Each year, Farm Aid board members Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews host this festival, which raises funds to help keep family farmers on the land. But this year, for obvious reasons, everyone scored a front-row seat when Farm Aid 2020 On The Road Again streamed into our homes on Sunday, warming our cockles and feeding our souls.

Here’s the pick of the purebred litter from Farm Aid’s 35th anniversary, virtual, at-home edition in chronological order – and if you like, you can watch the entire livestream right here.

Nathaniel Rateliff

He’s standing in front of a red tractor/digger with trademark worried look on his face and we really wanna jump through the screen and give Nathaniel Rateliff a big ol’ hug (then immediately feel sad, ’cause hugs are banned).

Rateliff could’ve rolled straight off the couch into this paddock: trucker hat, plaid shirt and what appears to be a denim suit jacket – and all garments are blue-hued, which surely translates to some kind of effort on his part.

He properly messes with our hearts during Time Stands. His vocal tone is typically crestfallen and vulnerable, sure, but there are also moments that allow for Rateliff to deal certain phrases with explosive power: “Are you just too old/ Or TOO YOUNG TO CAAAAAARRY!” Watching Rateliff perform in this open-air, rustic setting – sans mic – amplifies our current feelings of isolation. As the camera pans back at set’s conclusion, we’re all in desperate need of that hug.

 

Brandi Carlile

The filling in a Hanseroth twin sandwich, Brandi Carlile and co. come to us from the middle of a forest in the Pacific Northwest. Their three-part harmonies captivate throughout The Eye (“You can dance in a hurricane/ But only if you’re standing in the eye”).

After Phil and Tim Hanseroth depart, Carlile’s daughter pulls up a stump alongside Mum. Carlisle then performs The Mother: a song written for her daughter that even features wee Evangeline’s name in the chorus. When Evangeline places her little hand on Mum’s shoulder and smiles up at her, adoringly, before scooting in closer we cannot even! And Evangeline’s long dress with white T-shirt top and flowing striped skirt that looks like an actual rainbow wins Fashions On The Field.

 

Neil Young

The experience of watching Neil Young performing at Broken Arrow Ranch before an audience of rowdy chooks equals unbridled joy. As he wanders toward a pair of white alpacas and a chestnut horse while strumming his guitar, the animals hurry out of shot. “Do you guys wanna play? Start a band?” he teases, stalking after them.

Wearing a cap that reads “LOCAL”, Young eventually finds his sweet spot under the awnings outside a barn amongst chickens, roosters and ducks before launching into Homegrown. The fowl peck away on the ground in front of him as he takes a harmonica solo.

After Young absent-mindedly scratches his nose, text that reads, “Don’t touch your face!” rolls diagonally up the screen (topped off with an arrow pointing Young’s way) – a timely reminder for us all. Young then addresses his clucking audience: “Thank you very much!”

To perform Old Man, Young leans back against a tree on the porch – tapping his foot, singing and accompanying himself on guitar – and we feel as if we’re on his ranch being treated to a private concert. “The chickens really liked that one,” Young observes, as his filming companion giggles and agrees.

The War And Treaty

Coming to us from a park just outside Nashville, Tennessee, The War And Treaty (Michael and Tanya Trotter plus guitarist) ooze adorableness. While singing Jubilee, the husband-and-wife outfit duck and weave like romantic sparring partners, until Michael lands a victorious kiss on his missus and they chuckle.

The pair’s ridiculously-into-you mutual admiration society/physical interplay is super-endearing, and their guitarist can’t keep the smile off his dial while observing such antics during Little Boy Blue. You’d swear Michael’s voice was actual brass at times, and Tanya’s vocals are diva perfection: effortless and timeless. We’re definitely here for Tanya’s red halterneck jumpsuit as well.

The War And Treaty are scheduled to tour our shores for Bluesfest 2021 (plus a couple of sideshows), which is a result!

Fun fact: Tanya Trotter (née Blount) features on Sister Act 2: Back In The Habit song His Eye Is On The Sparrow alongside Lauryn Hill.

The Nelsons

There’s wild confusion in the comments as viewers digest Particle Kid (AKA Micah Nelson), resplendent with fire-engine red hair and ‘alternative’ image. Once Micah’s pedigree is confirmed, however, all Hatorade ceases. As for another of Willie Nelson’s sons, Lukas – what a glow-up he’s had! Post mop-chop, Lukas is now a dead ringer for Nashville character Avery Barkley (although one commenter reckons he’s the spitting image of a young Tom Cruise).

Both sons’ genetically blessed vocal cords ring oh-so-true, but Lukas sounds more like his old man with every performance. When Willie launches into Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die, backed and bookended by his sons, Pamela Canfield aptly comments: “Just in time! I just got high!”

Lukas studies Neil’s singing and fingering intently, eyes glued to his dad. Micah takes lead vocals on I Thought About You, Lord – his performance seems less considered than that of his brother, but both impress. Hands On The Wheel finds Lukas in the driver’s seat – his vibrato lingers, much like Neil’s, and this similarity is highlighted with Nelson Senior on BVs. Squee, what a treat to see three Nelsons sharing a stage backed by a further three master musicians!

They aptly close with On The Road Again, and it’s at this point that we hit the ‘donate’ button on Farm Aid’s website. “And I can’t wait to get on the road again…” – given that Australia’s borders remain closed, truer words were never spoken.