Farm Aid 2019 coming to Alpine Valley Music Theatre, raising awareness of Wisconsin's dairy farm crisis

Piet Levy
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

With dairy farms in Wisconsin experiencing unprecedented struggles, Farm Aid is coming to the state to lend a hand.

The nonprofit is bringing its annual, star-studded benefit concert to Wisconsin for the second time in its 34-year history. 

Board members Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews — plus at least nine other acts — will perform at Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy Sept. 21.

Willie Nelson headlines the Outlaw Music Festival July 9.

Farm Aid was last held in Wisconsin in 2010 at Miller Park, for the organization's 25th anniversary.

The return to the Dairy State is in part a response to Wisconsin's dairy farm crisis, said communications director Jennifer Fahy. 

Nearly half of the $88 billion that Wisconsin agriculture contributes to the state economy comes from dairy farms. But since 2014, the price farmers receive for their milk has fallen nearly 40%, due to overproduction and failing export markets. Dairy herds in the state are down 40% from a decade earlier, according to Wisconsin Department of Agriculture data.

Wisconsin has led the country in farm bankruptcies for three years in a row. The state lost almost 700 dairy farms in 2018, an unprecedented rate of nearly two a day. More than 300 more dairy farms in Wisconsin have since shut down, including 90 in April alone. 

"We needed to be there to talk about what this means for the state and what it means for the country," Fahy said of bringing Farm Aid to Wisconsin. 

Alpine Valley has been on Farm Aid's radar "for years and years," Fahy said, with the logistics finally lining up for 2019.

The booking bumps the long-struggling Alpine's 2019 show count to nine, making this the venue's busiest season in 15 years. Just two years prior, the Live Nation-operated Alpine, which has seen shows and attendance drop significantly over the past decade due to greater competition for outdoor tours in the region, was unable to book a single act.

"It's a favorite venue of many artists, including Dave Matthews," Fahy said. "We're really excited to be at such a storied venue surrounded by beautiful pasture." 

Joining Matthews, Mellencamp, Nelson and Young at Farm Aid 2019 are Bonnie Raitt — playing her first Farm Aid since 1990 — and country stars Brothers Osborne, playing the first Farm Aid of their career. 

The lineup also includes soul band Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats; buzz-building Americana artist Yola; acclaimed country singer-songwriters Margo Price, Jamey Johnson and Tanya Tucker; and two groups featuring Nelson's sons: Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, and Particle Kid.

Most of the acts were personally invited by Nelson to perform at Farm Aid, Fahy said, and all of them are donating their time. More acts are expected to be announced. 

Beyond the music, Farm Aid will host a media event featuring select artists, farmers and advocates, before the first act performs Sept. 21.

The on-site "Homegrown Village" will feature presentations with artists and farmers and demonstrations like learning to make cheese, grow hemp and milk a cow, Fahy said.

All of the concessions will be sourced from family farms, and will be served with compostable service ware. 

Since Nelson, Mellencamp and Young organized the first Farm Aid festival in 1985, the nonprofit has raised $57 million. Past grantees have included Wisconsin-based organizations, Fahy said — including Family Farm Defenders, Wisconsin Farmers Union and Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, which, like Alpine Valley, is based in East Troy. Wisconsin organizations are expected to receive grants from the money raised at Farm Aid 2019, Fahy said.

Standard tickets — priced between $54.50 and $249.50 — will go on sale at 10 a.m. Friday at A limited number of pre-sale tickets will be available at beginning at 10 a.m. Wednesday. VIP passes also will be sold on the Farm Aid site. 

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Contact Piet at (414) 223-5162 or Follow him on Twitter at @pietlevy or Facebook at

Piet also talks concerts, local music and more on "TAP'd In" with Jordan Lee. Hear it at 8 a.m. Thursdays on WYMS-FM (88.9), or wherever you get your podcasts.