CHICAGO, Sept. 13 - Seeking to imitate the success of the Live Aid concert that benefited famine victims abroad, 50 leading country and Western and rock musicians are planning to appear at a 14-hour concert Sept. 22 in Champaign, Ill., to help the nation's distressed farmers.
Since last month, when Willie Nelson, the country and Western singer, announced that he was organizing the Farm Aid concert, it has captured the imagination of America's Farm Belt, even though the planners are uncertain about the best way to spend the $50 million they hope to raise.
In Champaign, thousands of young people lined up, many overnight, to buy the $17.50 tickets. Hundreds of Illinois farmers have volunteered to help set up the 78,000-seat Memorial Stadium at the University of Illinois for the sold-out concert. In Nebraska volunteers have agreed to answer phones during the Farm Aid telethon, which will reach most American homes by cable and broadcast television.
In addition to Mr. Nelson, the performers include such country and Western stars as Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Kenny Rogers and Charlie Pride. The rock musicians include Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, Billy Joel, Carol King, Eddie Van Halen and Neil Young. #10 A.M. to Midnight "I don't think there has ever been such a large number of country and rock acts coming together," said Paul Corbin, director of programming for the Nashville Network, the cable company that hopes to attract 40 million viewers with its live transmission of the concert.
John Denver, Glen Campbell, Joni Mitchell, B. B. King and Rickie Lee Jones have also agreed to participate in the concert, which is to run from 10 A.M., central time, until midnight.
"The family farm is dwindling away," said the singer John Cougar Mellencamp, who is helping Mr. Nelson organize the concert. "That's unhealthy and we thought some attention should be paid to the problem."
Mr. Nelson announced the concert Aug. 17 after meeting with Gov. James R. Thompson of Illinois at the Illinois state fair to discuss his idea. Governor Thompson arranged for the use of the University of Illinois football stadium and is lending several staff members to help organize the benefit.
Raising Money and Consciousness
"We're trying to raise two things: some money, and a lot of consciousness about the problem," said James J. Skilbeck, a special assistant to Governor Thompson who is helping coordinate the concert.
Farm groups across the political spectrum, including the American Farm Bureau Federation and the American Agricultural Movement, are lending their support. On Sept. 4 Mr. Nelson, Mr. Mellencamp and Mr. Young met with about 50 farmers to discuss how the money raised by Farm Aid should be spent.
A few suggested using the money to help the almost 100,000 farmers who may be forced off their farms by low grain prices and falling land values. Others said the amount raised would be too small to help individual farmers and should be used for educational campaigns and general assistance programs.
"Because farmers face so much stress, perhaps the money should go for a crisis line, or to help with counseling on alcoholism or child abuse," said Corky Jones, a Nebraska farmer and president of the American Agricultural Movement who attended the meeting.
Other suggestions were to provide counseling to farmers who might contemplate suicide when they lost their farms, or to provide legal services for farmers who face foreclosure.
Performers to Decide
Mr. Nelson is expected to meet with several performers after the concert to decide how to allocate the money.
Many of the participants say the educational aspects of the benefit concert, which is to include two-minute videotapes about farm problems, are more valuable than the fund raising.
"I hope everyone doesn't think that the Farm Aid concert will solve all the nation's agricultural problems on Sept. 22 and we'll go on to another issue Sept. 23," said John G. Reifsteck, a corn and soybean farmer in Tolono, Ill., four miles south of Champaign, who attended the meeting. "If they raise $50 million, that's not a lot when you consider that farm debt nationwide is something like $215 billion."
Mr. Reifsteck, former president of the Champaign County Farm Bureau, said some performers were "confused" when they learned there were so many farm groups with so many different, often clashing, ideas about how farm problems should be solved.
The Nashville Network, which reaches 24 million households, plans to transmit the benefit from noon to midnight. It has also syndicated the concert to more than 300 radio stations, and three hours are being syndicated to television stations.
The 50 or so performers are to appear for about 17 minutes each. Jessica Lange and Sissy Spacek, both of whom starred in films about farm families, have agreed to be masters of ceremonies for parts of the concert.
A whistle-stop train tour from California to Champaign that Mr. Haggard proposed has been canceled because the organizers could not raise enough start-up money, but another train, sponsored by The Des Moines Register, will go from Carroll, Iowa, to Champaign the day before the concert.
Contributions to Farm Aid can be made by telephone at 1-800-FARMAID or by mail to P.O. Box Farm Aid, Champaign, Ill. 61820.
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