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Farm Aid celebrated 30 years with this year's show

Long-running project has been driven by founders, including Willie Nelson

CNN  — 

Live Aid is a memory. “We Are the World” is fodder for oldies stations.

But that other 1985 all-star music benefit, Farm Aid, never stopped.

The festival, founded to benefit family farmers, was first held on September 22, 1985, triggered in part by a Bob Dylan line about farmers at Live Aid. With a handful of exceptions, it’s been put on annually ever since.

This year’s concert was held Saturday at Chicago’s FirstMerit Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island. It featured Imagine Dragons, Mavis Staples and Insects vs Robots, as well as co-founders Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Neil Young, along with more recent Farm Aid board member Dave Matthews.

The show has survived because of the dedication of that latter foursome, says Carolyn Mugar, Farm Aid’s executive director.

“What kept it going is these four guys, these four iconic artists,” she says in a phone interview.

It’s also helped that the American public is now more aware of where their food comes from and demanding of quality, she adds.

“I think people realize that’s what we need now in our food system. This ‘good food’ movement is surely here with us,” she says.

The first Farm Aid, which was held in Champaign, Illinois, had artists from a surprising variety of genres – a tribute to the broad tastes and friendships of Nelson, in particular. They included Billy Joel, the Blasters, B.B. King, Sammy Hagar and X.

Nelson, Mellencamp and Young have participated in almost every show.

The Farm Aid concerts have raised more than $48 million in their 30 years and have helped fund a variety of programs, including an advocacy network that works to further the cause of family farming.

Though farming can still be a struggle, we’re living in a different world than the one helped by the ’85 Farm Aid, when “the farmer was blamed for being a bad manager” and feeling hopeless, says Mugar.

“What Farm Aid did was give people that hope to continue,” she says. “Willie always said, we just want to help by getting the word out and want to raise some money. And getting the word out was having farmers understand that they were valued in this country.”