Farm Aid is known historically for collaborations and one-time performances in an intimate setting. This year, Farm Aid had all of those qualities, and even included a major surprise. Pete Seeger, now 94, made an appearance at Saratoga Springs, NY’s Performing Arts Center to perform two songs, “If I Had a Hammer” and “This Land Is Your Land” before a sold out crowd. Flanked by Neil Young, Willie Nelson, Dave Matthews and John Mellencamp on the latter number, Seeger encouraged all to help him sing, as he admitted he didn’t have much voice left. No one in the building seemed to care, as Seeger received one of the few standing ovations of the evening.
Additional performances throughout the day-long event in Saratoga Springs included Amos Lee, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Jamey Johnson and Toad the Wet Sprocket. Seemingly out of place in a sea of country and classic rock stars, the ’90s alternative band represented their genre well. Jack Johnson also made his second consecutive appearance at Farm Aid, bringing his feel-good acoustic rock to Saratoga. Opening with “Better Together” and “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing,” Johnson needed to do very little else to win over the crowd.
When the heavyweights took the stage, the show really kicked into another gear as Dave Matthews, joined by collaborator and friend Tim Reynolds, moved through DMB hits as well as material from his solo album Some Devil. The duo also performed “If Only,” a new cut from DMB’s 2012 album Away From the World for the very first time acoustically. Neil Young relied mostly on covers for his seven song set, but managed to mix in several originals such as “Old Man” and “Heart of Gold.” Young closed his set with first-live-played piano rendition of Tim Hardin’s “Reason to Believe” and Phil Ochs’ “Changes.”
Willie Nelson closed Farm aid for the 28th time in a row. The highlight came when Nelson invited son Lukas up on stage to perform Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe,” which the two recorded for Willie’s last album Heroes. The night concluded, as it always does, with all performers for a group sing-along.