs. Robots. The feeling of kinship is certain to flow to every fan.

Neil Young's impassioned speeches have become central to the Farm Aid theme every year, and the “Monsanto” composer is more transparent than ever this year. Last year, he called simply “eating good food that your neighbors made for you” the start of a revolution.

“You don't need the drugs anymore,” Young insisted, referring to GMO and preservative-laced chemicals pushed by manufacturers. He echoed that the earth, and returning to roots, organically, will “bring us all together.”

Tickets for the benefit at the KeyBank Pavilion go on sale June 23. Many farm families join fans in traveling cross country to create a huge farmers’ market.

Willie’s words from the heart

Decades have passed since the inception of Farm Aid, based on the knowing that “whether we live in rural or urban places, food—and music, brings us all together,” the legendary 84-year-old emphasized in Rolling Stone.

It's easy to tell that he feels at home in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. "Family farm agriculture is the heart of Pennsylvania. Nelson credited family farmers of western Pennsylvania for showing that “we can count on [them] to strengthen our communities and connect people.”

Willie Nelson and his family and friends coming along for Farm Aid 2017 have been experts at using their harmonies to connect hearts to the heartland for 32 years now.

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