Farm Aid Returns to the Heartland With Mellencamp, Young, Wilco

10/5/09, 10:27 am EST

Farm Aid 2009 hit St. Louis’ Verizon Wireless Ampitheatre yesterday with Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp, Neil Young and Willie Nelson leading a pack of performers that also included Wilco, Jason Mraz and late addition Gretchen Wilson. Local farmers and families packed the venue’s lawn eating locally produced meats and produce and donning shirts that read “Stop Factory Farms” and “Farmers Kick Ass.” The show marks the first Farm Aid for Missouri, and the ninth consecutive year Matthews, Mellencamp, Young, and Nelson, all Farm Aid board members, have headlined the annual concert. Since its inception in 1986, Farm Aid has raised more than $35 million to help support America’s family farmers.

Wilco took the stage at dusk and brought the crowd to its feet with a six-song set that included “Impossible Germany” and “Heavy Metal Drummer” — a song about hanging out in St. Louis’ Laclede’s Landing — and “Casino Queen,” an ode to a local riverboat casino.

Dave Matthews — fresh off his headlining set at Austin City Limits — and Tim Reynolds played an acoustic set with songs from Matthews’ newest album, Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King. The show hit an upswing when Farm Aid President Willie Nelson joined the duo on stage for “Grave Digger.” Nelson’s slow, steady voice was almost overpowered by the crowd’s raucous applause.

“There are few people like [Willie] on Earth,” says Matthews after the song. “The more we get behind things he believes in, the better we’ll be.” Matthews then finished his set strong with a sweet and somber version of “Dancing Nancies.”

John Mellencamp opened on an energetic note with “Pink Houses.” After, he briefly addressed the crowd. “When we put [Farm Aid] together 24 years ago, I don’t think we knew what we were getting ourselves into,” he said before thanking the audience and playing a solid versions of “Check It Out” and “Small Town.”

Neil Young walked onstage wearing a “Stop Factory Farms” shirt, and immediately said to the already energized crowd, “We want our farms back!,” before segueing into “Sail Away.” Young kept the show’s energy up by inviting Nelson on stage for an apropos and much appreciated version of “Homegrown” and concluding with “Everyone Knows This is Nowhere.”

By the time Willie Nelson took the stage, a good portion of the audience had dispersed, but the dedicated fans that stayed behind were met with a “Whiskey River” opener. Then, Nelson invited his son Lukas, who played earlier in the day with his band the Promise of the Real, to join him for an amazing version of “Me & Paul.” The younger Nelson’s impressive guitar solos garnered emphatic cheers from the audience. Throughout his set, Nelson didn’t shy away from many of the songs that gave him his name, such as “Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” “On The Road Again” and “Always On My Mind.”

To finish out the show, Nelson invited many of the day’s performers onstage, along with traditionally dressed Native Americans, to perform gospel renditions of “I’ll Fly Away,” “Amazing Grace,” and “I Saw The Light.”

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