Friday, July 28, 2006

Jen talks about Farm Aid's best time of year

Things are starting to heat up here, and I’m not just talking about the weather! Concert season is upon us, coinciding each year with ripening tomatoes and red hot baseball. Life is good -- if only concert season didn’t mean that I don’t get to spend as much time in the garden while listening to Red Sox games. But the long summer hours are worth it come concert day.

This is the time of year it’s not rare to come in to find a voicemail left overnight by Willie saying, “So-and-so’s been invited to Farm Aid.” Sometimes so-and-so is a star I already know something about. Oftentimes so-and-so is a rising star and requires a bit more research. Our other board members make their suggestions and pretty soon we’ve got more artists than hours in the day! But luckily our fans are diehard—they’ll stay to the end so they don’t miss a second of Willie’s set.

While all of the artists donate their time and talent to Farm Aid, as well as all of their travel expenses, we do what we can to make Farm Aid a great experience for them! That’s my job. Leading up to the show, I help the artists with their travel and hotel reservations. Some of the artists like to reserve rooms at the posh hotels downtown; others are happy to “slum it” with the rest of the staff at the closest hotel to the venue. I know when the artists will arrive at the airport so that we can pick them up or greet them as their tour bus arrives at the venue. I also make sure that I have a few tickets in my pocket so that their friends and family can come to the show (yes, they even pay for those too—nothing’s free at Farm Aid!). I make sure all of their band and crew have the right credentials to get them backstage. For some, I make sure their hotel fridge is stocked with their favorite: Soymilk! (Can you guess which artist gets this treatment? Hint: he uses it in his lattes!)

Part of my job means telling the artists no. For instance, when artists normally do a show, they get to tell someone what they’d like in their dressing room. This is called a rider and it can specify anything like, for instance, we want 1 pound of red grapes with the skin removed. We don’t fulfill riders; not because we don’t think artists deserve what they want, but because we have so many artists and, again, we’re “cheap” so as much money as possible goes to fulfill our mission. Instead, we provide a backstage spread that would have any artist coming out of their dressing room: farm fresh food prepared by local folks who believe, like we do, that fresh food is the best!

And that’s one of the coolest things about Farm Aid: in between running around doing things (and I haven’t even begun to describe all the things I do so don’t think it’s as easy as it sounds!), you FINALLY take a break for a meal and you get in line to get some of that delicious food. In front of you is a farmer. Behind you is, say, Dave Matthews, unassumingly standing in line for his meal. As you look for a seat, you spy Willie and Neil enjoying a conversation with one of our longtime farmer friends. In a corner you spy John Mellencamp playing pinochle with some of the volunteer drivers (I kid you not, this happened in 2003 at our Ohio show. John and his mom played a mean game of pinochle and took our volunteers for all they were worth!). You navigate through the crowd of artists, farmers, volunteers, production crew, and Farm Aid staff. And, if you’re a bit soft like me, you tear up a little bit at the spirit of the day… when EVERYONE is equal in this goal to promote good food. Then you scarf your meal down and get back to your work!

That feeling is still off in the distance a bit; in the meantime, there are signs to design, credentials to be printed, vans and cars to be procured, volunteers to be found, tickets to be sold, and artists to welcome to the Farm Aid family. Here at Farm Aid, it’s the best time of year.

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