Willie Nelson kicked off his third and last Farm Aid concert to benefit American family farmers Saturday with his classic "Whiskey River" to the thunderous applause of nearly 70,000 fans.
Nelson, country music's "Red Headed Stranger," was the first of 36 acts presented at the 10-hour concert, Farm Aid III, which began at noon at the University of Nebraska's Memorial Stadium.
The country music superstar wore a billed farm cap and his customary red bandanna wrapped around his neck as he went through a routine of his multihit catalogue.
Fans began showing up at the stadium well before the 8 a.m. opening time and still were being let in as the show began. The official attendance figure at midday was 68,000. The fans had perfect weather for the outdoor concert with brilliantly sunny skies and comfortable temperatures of around 70 degrees.
Ted Albrecht, who farms southeast of Ulysses, Neb., was in the infield during the concert near the 50-yard line.
"I'm mainly here to see the music, but I'm also concerned about the farming situation," said Albrecht. "I've probably got about 100 or 200 first cousins, aunts and uncles, and everyone farms."
At a news conference before the start of Farm Aid III, Nelson said this one would be his last.
"Just because we won't have a Farm Aid IV doesn't mean that farm aid is going out of business," Nelson said. "We're still out there. We're still gonna be letting the people know about the farm problems as long as they exist.
"I intend to and I'm sure a lot of the other entertainers are going to say the same thing. What I don't want to do is start a Farm Aid 36 and a Farm Aid 37 where everybody will be depending on Farm Aid to take care of the farmers instead of the United States."
Other performers, including Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge, said they hoped Nelson would change his mind, or that someone else would carry on for him.
"The response to this concert this year is one of the most encouraging things I have seen in a long time," Kristofferson said.
"I hope this isn't the last Farm Aid, because it was by far the best," Coolidge said.
Other performers appearing at the marathon concert included John Denver, John Mellencamp, Emmylou Harris and Merle Haggard.
Nelson began Farm Aid three years ago as a means of raising money for troubled family farmers and to draw attention to their plight. Nelson has said that the family farmer has been going out of business at the rate of 200 a day.
Nelson at his news conference took a poke at the big food corporations.
"There are several big corporations, food processors, etc., that are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying in Washington right now to make sure that farm prices don't go up," Nelson said. "And for every politician that gets talked to by one farmer there are hundreds of lobbyists talking to him about the same issue, slipping him a little bit on the side. So which one is he going to listen to?"
So far Nelson has raised about $8 million, of which about $6.5 million has been distributed to 100 organizations in 39 states.
All the artists appearing agreed to donate their time and pick up their own expenses for the extravaganza. Nelson's first Farm Aid was held in Champaign, Ill., in 1985 and raised about $6 million. Last year's concert was held in Austin, Tex., on July 4, but didn't fare as well because of competition from the Statue of Liberty celebration.
Nelson's cohosts for the event were Dick Clark, Sarah Purcell, Charles Haid, Catherine Bach, Bruce Jenner, LeVar Burton and Dennis Hopper