Each week, EW writers and editors will share their first concert experiences. Whether we were chaperoned by parents or hanging out with friends, these moments stayed with us and helped shape how we enjoy live music. Now, a music reporter remembers seeing Neil Young with her father.
Every Christmas my father gives each of his children a book. In the mysterious way that fathers work, it always ends up being one we’ll need that year. I remember waking up to Jack Kerouac’s On The Road five months before getting offered a job in Southwest Vietnam that had me bumbling down unpaved, foreign roads for a summer. I received Joan Didion’s collections the year I would decide to move to New York. Vanity Fair 100 Years coffee table book was opened as I decided to pursue journalism as a profession.
But his premonition isn’t reserved to our bookshelves. When he took me, at 6 years old, to Farm Aid in Louisville, Kentucky, without my sisters, it’s not hard for me to imagine he knew that I, of all his daughters, would follow in his wandering, music-loving ways. (Both my sisters work in the medical field. Sometimes they use my Spotify.)
Founders Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, and Neil Young headlined the 10th anniversary of Farm Aid. They were joined by Steve Earle and Hootie and the Blowfish. Given that I was 6, it’s hard to parse which memories have developed from stories my dad told over the years — of leading me through the throngs of festival goers by the hand as I stared at the women’s long skirts and men’s floppy hats and peasant shirts, of my crying at the firework finale (though given my proclivity for crying at the end of concerts now, perhaps he was misinterpreting my tears) — and what’s mine. Except one particular image that I know I own: Standing in the dark, hip-height, hearing waves of Neil Young’s voice and clapping along at the cadence you might swing in a hammock on a lazy day.
Perhaps Young’s set stuck because of how deeply my father loves him. Perhaps it was because he was better than the others… but we know that isn’t true. Young is the first artist I remember that my dad didn’t just play for me to hear, he played for me to understand. And I didn’t really understand while at Farm Aid, after the sun had gone down and Young had strapped on his harmonica. But over the years and after hundreds of spins of Harvest Moon on the family stereo, I finally got it. Swaying there is the closest I’ll ever come to knowing my father before me. At the turn of every verse, singing freely, totally unencumbered, totally consumed with music.