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Neil Young bows out of Farm Aid 2021: ‘I worry about audiences coming together’

Neil Young
Neil Young has decided he won’t perform at this year’s Farm Aid concert.
(John Shearer / Invision / Associated Press)

Citing COVID-19 concerns, veteran musician Neil Young has bowed out of Farm Aid 2021, the sold-out concert festival that he co-founded in 1985 to benefit family farmers.

“I find myself wondering whether Farmaid will be safe for everyone with the Covid pandemic surging,” the “Rockin’ in the Free World” singer wrote Wednesday on his website, the Neil Young Archives. “I worry about that. I don’t want to let anybody down, but still can’t shake the feeling that it might not be safe for everyone. I worry about audiences coming together in these times.”

The 75-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, who is also a Farm Aid board member, detailed his concerns about crowds, the virus spreading among unvaccinated kids and misleading audiences into thinking that it’s safe to gather as the pandemic continues despite reopenings.

“All you people who can’t go to a concert because you still don’t feel safe, I stand with you. I don’t want you to see me playing and think it’s safe now. I don’t want to play until you feel safe, and it is indeed, safe,” he wrote.

BTS, KISS and Stevie Nicks are among the musical acts that have nixed or postponed tour dates as the very contagious Delta variant spreads.

“My soul tells me it would be wrong to risk having anyone die because they wanted to hear music and be with friends,” he added. “No matter where you are. I am with you. Do what you must, but think it through. We will be back. There is much work to do together.”

The festival, now in its 36th year after going virtual last year, is scheduled to take place Sept. 25 at the indoor-outdoor Xfinity Theatre in Hartford, Conn. Tickets went on sale July 23 and have already sold out. Though Young has been removed from the lineup, as of Thursday musicians and Farm Aid board members Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews will still be headlining, along with several others.

Farm Aid 2021 will be an outdoor, open-air event, according to the concert website, which says the safety of fans, artists, staff, vendors, supporters and farmers is its top priority. Mask-wearing is encouraged, though not yet required outdoors, and all attendees will be required to show proof of full vaccination ora negative COVID-19 test taken no more than 48 hours prior to entering the event. That includes fans younger than 12, who are not yet eligible for vaccination.

It’s been a tumultuous few years for Young, from a new marriage to Daryl Hannah to losing loved ones, taking up weed again and convening his old band Crazy Horse.

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It’s those kids that Young remained concerned about: Children are being hospitalized for COVID-19 at a record rate in the U.S., with numbers surging since the beginning of July as the Delta variant has run rampant. (The national boom has been driven largely by a few states — Florida, Texas and Georgia — though the numbers in California have been less dire.)

“Since we know vaccinated people can catch and spread Covid, I worry about the children who could become infected after Farmaid, just by being with someone, maybe a parent, who caught the virus at Farmaid and didn’t know it. There are already too many children in hospitals,” Young wrote.

Young also said that although he respects Nelson, Mellencamp and Matthews’ decision to play the event, he is “not of the same mind.”

Musicians including Garth Brooks, Stevie Nicks, Tony Bennett and Michael Bublé have canceled tour dates anew this summer as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.


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