It was the 26th Farm Aid but the first ever concert at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park.
How did it go? How did it sound?
How was the crowd? How high was Willie?
Were there any kinks that need worked out before this weekend’s Buzz Beach Ball featuring Jane’s Addiction, Bush, and others?
Yeah, a few…
First off, the techs struggled with the sound all night. Up front, yeah, the sound was pretty good. Not great, but pretty good.
In the back, and the higher into the stands you got, the muddier the mix became. That’s to be expected a little bit, but not to the extent that it was. At times I couldn’t understand a single word John Mellencamp was saying when he was just talking to the crowd. Let alone singing! Just telling everyone how great it is to be in KC (I’m guessing).
I thought the sound would be better in all areas of the venue, since the Sporting ownership group was so focused on the details when they built their baby. And it was constructed specifically with the idea of having concerts.
That said, hey, first go around. There’s still time to make it right. About 5 days, that is.
Word is, this weekend for the Beach Ball the built-in south stage won’t be utilized, replaced instead by two stages, one at either end of the field. When one act ends, the crowd just turns around and goes to the other side, which should speed things along as well.
Not that long breaks between the acts was an issue at Farm Aid on Saturday night. The stage crews actually did a killer job wheeling each act’s setup in and out so the time between sets was minimal. If you went to get a beer at the conclusion of one band, the next would be playing by the time you got back to your seat.
As for the physical setup, there was plenty of space for everyone, even with attendance at, I’m guessing, 20,000 plus. The max for soccer games is 18 and change.
The day started at around 12:30 or 1:00 with a bunch of acts I wasn’t all that familiar with.
Standouts included Will Daily & the Rivals, Lukas Nelson (Willie’s son) & Promise of the Real, and KC’s own Hearts of Darkness, who seemed a bit out of place with their funk and r & b. (Still if you live in KC and haven’t seen the Hearts yet, go do it).
Will Daily is a Boston kid that plays southern pop rock with a tinge of honky tonk thrown in for good measure. His songs are a little more folksy in terms of the songwriting, a bit of a contrast to some of the other country artists that played earlier in the day.
Rght after Will, Lukas tore up his Strat ala Stevie Ray’s Texas blues. And Lukas’ voice definitely bears a resemblance to his old man’s.
Next was Jakob Dylan, looking crazy like Bob with a funny hat and stubbly beard, and taking the stage with just himself and a keyboardist. He opened with his best song, "Fifth Avenue Heartache," and hit a couple more off "Bringing Down the Horse," "God Don’t Make Lonely Girls," and "One Headlight." Then he ended with a cool version of Elvis Costello’s "(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding."
Dylan’s set ended up being one of my favorites of the night.
The last two before The Big Four were Jamey Johnson, who played a forgettable and muddy sounding set and Jason Mraz, who got one of the better reactions of the night with his poppy hit "I’m Yours," that made most of the ladies in the joint kinda tingly (informal poll). He also played the Mr. Rogers theme song, which made me want to put on a cardigan and house slippers.
Which is good. I mean, at least Mr. Rogers used his powers for good and not evil. Instead of brainwashing us all into being friendly neighbors, he easily could’ve turned us all against "urban youths," ya know?
Moving on to The Big Four. First up was Dave Matthews with Tim Reynolds.
Dave and Tim played an energetic set that included "Crush," "Dancing Nancies," "Where Are You Going," and a funky jamout that showed off Tim’s chops on the acoustic guitar. Dave could have easily carried the attention of the audience for another hour or so, but he called it quits after 7 or 8 songs.
By this point the crowd grew to its largest of the evening as John Mellencamp came out with "The Authority Song" blazing. Last time I saw the Cougs at the Midland last year, his show was kinda disappointing. With all of his hits getting the medley treatment and taking a backseat to new material. This time around, though, things were different and Mellencamp delivered with real-er versions of "Small Town," "Rain on the Scarecrow," and "Little Pink Houses."
I say "real-er" because, for whatever reason, he just seems to resent playing the old hits. I get it, he probably has nightmares about suckin’ down chili dogs outside the Tastee Freez.
But if you’re gonna play ’em, at least put a little effort into it. And he did, I’d say even more than a little bit.
And his female fiddle player was tearing it up.
The grizzled old man known as Neil Young took it back down a notch. He appeared solo with his trademark hat and harmonica brace and started out with "Comes a Time." Neil definitely took time out to plug Farm Aid, instructing everyone to "stop by the side of the road and buy something" numerous times, and preaching a little bit about why big corporations are bad.
As I took a long pull off my $9 Budweiser.
Young sneered his way through his set and ended with the iconic "Heart of Gold." And his voice sounded better than I expected, clear, confident, still the same high, warbly drone.
Which is more than I can say for the elder statesman of this event, Willie Nelson. His set started off the only way I’ve ever seen him open a show – with "Whiskey River." His son, Lukas sat in with the band and sang on a few tunes with his old man, highlighting how similar their voices are.
About half way through Willie’s set, some rapper/reggae dude came on stage and started kind of rapping, with Willie providing backing vocals. Actually just kind of repeating what the rapper said. It was kind of bizarre, to say the least, and lost me a little.
But it didn’t matter, it’s freaking Willie Nelson. He still has such a unique guitar technique and timing on his singing that it’s so entertaining. It’s like, you think he doesn’t know where to come in, or how to phrase a certain line, but then, by the end of it, it just fits in there perfectly.
I love that. I laughed out loud a few times at the musical jokes Willie was throwing around. He can’t be serious with that, right?
With Willie’s set winding down, I thought for sure he would play "Georgia on My Mind" and "You Are Always on My Mind." Then there would be a big jam with Dave, Neil, Willie, and John. Maybe "Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World" or something.
Nope. It just kinda ended and we all went home.
**Photos by Katie Grogan, except for my far away shot of the field**