Farm Aid 2019: A Live Review
Words + Photos by Bobby Talamine
Like the hard working American farmers that are honored by this annual concert event, Farm Aid 2019 pressed on through the damp weather on Saturday, September 21st. Fighting the wind and occasional rainfall, the 30,000 plus crowd was let into Alpine Valley in East Troy Wisconsin to embark on listening to music from a who’s who of country and folk music. A who’s who that included performances by Wille Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, and Dave Matthews--the founders of the Farm Aid festival.
To show appreciation and support for American farmers, Farm Aid began with an opening prayer and dance from the Wisdom Indian Dancers and the Ho-Chunk Thundercloud Singers. This was followed by terrific, but brief, sets from Jamestown Revival, Ian Mellecamp, and Particle Kid.
Tanya Tucker was next with her short, down to earth country set. Tucker’s vocals were fresh and twangy and her ten gallon cowboy hat and outfit were the definition of "Country.” The crowd got on their feet for Tucker’s splendid rendition of her famous hit "Delta Dawn," and poignantly called attention to farmers’ plight with her song "Bidding America Goodbye.” Written in the realm of a foreclosure letter to a farmer, “Bidding America Goodbye” gave a harmonic voice to the struggles of American farmers, especially in this day and age.
The next performer was Yola, a force of nature with a dynamic vocal range. Hailing from the U.K. and a voice reminiscent of early ‘60’s soul, Yola’s currently getting well deserved attention here in the states. Her cover of Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” was the showstopper of all showstoppers. She elevated John’s anthem through the roof of Alpine Valley with her upper register vocal intact.
Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real had a grand old time onstage. Lukas was joined by his brother Micah Nelson and Nathaniel Rateliff onstage, along with Margo Price and Yola to sing a few songs.
The true star of Lukas Nelson’s set was Leon, the young son of Promise of the Real’s percussionist Tato Melgar. Strapped with a fender guitar, Leon busted out some moves during the set and helped the crowd have as much fun as he was having onstage.
No other performer on the line up was the true definition of a "Farm Aid Performer” than Margo Price. In 1985, the year of the first Farm Aid, Price's family lost their farm in Aledo, Illinois. This hardship gave inspiration to Price’s breakout album Midwest Farmer's Daughter.
A Farm Aid regular since the album’s debut, Price made it clear that this was her favorite gig of the year. Her set reflected this enthusiasm with a wonderful cover of Janis Joplin's "Move Over" and an uptempo performance of “Nowhere Fast,” with the band pushing on the gas pedals throughout the set.
Jamey Johnson took the stage, alongside special guest Randy Houser, and the two interjected fine and sincere vocals throughout. The persistent and windswept rain made it difficult to stay in one place and listen, but the crowd hunkered down and sought cover with plastic, blankets, and whatever else they could find. No matter, their song selection was sublime, and Johnson and Houser traded fiery vocals and guitar licks throughout their set.
Next, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats barn burned through their set. Hit after hit, the band was sweating from the first song onward. Farm Aid brought out the best in this soulful band and their set was very tight and in the groove. Rateliff flourished throughout each song, even throwing some James Brown dance moves with his feet on the slippery stage, grabbing the mic and tearing into "S.O.B.” and "You Worry Me" in particular. Definitely one of the highlights of Farm Aid 2019.
Bonnie Raitt, and her impeccable slide guitar front and center, reminisced on seeing Stevie Ray Vaughn’s last ever performance at Alpine Valley before his untimely death by helicopter crash. Raitt dedicated a solo acoustic cover of Skip James’s "Devil Got My Woman" to Stevie and fellow blues guitar artists. Raitt's set was a treasure of original and cover tunes, particularly the cover of the Talking Heads "Burning Down the House," which as Bonnie predicted, "blew the roof off this place!"
Luke Combs and his stalwart country band proceeded Bonnie with all of his hits, making the pavilion at Alpine Valley a downright beer swigging country dancing party. The relatability of Combs’s songs caused even the men in attendance to dance in their seats. His music was definitely smooth enough and catchy enough for country radio, and the Alpine Valley crowd certainly dug it.
Dave Matthews was joined by his acoustic companion Tim Reynolds, and the two blazed away during songs like "Ants Marching" and "So Damn Lucky." Free from the constraints of a large ensemble, Matthews and Reynolds let it rip on acoustic guitars throughout their set.
John Mellencamp had some mixing troubles during his set, which softened the sound of his vocals and the band, but that didn't stop the crowd from singing and dancing to "Scarecrow" and "Jack and Diane."
Neil Young took the stage with Lukas Nelson's band Promise of the Real, and Neil took time to vocalize his thoughts on the plight of America's farmers during his set. The crowd appreciated hearing Neil speak candidly about the importance of family farmers and how we need to take care of Mother Earth. Neil Young urged the crowd to buy from local farmers, to avoid processed foods, and to give a big middle finger to factory farms. Particularly, a giant “fuck you” to the food giant Monsanto, which drew a rousing and noisy applause from the audience. Fine moments in Neil's set abound- from the raucous and blistering "Rockin' in the Free World," along with the gentle "Harvest Moon," and plenty of good stuff in between.
At past Farm Aid events, Wille Nelson would introduce the opening acts, but not this year. The 86 year old Nelson, who's had some health issues as of late, saved his only appearance until the end.
Regardless of the recent health issues, Wille Nelson was in good form. Sprightly and all smiles, Nelson opened his set as always with "Whiskey River." Willie’s two sons Lukas and Micah Nelson joined him onstage to do renditions of "Still is Still Moving to Me," "It's All Going to Pot," and "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die."
Accompanied by his trusty guitar "Trigger," Willie Nelson ended Farm Aid with a spirited performance of “I’ll Fly Away” alongside Neil Young, Jamey Johnson, Randy Houser, Nathaniel Rateliff and Margo Price. Willie Nelson solidified the end of the night’s festivities by tossing his cowboy hat out into the crowd.
A wonderful and splendid time at Farm Aid 2019 was had by all.
Riot Fest Day 3 Recap
Words by Hillary Hedstrom | Photos by Bobby Talamine, Wes Nott, and Freddie Benitez
The rains early in the morning of September 15 turned Douglas Park into a mud pit. As a crowd waited to turn those mud pits into mosh pits, the Riot Fest crew was putting down mulch to help soak up the moisture.
The first band on the lineup was Ultra Q. A small, but strong, group were waiting for the band to go on. Their sound drew in others who were waiting for other acts. The big mud pit was no worry for a small group, who proceeded to slip and slide while forming a mosh pit.
The sun came out and dried up a majority of the grounds, save for a few deep puddles. Later, on the same stage as Ultra Q, was Frank Iero and the Future Violents. All members on stage were in matching jumpsuits. The mud had mostly dried up, which was good because the pit did not stop during their set.
JBTV alum The Beaches took the stage that day. It was their second Riot Fest, but their first in Chicago. They have previously performed at Riot Fest Toronto. The crowd was drawn in by the loud music, coordinated outfits, and fun dance moves.
One of the acts that was highly anticipated were the Village People. The members came out in their costumes, and the front to the back turned into a dance fest. The group ended with their most famous song, Y.M.C.A.
Against Me! had a double-album play with Reinventing Axl Rose and Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Two completely different eras, blended together. Although 12 years and lots of changes separated the two albums, the sound was still the same. The same energy was there. As the crowd screamed “baby, I’m an anarchist” with the band, the 17 year old song felt brand new.
Another highly anticipated act were the B-52’s. Another classic band, taking the stage. The crowd had their lobster claws, or inflatable lobsters. The band had their costumes on, ready for a funky time.
As the sun began to go down, Patti Smith took to the stage. Born in Logan Square, Riot Fest was almost a homecoming. Her first breath was taken in Chicago. The giant crowd hung onto every last word she spoke and sang.
The two headliners were hard to choose between. Taking Back Sunday or Bikini Kill. Taking Back Sunday were playing their albums Louder Now and Tell All Your Friends. The crowd gathered, anticipating, ready for a wave of nostalgia.
Rows and rows of people were jumping around. It was a high energy, carefree crowd. The screaming fans almost drowned out Adam Lazzara. Lazzara thanked Riot Fest, and the staff who made the weekend possible.
The other headliner, Bikini Kill, were playing their first show in Chicago in 24 years. This energy was different from every other show that weekend. Rows and rows of girls and women were lined up in the front, ready for this act.
Kathleen Hanna did not say her signature phrase, “Girls to the front,” even though people were chanting for it. “I would join you, but there’s too many people here and I don’t want anyone to get hurt.”
Riot Fest Day 2 Recap
Words by Hillary Hedstrom | Photos by Bobby Talamine
Bright and sunny, the morning proved that the weather would be perfect for Riot Fest. Sunny and warm, but not too hot for walking around. Being in a pit might get a little too warm, but that’s expected.
Day two started out with alum Masked Intruder. Although it was shortly after the gates opened, there was still a sizable crowd. Although Intruder Purple is still filling in for Intruder Yellow, fans wore their yellow masks. During their set, Green found a dance partner from the crowd. A young woman even came on stage to sing the duet “Heart Shaped Guitar.”
On the neighboring stage, the band The Hu came out next. Once Masked Intruder ended, the crowd began to chant “Hu.” The band, which blends Mongolian throat singing and heavy metal, came on stage to quickly tune their instruments. Some members played traditional Mongolian instruments, which couldn’t be easily tuned by the Riot Fest crew.
The pit that broke out was different than the other pits of the day. It was more marching along with the beat. There was still pushing and shoving, but it was slower and more methodical.
The Hu walked from their tent to the JBTV booth to interview with Jerry. They were being filmed while Jerry walked with them back to their tent. Fans who saw began to chant “Hu. Hu. Hu.” at the members, but nobody could achieve the gutteral sound produced by the band.
The Damned Things are a side project of several bands. With vocals by Keith Buckley of Every Time I Die, bass from Dan Andriano of Alkaline Trio, rhythm guitar from Scott Ian of Anthrax, and Fall Out Boy’s Andy Hurley on drums and Joe Trohman on guitar, this supergroup was not one to miss.
Their sophomore album High Crimes recently came out, 9 years after their debut album. The catchy lyrics and heavy rock instrumentals had the crowd singing along while fighting in the pit. Security sprayed several bottles of water through the audience, trying to make sure nobody overheated.
Grandson’s political laden songs were paired with matching video clips behind him. “Overdose” was matched with clips of drugs and celebrities who overdosed at a young age. After his set, he walked over to the JBTV booth to chat with Jerry and to enjoy the rest of the festival.
The Struts energy made everyone forget how tired they were. Songs were cut up, spliced together, parts separated. A majority of the crowd had seen them live before. There was a lot of engagement with the crowd, with call and responses.
The audience was encouraged to become fireworks during the climax of the set. Crouched down until instructed to stand up by frontman Luke Spiller. Once given the sign, everyone jumped up and confetti was shot loose.
The biggest conflict of the entire festival was from 7:15-8:30 on Saturday. It was the choice between Manchester Orchestra, Andrew W.K., Wu-Tang Clan, and Rise Against
A chant of “party” is what drew Andrew W.K. onto the stage. It was his eight time performing at the festival over its 15 year run.
Wu-Tang Clan had a huge crowd. They announced that they would be doing an album performance of 36 Chambers.
Rise Against thanked Slayer for everything that they have done over the past 40 years. JBTV was able to talk to vocalist Tim McIlrath from Rise Against. Jerry and Tim reminisced about old times and their first JBTV performance and interview, which was Rise Against’s first TV performance.
Slayer’s Riot Fest performance was their last Chicago/Milwaukee area show. A huge sea was there already to see them, and hoards shoved their way through. As Rise Against got off stage, the Slayer chants started.
Although they have been around for decades, it was hard to tell their age. They performed like it was 1983.
With their final show over, the night was also over.
Riot Fest Day 1 Recap
Words by Hillary Hedstrom | Photos by Bobby Talamine
Although this Friday the 13th started out overcast, the sun came out as the first day of Riot Fest kicked off.
Patrons filtered inside, exploring the grounds. Five stages, a row of rides, a few attractions, and multiple vendors were spread out across the beautiful Douglas Park.
Some patrons headed straight for the Butter Stamos sculpture, sad that it wasn’t done. But instead, they got to check back over the day and see the stick of butter turn to the likeness of John Stamos.
Anti-Flag was the first alumni band of the day. They came onto the stage and exploded into “Die For The Government.” Although it was still early in the day, they drew a large crowd who were screaming along with the lyrics.
Frontman Justin Sane made it known that they have not changed their beliefs over the years. “We are taking a stand against racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, transphobia.”
During their set, Jerry and some of the JBTV team walked around the grounds. Jerry met fans, some of whom who have been watching the show for years.
As Anti-Flag finished up, I Don’t Know How But The Found Me was starting across the park. The electro-indie duo is fronted by Dallon Weekes, ex-guitarist of Panic! At The Disco, and supported by Ryan Seaman, the ex-drummer of Falling In Reverse. Their set ended with their two most popular songs: “Do It All The Time” and “Choke.”
Later that night were JBTV alum Lucero. A crowd of fans were ready for the alt-country band.
Dashboard Confessional were one of the bands of the evening playing an album set. Their choice was The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most from 2001. The band backing singer/songwriter Christian Carrabba came and went, as the songs alternated from acoustic to needing a full band.
The Flaming Lips were also playing an album performance. Their choice was Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. It was an eccentric performance, like their performances tend to be. While Dashboard Confessional played on the other stage, Riot Fest crews were setting up the stage. Streamers hung down from the rafters, their “Fuck Yeah Riot Fest” balloon being brought on stage.
During their set, singer Wayne Coyne alternated from singing to picking up a trumpet. He also went into the crowd, but didn’t crowdsurf. Instead, he brought out a giant blowup ball and got inside. The security carried him through the photo pit and let him loose in the audience. Fans passed him around as he rolled around inside, before being carried back to the stage.
The final album performance of the night was JBTV alum Blink-182’s Enema of the State. As soon as the band hit the stage, the audience let loose. Within the first two songs, at least twenty people in the front had to leave, or at least move back.
During the song “Aliens Exist,” giant blowup aliens were let into the crowd.
A few songs into the second half of the set, after they finished Enema, Matt Skiba asked for all the girls in the crowd to make some noise. All the girls cheered.
“Is that it? Are those all the girls here? This is a sausage fest. Anyways, this one is for you. Guys, plug your ears or text your mom or something” introduced “I Miss You.”
Blink-182 and Jawbreaker played at the same time, and the sea of people for Blink-182 impressed the band. They would have all been at Jawbreaker.
They exited the stage, and that was the end of the day. The first day of Riot Fest 2019 ended on a great note.
Words + Photos by Bobby Talamine
ZZ Top is without question one of the longest running bands with its original line-up, vocalist/guitarist Billy Gibbons, bassist/vocalist Dusty Hill, and drummer Frank Beard, still intact. A feat many groups with half of ZZ Top’s longevity and legacy can say.
"We're the same three guys, bashing out the same three chords," Gibbons told the audience at the Hollywood Casino Ampitheatre on September 7th. The group may only see themselves as “that little ol’ band from Texas,” but after 50 years together and accolades that include an induction into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, ZZ Top is sure as hell anything but little.
Being their 50th Anniversary Tour, ZZ Top’s performance was heavy on the hits, including songs from their massive selling Eliminator, the album that cemented the group as MTV video icons. With their fuzzy guitar and bass on full display, ZZ Top performed “Legs,” “Gimmie All Your Lovin’,” and “Sharp Dressed Man” to an eager Chicago crowd.
Even with a setlist stacked with their hits, ZZ Top didn’t shy away from doing a few covers. While introducing their cover of Merle Travis’s "Sixteen Tons,” Gibbons talked about how in St. Louis the night before none other than Jeff Beck came onstage to perform the song with them.
How’d St. Louis get so lucky? It’s hard to say, but even without the aid of Jeff Beck onstage, it was clear “Sixteen Tons” was a song that is deeply beloved by the group with their soulful rendition.
From the stillness of “Sixteen Tons,” ZZ Top shifted gears into the raucous "Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers," with the vocal trade off between Gibbons and Hill. ZZ Top continued this high energy until the last song of the night, a cover of Elvis Presley’s "Jailhouse Rock."
Although ZZ Top weren’t accompanied by livestock and a live rattlesnake in plexiglass like they were during their 1977 Chicago Stadium performance on their Tejas Tour, the band still has the bite and energy that honors their strong blues roots and iconography. Iconography that has no peers, with their long beards front and center.
Eminently powerful, eminently soulful as always, ZZ Top’s power and influence has rippled far beyond the borders of Texas in their illustrious 50 years together.
As historic as this tour is, ZZ Top needed a heavy hitter group to help commemorate the occasion. Gibbons, Hill, and Beard looked at none other than Rockford's very own Cheap Trick to help with the celebration.
Consisting of the always fine vocals of Robin Zander, the crazy five-neck Hamer guitar antics of Rick Nielsen, the style and sophistication of bassist Tom Petersson, and backbeats provided by Rick’s son Daxx Neilson; Cheap Trick is a musical institution solidified as a power pop progenitor with catchy tunes like "I Want You to Want Me,” "Dream Police,” and of course “Surrender.”
Why three quarters of the people on the main floor chose to sit down for most of Cheap Trick's set, except for the notable songs, baffles me. Everyone in my section was standing and yelling out every lyric, some appearing older than me, and I'm well over sixty.
Local H’s Scott Lucas surprised the audience when he joined Cheap Trick to perform their biggest hit “Surrender.” A clear fan of the band himself, Lucas looked like he was having a grand ol' time, joining Rick towards the end of the song and flinging vinyls into the audience like frisbees during the song’s refrain "rolling numbers, rock and rolling, got my Kiss records out."
ZZ Top's 50th Anniversary Tour with Cheap Trick at Tinley Park was a night of musical legends showcasing the talent that made them superstars. Though time always marches on, ZZ Top and Cheap Trick’s performance on September 7th showcased how their music and live shows are timeless.