20th Farm Aid attracts plenty of media attention

CHICAGO: The 20th anniversary of the nation?s longest-running benefit concert, Farm Aid, and an unusual location are proving more than enough news hook for scores of local and national media outlets.

CHICAGO: The 20th anniversary of the nation?s longest-running benefit concert, Farm Aid, and an unusual location are proving more than enough news hook for scores of local and national media outlets.

The concert?s founding artists ? Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp ? held a joint press conference in Chicago?s Grant Park in mid-July to announce that this year?s concert would take place on Sept. 18 at the Tweeter Center in nearby Tinley Park, Ill. The first concert also was held in Illinois, although downstate, in more rural Champagne.

Nearly every local TV station sent crews to the press conference, and reporters from the AP, Reuters, and all local newspapers covered the event, according to Farm Aid campaign director Mark Smith. ?We?re already seeing increased requests from the media for credentials,? he said. ?We?ve seen clips as far away as New Zealand, Australia, and Sweden.?

Farm Aid has worked for several years with DC-based Vanguard Communications to promote the concert and raise awareness of family farm issues. ?I think the anniversary of anything is always newsworthy,? said Brenda Foster, senior director at Vanguard. ?And certainly Farm Aid has been very savvy about that over the years.?

Foster, who has been handling the Farm Aid account for the past 10 years, explained that the reason for holding the anniversary event in the Chicago area, rather than in more rural Champagne, represents an attempt to educate people who live in urban centers about the benefits of locally based food production.

?For this to move forward as a movement is to really connect urban people, suburban people, rural people with the people who are growing their food,? she said.

Each year, Farm Aid works with reporters to move beyond stories about the musical acts. ?For every entertainment story that we get, we?ve been able to get the farm element in there,? Foster said. ?They interview farmers as often as they interview the entertainers. That?s been a great thing that we?ve learned how to do over the years.?

The goal of the annual event is to raise awareness of family farms and locally grown food.

For this year?s event, Farm Aid plans to have a week of restaurant and education events, as well as special music performances, prior to the concert. In early September, Farm Aid also will be releasing its first book, ?Farm Aid: A Song for America,? which will include a history of the event along with information about the organization?s mission.

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