CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — Over 30 years ago, dozens of artists performed for around 80,000 fans for the inaugural Farm Aid concert at Memorial Stadium in Champaign. Now, U of I history students will be documenting the event on April 1, at the place where the 14-hour concert took place.
U of I history professor Daniel Gilbert and his students are hosting a free “History Harvest” on April 1 from 3-7 p.m. in Memorial Stadium’s 77 Club to collect stories and materials. In collaboration with the Champaign County History Museum, they are helping build the museum’s collection of oral history interviews, photographs, and artifacts related to the 1985 Farm Aid concert.
Gilbert said Memorial Stadium’s 77 Club offers a perfect vantage point with a majestic view of the field where the concert happened for sharing and collecting stories about Farm Aid.
Artists Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, and Neil Young organized the Farm Aid concert in Champaign to raise critical funds and awareness to support farmers amid the worst crisis in American agriculture at that time since the Great Depression. The Champaign concert featured performances by artists like Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Kris Kristofferson, B.B. King, Roy Orbison, The Beach Boys, and Johnny Cash.
“Farm Aid is a singular example of the intersection between popular music and social change,” Gilbert said.
The Farm Aid organization has continued to hold concerts and support family farmers since 1985.
Anyone who would like to have their memories recorded is invited to attend the “History Harvest” event. Gilbert said students will use scanning equipment to make digital records of any photos, documents, or artifacts like t-shirts, ticket stubs, and autographs that attendees would like to share. They will have this alongside mobile audio recording equipment to record interviews.
The Spurlock Museum at the U of I also plans to host a Farm Aid exhibit in 2025 to mark the concert’s 40th anniversary, using materials identified at this “History Harvest” event.
More information about the event and the project can be found here.
Editor’s Note: The original press release from the event organizers included a partnership with the Champaign County Music Museum, this has since been corrected to the Champaign County History Museum.