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Pete Seeger, Neil Young, Dave Matthews and Jack Johnson Highlight Farm Aid 2013

September 24, 2013

After 27 years of Farm Aid, there aren’t many surprises that would shock the seasoned Farm Aid-goer. However, when 94-year old Pete Seeger took the stage at Saratoga Springs’ Performing Arts Center, most everyone in the venue knew this was one of those moments.

Seeger, banjo in tow, walked on stage after an introduction from Farm Aid leader Willie Nelson to play “If I Had a Hammer,” the 1949 Lee Hays collaboration about the progressive movement, and the Woody Guthrie classic “This Land Is Your Land.” For the latter of the two, Seeger asked the Farm Aid Board of Directors (Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews) to join him on vocals. With admittedly not much voice left, Seeger also encouraged the crowd to help him out on harmony for “This Land Is Your Land.”

While Seeger provided one of the most memorable moments of the evening, he certainly wasn’t the only takeaway. This day-long concert boasted some of the biggest names in music as well as bright young stars, most of who kicked off the day. Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real proved to own the pre-sunset portion of the show, ripping through a strong selection of Southern rock songs. While most performers opt for the quieter, acoustic setting, Nelson was anything but, wailing away on his guitar for most of his set.

Seemingly out of place in the sea of country and classic rock acts, Toad the Wet Sprocket represented the 90’s alternative scene well, running through old as well as new. The band is preparing the release of their first album in nearly 16 years, New Constellation.

As the sun began to set, it was time for the heavyweights to take the stage. Jack Johnson, making his second appearance at Farm Aid, wasted little time getting the crowd into his feel-good spirit, opening with two popular cuts “Better Together” and “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing” from 2005’s In Between Dreams.

As far as new songs are concerned, Johnson played “Radiate” and “Shot Reverse Shot” from his latest release From Here To Now To You. The highlight of the set came when Johnson invited Lukas Nelson on stage for a take on Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” mixed with Jack’s original “Staple It Together.”

Dave Matthews was the first Farm Aid Board of Directors member to perform. Alongside his longtime collaborator and friend, Tim Reynolds, Matthews moved through a solid mix of old and new in his seven song set. Including DMB hits such as “#41” and “Two Step,” Matthews and Reynolds also touched on material from Matthews’ solo effort Some Devil with “Save Me” and “So Damn Lucky.” Played for the first time acoustically, the new DMB cut “If Only” from 2012’s Away From the World stole the show with beautiful accompaniment from Reynolds.

Armed with a “Keep Calm and Ban Fracking” shirt, the always outspoken Neil Young launched into a cover-heavy seven song set. Starting with Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” Young seemed to do as much talking as he did playing and singing. After a cover of Gordon Ligthfoot’s “Early Morning Rain,” Young moved into some original material with “Old Man” and “Heart of Gold.”

Acknowledging the cover theme, Young commented on the song selection, saying that he was playing some of his favorite covers, and fittingly went into one of his favorites, Tim Hardin’s “Reason to Believe” which included a lengthy speech about the current state of farming. Exiting the stage after one the more interesting sets, Young received a warm response from the sold out crowd.

Closing Farm Aid 2013 as he always does, Willie Nelson didn’t stray too far away from his bread and butter. But after all these years, he has little reason to do so. The gem of Willie’s set came when he invited his son Lukas up to perform a cover of Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe.” Willie and Lukas recorded the song for Nelson’s recent album Heroes. The finale, which included all performers, capped the evening in fine fashion.

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