Return of Farm Aid sought

URBANA – Come fall 2005, Champaign County could be the nexus of the agriculture world.

Local officials who want the Farm Progress Show to be held at a permanent site here in early September 2005 are now gearing up to bring Farm Aid back, too.

The annual concert for farmers and their families will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2005. The first Farm Aid concert attracted about 80,000 people to the University of Illinois' Memorial Stadium on Sept. 22, 1985, according to Farm Aid.

"We have only at this point had initial contact with Farm Aid. There are many details to work out. But my understanding is they were pleased to hear from us," said Laura Weis, executive director of the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber said it has also contacted the chancellor's office at the UI regarding the possible use of Memorial Stadium for the concert. Chancellor Nancy Cantor was unavailable for comment Thursday.

"Agriculture is such a huge part of the local economy, and it would be an opportunity to showcase all the advancements in agricultural research made at the University of Illinois," Weis said.

Neither Weis nor Farm Aid would speculate on the chances of Farm Aid returning to Champaign-Urbana.

Hotels and restaurants could be packed in fall 2005. Starting next year, Farm Progress Show organizers plan to hold the three-day event, which can attract up to 300,000 people, in late August to early September, compared to late September.

Farm Aid performances are usually held in mid- to late September.

Farm Aid staff, along with its board of directors, which includes performers Willie Nelson, Neil Young and Dave Matthews, among others, choose the concert's location every year.

"We typically decide a concert's location several months in advance. We haven't begun to think about 2005 yet," said Mark Smith, communications director for Farm Aid.

The last few venues for Farm Aid have been amphitheaters with fixed seats and lawn seats, Smith said.

Memorial Stadium seats 65,000 people, but can accommodate more on the field.

Although the first Farm Aid concert attracted about 80,000 people, recent concerts have brought in between 20,000 and 26,000 people, Smith said. The tickets normally sell out within several days, he said.

This year's Farm Aid concert was Sept. 7 in Columbus, Ohio.

The 1985 show was organized in six weeks and raised $7 million for family farmers, Farm Aid said. Performers included Roy Orbison, B.B. King, John Mellencamp, Nelson and many others.

Since it began in 1985, the Somerville, Mass.-based organization has raised $24 million for farmers and their families, it said. In 2001 Farm Aid gave out $332,136 in cash grants out of a total income of $892,017, according to its 990 federal tax form.

You can reach Christine des Garennes at (217) 351-5388 or via e-mail at cgarenne@news-gazette.com.

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