Farm Aid III was held at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln on Sept. 19, 1987. More than 69,000 tickets were sold to see Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill, Steppenwolf, Lyle Lovett, John Denver, Lou Reed, Joe Walsh and Farm Aid founders John Mellencamp, Neil Young and Willie Nelson, among others.
The following combines multiple stories and reviews published in various editions of The World-Herald. Some passages have been edited for length, clarity and repetition.
Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and other rumored surprise additions to the Farm Aid III concert lineup didn’t show.
But all the announced acts were there, and they generated plenty of excitement.
Farm Aid organizer Willie Nelson, Neil Young, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and other acts provided memorable moments for the crowd at Memorial Stadium.
Many of the better moments occurred after dark, when the benefit concert was playing to a prime-time television audience.
Young, Nelson, the Thunderbirds and John Cougar Mellencamp performed entertaining, high-intensity sets. Some of those performances were met with thunderous ovations.
Among Young’s songs was “This Note’s For You,” a new tune critical of singers who do commercial endorsements, and an unfinished song about farmers. He couldn’t bring himself to finish it, he said, “because the farmer’s not finished yet.”
Under clear skies Saturday that provided a golden day and a starry night, a Memorial Stadium crowd of young and old, rural and urban, welcomed Willie Nelson to Nebraska.
Nelson stepped onto a stage in the north end zone at noon to start the Farm Aid III concert. His band broke into “Whiskey River,” beginning a show that lasted more than 10 hours and contained nearly 40 acts.
Nelson came back to welcome prime-time viewers with such songs as “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and “On the Road Again.”
The concert was to end at 10 p.m. The timing was perfect. Nelson and his fellow concert performers gathered on stage for the finale, “This Land Is Your Land,” with fireworks exploding in the background just as the nationally syndicated television production signed off.
But it wasn’t the final number. With the crowd cheering loudly, rock singer Joe Walsh came back to play a 15-minute encore. That caused some people heading for exits to surge back into the stadium.
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Music and the stars drew most of the crowd to Memorial Stadium, but Nelson said in a pre-concert press conference that he came for a different reason.
Nelson, speaking to a group of reporters and farmers, said he not only wanted to raise money to help needy farmers, but he also wanted to raise public awareness of what he called “the farm crisis.”
“I think the farmer needs to make more money for what he’s doing,” Nelson said. “That’s all he’s asking.”
Nelson disagreed with comments made by Vice President George Bush earlier in the week in Omaha that the farm economy had turned around.
“He’s not talking to the same people I’ve been talking to,” Nelson said.
Farmers at the press conference gave Nelson a standing ovation and applauded several times at his comments.
John Capp, a 65-year-old corn farmer from Holyoke, Colorado, said Nelson was “adored” by farmers.
“I don’t hear anybody speak unkindly of him from my part of the country,” he said. “We think Willie is doing a good job. He’s got guts enough to stand up and tell it like it is.”
‘Born to Be Wild’
Earlier in the show, the Fabulous Thunderbirds played a rousing set that included their hit “Tuff Enuff.”
Mellencamp sang, among other songs, his “Small Town.”
The rest of the day was devoted to performances by acts as varied as Lynn Anderson, Rattlesnake Annie and John Kay and Steppenwolf, who played the classic “Born to Be Wild.”
Other Farm Aid highlights included a duet by former spouses Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge, an up-tempo performance by Exile and a tender performance by Emmylou Harris.
John Denver generated one of the biggest responses of the day. His opening number, “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” was met with a large ovation. He followed that song with two pro-agriculture numbers, including the intense “What Are We Making Weapons For?”
Although the atmosphere at Memorial Stadium was festive, it was not one of nonstop excitement. Farm Aid III had its dead spots.
Although the show was performed on a rotating stage, allowing one act to set up while another performed, there was usually a break of at least 5 minutes between sets.
Those interruptions were no doubt in large part because of the needs of television. Farm Aid was heavily structured, apparently tailored to the viewers at home.
The concert was televised as a telethon, with home viewers asked to phone in pledges to aid farmers with money problems.
Action came to a halt onstage during every commercial interruption. Those watching at home can be assured they didn’t miss much.
The audience at Memorial Stadium didn’t seem to mind the interruptions. Many seemed to enjoy the leisurely pace.
During afternoon breaks, the crowd decided to amuse itself by doing the wave. A giant beach ball also got a heavy workout.
The pace built as the day wore on.
The show featured a surprisingly good sound system. There was also a shortage of technical problems.
The acts made comparatively brief appearances. Most were onstage for 15 minutes or less and limited sets to three or four songs. And some, such as Rattlesnake Annie, Lyle Lovett and Nelson’s daughter, Susie, performed one song each.
Many of the performers made comments about the need to support agriculture. Typical was singer John Conlee, who introduced himself as “a friend of the farmer.”
“And that’s the reason I’m here today,” Conlee said, “to spread the word that, in spite of whatever you might have heard, there is still a farm crisis all across this country, the United States of America.”
Presiding was a group of celebrity co-hosts, including Bruce Jenner, Dennis Hopper, Sarah Purcell, Charles Haid and Catherine Bach.
Haid, from the TV show “Hill Street Blues,” was the most enthusiastic of the group, raving about the audience and the football team that normally inhabits Memorial Stadium.
Miss Bach seemed a bit out of her element in citing Agriculture Department statistics.
The celebrities were hosts for both the TV and Memorial Stadium audiences. Their introductions and comments were broadcast over stadium speakers, as well as over television.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln officials said the concert went smoothly. They praised the conduct of the crowd, which they said consisted of at least 10,000 spectators on the plywood-covered football field.
Concert tickets cost $20.75 each, which organizers said covered the expenses of producing the concert.
Farm Aid organizers said Saturday they would not release any results of the fundraising until Monday. No goal was announced.
University and Farm Aid representatives would not say exactly how many tickets were sold for the concert, although they said it was not a sellout. They had said before the concert that 69,000 tickets would be available.
Would-be scalpers were selling tickets throughout the day for as little as $5 each.
Police had said during the week that lines to enter the concert could not form until 8 a.m., but they eased the rules and allowed people who showed up as early as 2 a.m. Saturday to begin forming lines.
By 8 a.m., at least 100 people were in lines on the west and east sides of the stadium. The gates were not scheduled to open until 10 a.m., but at 9:15 a.m., with lines six to 10 blocks long on each side of the stadium, police decided to open the gates.
Throughout the day, people could be seen coming and going. Some people did not arrive until the evening performances.
The weather cooperated. At noon, skies were sunny and the temperature was 67. The temperature rose to a high of 69 at 4 p.m. It fell to 56 degrees by 10 p.m. Only a few clouds dotted the sky during the day.
Among those in the crowd were U.S. Sen. David Karnes, R-Neb.; Cece Zorinsky of Omaha, a potential congressional candidate and wife of the late U.S. Sen. Edward Zorinsky, D-Neb.; and former Gov. Bob Kerrey.
Gov. Kay Orr made a brief appearance in the stadium’s VIP box and left.
Lincoln Mayor Bill Harris, who appeared briefly onstage at the beginning of the show, said the concert exceeded his expectations.
“I’m the happiest man in America,” he said.
Police said 22 people were arrested, 33 ejected from the stadium — mainly for drunkenness — and 141 treated at first-aid stations. Nine of those were taken to hospitals.
The arrests were for offenses including larceny, drug possession, assault and disorderly conduct.
Assistant Lincoln Police Chief Cliff Koch said police were “pretty pleased with the way it’s going. With the size of the crowd and length of the concert, the problems haven’t been bad.”
Joe Goebel, a UNL vice chancellor, said after the crowd had left the stadium that the 10-hour concert created no major problems for the university.
“It worked out very well,” he said.
Following the concert, police said, most of the people headed for their cars to drive home. But police estimated several thousand headed for the downtown Haymarket Harvest Festival and a street dance that lasted until midnight.
Police said the post-concert crowd was well-behaved and appeared to be smaller than the estimated 45,000 who jammed the downtown business district for the street dance Friday night.
During the concert, in the stands and on the protected playing field, people slept, read newspapers, talked, played cards and watched each other between the musical acts.
The crowd was relatively subdued during the day. But as night fell, the spectators became more animated as Walsh, Steppenwolf, Reed and Young performed. For a time, dozens of plastic cups were tossed around the crowd on the stadium floor near the stage.
All ages were evident at the concert. Some said they came to hear rock ’n’ roll and others said they were there for the country and western tunes.
Bernice Johnson, 67, of Alliance, Nebraska, and Bonnie Prochazka, 55, of Hemingford, Nebraska, both widows, said they drove to Lincoln to hear and see the country stars.
Mrs. Johnson said she wanted to see Kristofferson.
“I like his music,” she said. “I like the way he looks, too.”