History Nebraska Blog

Willie Nelson FarmAid Concert

During the 1980s farm crisis, Willie Nelson was outspoken about the needs of farmers.

“It’s horrible stories. It’s auctions, it’s suicides, it’s terrible,” Nelson was quoted in the Omaha World-Herald in 1987.

On September 19, 1987, Nelson, John Mellencamp, and Neil Young organized the Farm Aid III concert at Memorial Stadium. Its purpose was to raise money to help farmers with financial problems. The 10-hour concert featured roughly 40 acts, including Nelson, Mellencamp, and Young, plus John Denver, Alex Harvey, Joe Walsh, and others. Earlier Farm Aid concerts at the University of Illinois at Champaign and the University of Texas at Austin raised a total of $11.5 million.

Athletic Director Bob Devaney and football coach Tom Osborne were willing to have the concert at Memorial Stadium as long as it didn’t interfere with the football team.

“We don’t want to harm the football team, but we also want to host Farm Aid,” Devaney said to the Omaha World-Herald. “We don’t feel the concert will interfere with the success of the football team.”

The concert at Memorial Stadium had 69,000 people in attendance and was the largest concert in Nebraska history. 10,000 of these ticketholders watched the concert on plywood that covered the football field.

The concert was also televised and viewers called with their pledges. Farm Aid concerts did not end in Lincoln, Nebraska.  About $1 million was raised from donations called in during the concert’s television broadcast. Television ad revenue brought in about $200,000 rather and merchandise sales were about $100,000. There was also a donation of $200,000 from Nebraska. The final total that went to farmers was between $1.5 million to $1.7 million.

Nelson, Young, and Mellencamp have been doing a Farm Aid concert almost every year since 1985. Over the years the nonprofit organization has raised more than $60 million. But thus far there has only been one Farm Aid concert in Nebraska.

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