Maybe Ross Perot was on to something: The clear messages of the staunchly middlebrow Farm Aid VI — the latest Willie Nelson-organized fund-raiser to help struggling family farmers — echoed Perot’s campaign themes that government is evil and that TV, given the right images and catchy hooks, can move mountains.
This year’s Farm Aid, on April 24, featured Neil Young, Bruce Hornsby, and Bryan Adams, and played to about 40,000 revelers at Cyclone Stadium in Ames, Iowa — plus bushels of TV viewers live via The Nashville Network. Its sponsors hope to raise about $2 million.
It was an 11-hour parade of stars, hangers-on, and middle-America anti-glitz, personified by wisecracking hosts Roseanne and Tom Arnold, who expertly played to the lowest common denominator (at one point sporting his-and-hers football jerseys with the number 69). Among the memorable moments and images:
Fashion accessory Todd Oldham would most covet: Blue corduroy Future Farmers of America jacket, complete with gold-embroidered name, worn by Lyle Lovett.
Best backstage accessory: White ”100 Percent Hemp” baseball caps worn by several performers between sets, including Native American protest singer John Trudell.
Most goosebump-inducing duet: Nelson and Lovett on Lovett’s dusty cowboy ballad, ”Farther Down the Line.”
Most excessive stage banter: ”Thank you so much! God bless you all! Peace and music!” — Aspiring soul singer and First Brother Roger Clinton.
Announcement most likely to induce temporary deafness in members of the press: ”Roger Clinton will be available in the press tent in five minutes.”
Most endearing fish out of water: Irish-American rogues Black 47, who won more new fans than anybody else with their hip-hop-flavored Celtic rock, including a raucous ”Funky Ceili” that lost none of its club intimacy in the stadium.
Best crowd juxtaposition: Prim, 50-ish farm wife in sensible home perm peering from behind zoned-out young dude in blond dreadlocks.
Sliest duet: Roseanne and Tom Arnold barking ”The Ballad of John and Yoko.”
Song after which Roseanne and Tom probably should have stopped: ”The Ballad of John and Yoko.” (Instead they went on to ”Johnny B. Goode,” the theme from Green Acres, and the all-too-appropriate ”Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”)
Most numbingly predictable set: John Mellencamp’s ”Rain on the Scarecrow,” ”Authority Song,” and ”Pink Houses.”
Freshest Elvis sighting: Dwight Yoakam, with riveting, sultry versions of ”Little Sister” and ”Mystery Train.”
Most predictable no-show: Merle Haggard.
Second-most predictable no-show: Alice in Chains (citing ”exhaustion”).
Crankiest dedication: ”This song is for Clinton and Gore — we would like to have seen you…today.” — Neil Young, introducing ”Helpless.”