The cover of the October 8, 2009 Riverfront Times featuring my photo of Willie Nelson.
The granddaddy himself, Willie Nelson, closed out Farm Aid 2009 in a blowout performance that had the crowds on their feet and singing along in the perfect end to the benefit concert.
One assignment I had for Farm Aid 2009 was shooting the cover for the Riverfront Times (Village Voice Media), so one constant consideration I had during Willie Nelson's set at Farm Aid was delivering one killer shot of Willie that would work in the 10″ x 12″ format of the paper.
For the first several songs during his main set, Willie Nelson wore a hat, which was later removed later on in the set. Surprisingly, the hat wasn't really an issue with regard to shadows on Willie's eyes, so the shoot was good throughout the performance.
Just as for all the main acts, the photographers were split into two groups for Willie Nelson's set, with two songs allotted to each group. I was in group A and started out in the pit for the first two songs of the performance, after which group B shot for two songs. Toward the end of the show, before the “Circle of Friends” finale, all photographers were allowed back into the photo pit, so in total I probably photographed about 5-6 songs of Willie's set.
A little over a third of the photo pit was taken up by the official Farm Aid photo team, so all photography for the general press was confined to the other side (house left) of the pit. As such, the space we could shoot from extended from stage right to just past the center of the stage.
After seeing how Willie Nelson held his guitar during his one-song duet with Dave Matthews, I knew that I wanted to be on the right side of his microphone. This spot proved to be a solid bet, as I felt Nelson favored his left when performing, and I'd recommend this side to anyone having to choose a spot for him at an event like Farm Aid. Due to the number of photographers at Farm Aid, moving around was never a terribly enticing option, especially for the headlining acts.
The lighting for Willie's set was pretty much just spotlights the entire time, and especially so during the finale when he was joined by a stage-full of friends to close out the night.