All-star concert proposed to make first-time visit to the Central Valley
As Valley farmers face issues such as drought, protests for water supplies and seasons left in turmoil, efforts are being made to reach a feasible solution. While many have stepped forward to back various options, some have expressed that a step in the right direction can be made by four unlikely gentlemen—Neil Young, Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson.
These men serve as the board of directors of Farm Aid, an annual concert aimed at helping family-ran farms.
Since its inception in 1985, Farm Aid has helped numerous farms throughout the country – except those in California. Mike Dozier, director of Community and Economic Development at Fresno State, has been leading a coalition to bring Farm Aid to the Golden State for the very first time. “We’ve given them a lot of things to think about,” Dozier said.
He said he got the idea when he saw a flier advertising the Bob Dylan, John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson show that look place at Chuckchansi Park last summer. He urged people to attend the concert in order to leave a good impression on directors Mellencamp and Nelson.
“If they think it’s a good idea, they might be open to the idea,” said Dozier.
Following the concert, Dozier and a committee of community leaders have met to create a proposal for the Farm Aid committee. Bill Cahill, Assistant City Manager of Merced, was one of the leaders who supported the idea.
“Fresno is great for a fall concert,” Cahill said. “This area seems like such a natural place to host Farm Aid.”
While the idea is to hold the Farm Aid in Fresno, Cahill’s participation in the process brings to light the importance of farming throughout the Central Valley.
“This area has a lot of specialty crops,” Cahill said as he pointed out that Merced is one of the top radicchio producers in the country.
Dozier has been in touch with members of Farm Aid through e-mail who have guided him along the way with advice. They asked him to identify an appropriate outdoor venue that seats 20,000 and get support from farmers. They named Chuckchansi Park as the ideal venue and have started a letter writing campaign to let others express their desire to host Farm Aid. However, Dozier and his team have taken steps further to attract attention. In November, the campaign sent the Farm Aid committee a gift basket full of locally grown produce.
The real focus has been on a proposal that was sent two weeks ago consisting of a letter from Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin and a 10-minute video presenting the need for such a concert to pay a visit to the Valley. Dozier believes these efforts set Fresno apart from the rest.
“I think we have a really good chance,” Dozier said. “Frankly, nobody has ever campaigned like this.”
Now, rather than playing a waiting game, Dozier and Cahill have encouraged citizens to write letters to the Farm Aid committee. They held a letter-writing launch party and have let people know they have postcards in their offices. “That’s really the phase we are in now,” Cahill said.
They are also letting supporters know about the latest breakthroughs and upcoming events through their Twitter fan page.
With efforts being made to bring such a large-scale concert to a city like Fresno, how receptive are representatives from Farm Aid to such a proposal?
Jennifer Fahy, the communications director for Farm Aid, says the message is not going unnoticed.
“We have received approximately 120 letters and postcards from Fresno to date,” Fahy said. “We have been in touch with the coordinators and we’re looking into the possibility of Fresno, in addition to other potential locations.”
While Fresno has expressed interest in hosting the festival, they join a handful of other cities that feel just as qualified.
“There has been a history of groups lobbying to bring Farm Aid to their town. Vermont has launched a statewide effort and New York City pitched their city for a quite a while before we were able to bring our concert there in 2007,” Fahy said. “Our president and founder Willie Nelson has always said we like to go where we’re wanted so efforts like the one launched to bring Farm Aid to Fresno are much appreciated.”
Now that Dozier has the first phase of hard work behind him, he can reflect on the idea that started in June and blossomed into a reality by February.
“It took off because people put a lot of time into this and I’m happy for that,” Dozier said.