WASHINGTON — Since 1985, Farm Aid has raised $50 million for farmers.
On Saturday, the annual all-day benefit concert comes to Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, Virginia.
The star-studded lineup includes Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, Dave Matthews (feat. Tim Reynolds), Alabama Shakes, Sturgill Simpson, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Jamey Johnson, Margo Price, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Carlene Carter and Insects vs Robots.
“I can’t tell you how excited we are to be a part of Farm Aid,” Rateliff told WTOP. “This is our first time and we’re just stoked to be a part of it. I didn’t realize Sturgill is playing. It’s funny; we’ve been working our asses off for a while now, so it’s pretty cool to run into the same folks you see out on the road.”
Farm Aid was founded in 1985 by Nelson, Young and Mellencamp, who were inspired by the Live Aid benefit concert put on by Bob Dylan and others earlier that same year. Matthews joined the trio in 2001 to create a four-man board that hosts the annual event of food, music and hands-on activities.
Above all, the entire event is laced with a healthy activism for the rural working class of America.
“I grew up poor in a working class family, and I think most of America is rural America and working class families,” Rateliff said. “It’s a hard life. You’ve gotta sing for your supper sometimes. … Aside from all the rich people out there, there’s a lot of hands that made money for all those folks. The hands are the important thing. The people at the top can all eat s***! That’s pretty much it.”
Growing up in rural Missouri, Rateliff was constantly surrounded by music and family.
“My parents were both musicians and played in church,” Rateliff said. “Music was just a really big part of their life and family was always really important to them. … We’d listen to music, played music together and worked together, so it was just always there. It seemed like a real natural thing.”
He even remembers getting his very first instrument.
“I wanted to play drums when I was 7,” Rateliff said. “My parents were broke, but they bought my first drum kit for $35, which was a lot of money back then in the early ’80s. We used to hunt and that kind of stuff, so you can make money go [further]. You can always eat, but you may not have heat.”
In 1998, he set off for Colorado with his best friend and music partner Joseph Pope.
“After years of struggling and treading water, kind of as a fluke I decided to write a couple of soul songs,” Rateliff said. “I wanted to do something that sounded like The Band and Sam & Dave combined. All of a sudden, within a few days, I had a bunch of songs and just put together a band of the same friends I’ve been playing with together for years. I had no idea it was going to work out.”
Four albums followed — “Nathaniel Rateliff and the Wheel: Desire and Dissolving Men” (2007), “In Memory of Loss” (2010), “Shroud EP” (2011) and “Falling Faster Than You Can Run” (2013) — before Rateliff formed The Night Sweats and released “Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats” (2015).
The album skyrocketed to fame after a live performance on “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon.
“We were really stoked to get on the Jimmy Fallon show,” Rateliff said. “I was backstage getting like makeup put on, and I was with the lady who helped us get on the show. When Jimmy was doing introductions and brought out our record … playing the song and freaking out about it, I was like, ‘Is this good?’ She was like, ‘Yeah! It’s really good.’ … His enthusiasm really helped push the record.”
If you believe in soul… if you believe in rock n roll… if you believe in performing your guts out… Enjoy the band on our show tonight.
— jimmy fallon (@jimmyfallon) August 6, 2015
The live performance on Aug. 5, 2015 fueled anticipation for the album’s release on Aug. 21.
“My manager was like, you guys just sold more pre-sales than you’ve ever sold any records combined,” Rateliff said. “Joseph and I had been playing music together for over 20 years, so to struggle for such a long time and for something like that to happen out of nowhere — it’s a surprise and a blessing. The last 18 months of our lives have been really humbling and surprising. People keep coming to see us.”
The album went platinum in Canada and gold in the United States, hitting No. 1 on the U.S. folk chart, No. 2 on the U.S. alternative chart and No. 4 on the U.S. rock chart. Much of this was off the strength of the hit single “S.O.B.,” which reached No. 1 on the U.S. adult alternative chart, No. 3 on the U.S. alternative chart, No. 3 on the U.S. rock airplay chart and No. 18 on the U.S. mainstream rock chart.
“I was on tour by myself and had screwed a bunch of things up, so I decided to quit drinking,” Rateliff said. “I was just trying to come up with enough material for a 25-minute set, and I thought if we did this sort of sing-a-long thing and get that “ohhh ohhh” thing going on and clapping, people would sing along to that s***. … Trying to be lighthearted about a pretty heavy situation in my personal life.”
Of course, Rateliff’s own personal favorites aren’t always the band’s most famous.
“The songs that I really love are not necessarily the songs that other people love, but that’s the great thing about music,” Rateliff said. “Hopefully we’re going to be putting something out that’s outtakes and stuff like that. There was an EP that had a song ‘How to Make Friends’ and another song ‘Late Night Party’ that aren’t on a record. I love those ones! On the record, I really love ‘I’ve Been Failing.'”
Expect to hear a wide collection Saturday at Farm Aid.
“There’s certain things that all of us need to do that are much bigger than ourselves, and I think Farm Aid is one of those things,” Rateliff said. “If we don’t have each other, we don’t really have anything.”
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