Willie Nelson, along with Neil Young and John Mellencamp, founded farm Aid in 1985 when American farmers were in the midst of a mortgage crisis that was forcing many small farmers to leave their land. Through the concert, modeled on the Live Aid event that took place earlier that year, the performers hoped to raise money and awareness to help those farmers along. The event was a huge success, and turned into a tradition that has lasted for over three decades, with a large concert held at a different location each year.
I know, I know. Where do I get off writing a review of Neil Young? I’m just some guy who loves music, and that genius of a rocker has been creating some of best (and most heartfelt) music the world has ever known for nearly 50 years. This ornery old man (Young, not me), whose voice sounds increasingly like it emanates from his jowls, can do whatever he wants. Nothing he might produce today can diminish the sheer greatness of his 70’s work. “Down by the River” and “Cortez the Killer” have two of the most awe-inspiring guitar solos ever. I’ll cut you if you think otherwise. “Ohio” is perhaps the greatest protest song this side of Bob Dylan, and “A Man Needs a Maid” manages to contain the most sorrowful sexism I’ve ever heard.
Mr. Young (decorum required!) is the very model of what an aging artist should be. Instead of rehashing what we’ve heard for decades, he instead innovates, experiments and pushes boundaries. You want a concept album about driving an electrified 1959 Lincoln Continental across country to make a point about oil consumption (which, incidentally, later blew up)? Check. You want a topical album about how criminal the Bush Administration was? Check. You want a rockabilly or soul album? Check. You want the best-damn soundtrack to a Jim Jarmusch movie ever? Check. You want country folk? Check. Check. You want proto “grunge”? Check. Check. Check. And do you want an entire album of folk standard with Crazy Horse? Turns out, probably not.