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David Amram

David Amram at FarmAid with Willie Nelson!

In the words of Willie Nelson's classic songs, paraphrased from Jack Kerouac's classic book,

I'm on the road again.

It was great going back to play for Farm Aid with Willie Nelson. I have been doing it for the past twenty years. The first annual Farm Aid concert I ever played was in Lincoln Nebraska, which Willie invited me to, in 1987. A few months prior to the Lincoln Nebraska event, I had played in a concert in Austin Texas with Willie. After the concert in Austin was over, Willie invited me to play with him in Lincoln Nebraska for FarmAid lll, and I have been doing it ever since.

Aside from the joy of playing with Willie Nelson and his band, this year's concert was held in a place that always has had a special meaning in my life. The venue for the annual concert this year was in Camden New Jersey, only a half an hour drive from across the river to our old 160 acre family farm in Feasterville Pennsylvania, where I grew up between 1937 and 1942, before my dad sold the farm and moved to Washington D.C.

Now there no more farms in that part of Pennsylvania at all, but the memories stay with me so strongly that every time i get within a few miles of our old farm, as I did at the Farm Aid concert in Camden, I can still feel that special magic of the evening air, so sweet with the smell of newly mown hay, accompanied by the music of the crickets, frogs, cows mooing and chickens chirping through the night, followed by a rooster crowing out a waake up call at dawn.

These are some of the indelible memories of growing up on our farm, which i carry with me through the sixty five years since we left. I remember how at midnight there was always a constant sense of motion, almost as if you were on an ocean liner at night, slowly but steadily moving through some invisible sea, but rather than relying on engines, or sails, you felt that your sense of motion was powered by the energy of the crops growing slowly but surely.

During those late summer nights in Feasterville, back in the late 1930s, I was sure I could hear the corn and soybeans I had planted growing, before going down in the morning to see how much taller they were. The farm, during the growing season, had a special feeling of an indefinable life-force, as the crops miraculously rose from the soil, complemented by the daily growth of the livestock.

Back in the 1930s, there were no New Age guidebooks telling you how to talk to your plants and animals, but all the neighboring farmers made you aware of this nonverbal communication, explaining how they had telepathic conversations with every cow, horse, chicken, turkey, duck and goat, each in their own special language, and how much they loved the warmth of the cows, standing patiently in their unheated stalls, while you milked them in the chilly mornings.

All these memories played themselves back to me as I stood backstage at the Tweeter Center in Camden, and stared at the glaring skyline and garish lights of downtown Philadelphia, my place of birth. As I waited to go on stage to play with Willie and his band, I had a brief astral journey in my imagination, as if I were taking a helicopter ride from the backstage area and soaring over the crowd of 100,000 people, fly a few miles to where our farm used to be. and then fly back to the Tweeter Center in Camden by the banks of the Delaware River, hovering for a moment over the house in North Philadelphia where my grandfather was born and where his father worked as a ships chandler after serving in the Georgia Rifles during the civil war and then working his way up north from Savannah Georgia to Philadelphia.

Many of the stage hands and people who worked at this FarmAid concert had the pronounced Philadelphia accents of my relatives who still live there, almost identical to the way people spoke seventy years ago in nearby Feasterville during my childhood there. Random conversations backstage made me think I was in a time warp and back at the farm again.

I had a picture of me milking a cow in 1937 on the back of one of my CDs as well as in my book Vibrations, and showed it to many of the musicians and Farm aid organizers and activists who attended the event, which brought gales of chuckles.

As I sat on Willie's bus before we played the closing set of the concert at 11 p.m., we talked about what we both did as kids growing up on farms, Willy's in Abbot Texas and mine in Feastervile Pennsylvania. I told him about milking cows by hand.

"I did that too," he said, smiling.

I showed Willie the 1937 photo my father had taken of me for the 4-H club, where I was huddled under my cow on a small metal stool, milking away.

"I look a little older now" I said,

"We all do" said Willie. "But we'll keep on working for the family farmers."

Then Willie talked about the endurance of Farm Aid, since the very first concert in Urbana Illinois in 1985. he said that while so many causes seem to come and go, Farm Aid is still here, stronger than ever, and how, during the other 364 days of the year between the annual concerts, the Farm aid organization continues to help family farmers and receive support from union organizers, environmentalists, ecologists, church groups, educational outreach programs and small business organizations across the country, as well as commuicating with supporters from Canada, South America and overseas.

In 2006, during a time when both globalization and Corporate Think seem to have engulfed the world, Farm Aid is a joyous reaffirmation of basic values inherent in the struggles of the family farmer. These values of maintaining high individual standards, tireless work, respect for the land and all the people on earth who are fed from what is grown on that land, and the larger familial way of life shared by farmers and their community are ideals put into daily practice that everyone of every political persuasion can relate to,

Whether you are a bed rock conservative or an anarchist, you still need to drink unpolluted water, eat non-carcinogenic food and dairy products, and meat that will not genetically alter yourself or your children and eventually their children.

The fact that corporate farming annihilates the soil by not rotating crops to replenish that soil, while adding poisonous chemicals which pollutes water supplies, combined with hormones and antibiotics fed to the animals to maximize production has not only left much of the land as a toxic disaster zone.

It also had decimated communities, as well as families, and the values that they maintain. these old fashioned idreals are essential for the well being of all people who live in cities and our entire society.

The support of family farmers and all that they have to offer transcends politics. It has to do with our shared survival.

The way Willie and all the thousands of people, (including many full time farmers) all of whom volunteer their special gifts for Farm Aid, relate to one another at this huge annual concert, and for all the smaller events which take place all year long, prove that today it is still possible for people of various disciplines to unite in a common cause, to work together and make a difference.

After a nonstop marathon of performances, interviews and rendezvous with a small army of people
back stage as well as at events prior to the concert, I finished by performing with Willie and his peerless band, and after saying good-bye to all, packed up at midnight and drove with my son Adam back to our farm in Putnam Valley.

As we drove down the New Jersey Turnpike, I wanted to get off at exit 6 and drive by our old farm, which was only a few miles away, but had to get up the next morning to resume completion of my Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie and my third book Nine Lives of a Musical Cat, before heading out to Lowell Mass Oct 5th for the annual Lowell Celebrates Kerouac Festival.

I wanted Adam to see where the old farm was, even though there is not one inch left of it, where I once planted seven acres of my own corn patch to sell, along with my sister's homemade lemonade at our roadside stand on Bustleton Pike at the foot of our farm.

I told adam how blessed i was to have the memories of that time and place, and that maybe what we did at Farm Aid might enable a farmer somewhere to be able to hang on to their farm, and that the next time we were in that part of Pennsylvania, we would drive by and see the old stone house where we once lived, which is now the office space, nestled between 92 condos piles up like a gigantic accordion on either side.

As we approached New York City, I flashed back to the dreams I had of someday being able to go there and possibly do something in music, and realized again, as I do each day, what a blessing it is to be able to have done and still do that!

I send cheers from the hills of Putnam Valley, as October's Fall farewell to summer inches me closer to the big 76 this coming November 17, and the good fortune to do more work than ever, and hopefully, as Dizzy Gillespie used to tell me is the gig for all of us lucky enough to be going nonstop in our seventies, be of some use to others.

"David, in 1951 when we met, you were a kid. Now, you're getting older. It's time for you to put something back in the pot."

That's something we can all do, and it is fun trying to do it.

When not on the road or at the podium, David Amram tends his own small working farm in upstate New York. Click Here to Learn More about Farmer Dave!


Click Here To Read David Amram's Notes for Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie.

News, New & Of Note! - This Land Is Your Land - World Premiere of "Symphonic Variations On A Song By Woody Guthrie" In a work commissioned by the Guthrie Foundation centered thematically around, This Land is Your Land, Paul Polivnick conducted the premiere performances of David Amram's new orchestral work,performed by the Symphony Silicon Valley on September 29th and 30th. Click Here To Read David Amram's Notes for Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie.

You can hear the world premiere performance of Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie on line from the website of Symphony Silicon Valley. Click Here To Listen!

News & Of Note -
You can hear the world premiere performance of Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie on line from the website of Symphony Silicon Valley.

Click Here To Listen!



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