Music

Willie Nelson Played a Free Concert in 1982 in Recession-Rocked Lima, Ohio

Country singer Willie Nelson performs as the closing act at the US Festival in Devore, Ca., Saturday night, June 5, 1983. (AP Photo/Michael Tweed)

Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article in March 1982 chronicled how the economic recession had hit Lima, Ohio particularly hard, likening the city's rising unemployment, foreclosure, and repossession rates to those in the comparably snakebitten town of San Angelo, Texas.

In response, future Farm Aid co-founder Willie Nelson boosted local morale by performing a free concert for the folks in Allen County, Ohio.

The Associated Press reported that Lima restaurant owner Bud Jones called the San Angelo Chamber of Commerce and asked its chief executive, Grady Elder if he had any connections to Nelson. Elder did know someone: Sam Lewis, an entrepreneur involved in public relations.

After Lewis showed the WSJ article to Nelson, the country music star quickly agreed to lend a helping hand to Lima by performing there on July 30, 1982.

"Willie was really moved and agreed immediately to do the benefit in Lima," Lewis told the Standard-Times (as quoted by GoSanAngelo in 2019). "A lot of people don't know it, but Willie puts on benefits all the time."

A reported 30,000 tickets were given away to locals over age 12 (children under 12 could attend if accompanying a ticket holder). Those in attendance heard not just Nelson's biggest hits as the leader of his Family band but also a rendition of "Goodhearted Woman" performed with outlaw country running buddy Waylon Jennings.

Read More: Bluegrass Band Merle Monroe Pays Musical Homage to Namesakes Merle Haggard and Bill Monroe + Other Legends [Interview]

Nelson forever tied his legacy to benefit concerts in 1985 after he, Neil Young and John Mellencamp organized the first Farm Aid. Per its website, the still-active event "[raised] awareness about the loss of family farms and [raised] funds to keep farm families on the land."

The first Farm Aid was held on Sept. 22, 1985, in Champaign, Ill. It drew a crowd of 80,000 and raised over $7 million.

Related Videos

recommended for you

Willie Nelson Played a Free Concert in 1982 in Recession-Rocked Lima, Ohio