John Mellencamp's introduction -- directed toward what still-sizable crowd remained after Dave Matthews had left the building -- reminded that Neil Young has been with Farm Aid since the start. He remains the cantankerous old crank the event needs. The death-by-progress of American agriculture is no joke. In a straw fedora, flannel shirt and red "Stop Factory Farms" tee, he looked ready for a desperate protest. "We need our farms back!" he shouted, and then launched into an initially lurching, then gliding "Sail Away."
Backed by pedal steel and slide guitar legend Ben Keith and Spooner Oldham on delicate electric piano, along with wife Pegi on harmonies and a grizzled rhythm section of Rick Rosas and Karl Himmel, Young made the most of the largely acoustic eight-song set, relishing the tranquil twelve-string beauty of "Already One," and the folksy stomp of "Field of Opportunity" and "Homegrown." On the latter, he called out Willie, who strapped on Trigger for a duel with "Old Black," Neil's equally iconic Les Paul Special. Nelson gave the face-off his best, but never quite found the right openings in the ramshackle groove.
Midway through the set Young demanded we "read the label" and then ripped his t-shirt down the middle to reveal a green "Go Family Farms" logo. "It's a big complicated mess," he'd say later. "I don't have time to tell you about it." Indeed he didn't, so there'd be no extended soapbox free associations, just a scowling "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" and a lovely, cautionary "Comes a Time." But then Shakey was gone it seemed before he ever really got started. "Support family farms! We're too small to fail!" They are, but for all of Farm Aid's good works, the field of opportunity is shrinking fast.
Neil Young Setlist:
1. Sail Away 2. Long May You Run 3. Field Of Opportunity 4. Hold Back The Tears 5. Homegrown 6. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere 7. Already One 8. Comes A Time