Farm Aid concert draws 78,000 music fans to University of Illinois stadium


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Some 78,000 swaying, stomping music fans shook the upper levels of the University of Illinois stadium Sunday at country star Willie Nelson's Farm Aid benefit concert as television viewers and radio listeners called in pledges.

The concert, held to both raise money and make people more aware of many American farmers' financial distress, begins a yearlong campaign to aid farmers, Nelson said.


'Welcome to Farm Aid -- the concert for America,' Nelson told the crowd. 'We'd like lots of money to come in today for a great cause.'

Many music fans stood both to applaud the 60 country and rock stars performing at the 14-hour concert and to avoid sitting on the wet field at the stadium in the heart of the nation's Corn Belt.

Billy Joel took the stage shortly after 8 p.m. EDT to open the prime-time portion of the concert and drew cheers with 'Only The Good Die Young.'


He introduced the song by saying, 'I don't know how much money we're going to raise but with this song I think we're going to raise a little hell.'

Randy Newman quieted the house with a somber 'Sail Away,' then with Joel brought their set to a hand-clapping climax with 'Stagger Lee.'

Fans keeping time to the Beach Boys midway through the concert shook the stadium press box -- perched upon the uppermost level of the stadium.

'I never felt it move like that before,' said Tony Lawrence, a guard in the box.

An intermittent rain fell most of the day with stiff winds that rustled the corn stalks in outlying areas where the harvest began earlier in the week. The rain stopped by evening but left puddles scattered across the covered field.

Between $30 million and $50 million was expected to be raised through mail and telephone pledges for farmers hard-pressed by high interest rates, low prices for their products and falling exports and land values.

Telephone pledges were coming in at the rate of 30,000 an hour, but no clear estimate of how much money was immediately available.

The concert provided music lovers and the few farmers in attendance with a unique blend of country and rock music.


'This is the American dream come true -- rock 'n' roll and country acts all working together for a commom cause, for I think the first time,' said singer David Allan Coe, one of Nelson's country music 'family.'

Arlo Guthrie, who sang 'The City of New Orleans' with Nelson, reflected on his own family's farming background.

'My grandfather lost about 30 farms in his life. My dad knows what it means to be moving around looking for a place to live,' Guthrie said.

Charlie Daniels said if the family farm dies, 'It's going to be one of the biggest screwups this country has ever had.'

Thousands of fans waited for hours in a line that stretched for blocks around the stadium. Concert organizers said paid attendance was 78,312.

The 60-foot rotating stage used at Live Aid in Philadelphia was flanked by large Farm Aid banners -- a red, white and blue tractor logo, with the rear wheel of the tractor a musical note, and attached to that an American flag. The banner also read 'Keep America Growing.'

Fans came from all over the country for the concert, although few appeared to be farmers.

Sean Harvey, 23, traveled 12 hours on his motorcycle from his home in Mosquero, N.M. He said he was lured to the concert by the diverse list of performers. 'I came to see them all get together,' he said.


Money raised by the event is to be spent on counseling, legal aid, direct-cash payments and funding for a national hotline, 1-800-FARMAID.

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