Farm Aid Festival Is Back in Central Indiana After More Than 2 Decades
The bucolic benefit concert returns to founder John Mellencamp's hometown in Noblesville, Indiana.
Like an altruistic Coachella, the sold-out Farm Aid Festival is a music festival on a mission—and for the first time in more than 20 years, that mission is bringing it back to its roots, in America’s fertile Midwestern epicenter. Farm Aid blossomed in 1985 in Champaign, Illinois, after rock stars Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, John Mellencamp, and Neil Young banded together to create a benefit concert for family farms. Their seed of an idea was a smashing success, attracting 80,000 attendees at the inaugural festival and raising some $7 million for family farms across the country. This year’s Farm Aid will land at the Ruoff Music Center in Noblesville, Indiana (Mellencamp’s home state).
Now the longest running benefit concert in the nation, Farm Aid has crisscrossed the country for festivals in cities like Seattle, New Orleans, Louisville, and Indianapolis, featuring A-list performers like Elton John, Sheryl Crow, Jewel, Wilco, and Dave Matthews Band. While each event attracts thousands of visitors (even the 2021 COVID-era festivals had 15,000 vaccinated attendees), Farm Aid still feels homegrown and wholesome, differentiating itself from the Coachellas and Lollapaloozas of the world with its emphasis on agriculture, altruism, and nutritious local food.
The all-day, family-friendly affair features big-name performers and unique areas spotlighting farm-fresh food and interactive agricultural activities. Lollapalooza is fun and all, but it doesn’t have agricultural Jenga or temporary veggie tattoo stations.
It’s Indiana’s third time hosting Farm Aid and Noblesville’s second. Located in Hamilton County, Noblesville is just 40 minutes north of Indianapolis. Doors open at noon on September 23, and music and food runs until 11 pm, with a lineup that includes Farm Aid fixtures like Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, and Dave Matthews, plus Lukas Nelson, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Allison Russell, Particle Kid, and more. Additionally, Homegrown Concessions will serve farm-fresh food. (in the past, that’s included roasted Brussels sprouts, tomato sandwiches, and brisket-stuffed sweet potatoes), alongside agricultural “edutainment” at Homegrown Village, like the aforementioned Jenga, plus cooking demonstrations, a mini animal farm, and discussions on seed saving.
3 hours from Chicago.
More things to do in Hamilton County:
Indoors and out, there’s a cornucopia of activities and attractions to explore in Noblesville and the greater Hamilton County, which comprises the far northern exurbs of Indianapolis. This being early fall, it’s prime time for kayak and canoe rentals on the White River, zip-lining through the lush forests at Koteewi Aerial Adventure, and pumpkin-picking at Russell Farms Pumpkin Patch. Stick around a couple weeks and attend the Potter’s Bridge Fall Festival, an annual tradition in Potter’s Bridge Park with kettle corn and folksy music galore.
Shopping and art abound at Historic Noblesville Square, a quaint collective of boutiques, eateries, and festive events. Flanking the historic Hamilton County Courthouse, itself a French Renaissance gem listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Historic Noblesville Square is an idyllic place to shop for antiques at Logan Village Mall or trendy accessories at The Wild Bohemian, or take an art class at Nickel Plate Arts.
To better immerse yourself in the regional scenery, one of the county’s foremost attractions is the Nickel Plate Express, offering scenic train rides with fun family-centric themes like superheroes, wizards, and barbecue.
Where to stay near Hamilton County:
Farm Aid partners with QuintRooms to assist with hotel booking, but it also donates a portion of reservation sales to Farm Aid’s Homegrown Youthmarket. Visit Farm Aid’s page on the Quintbook site to check out area hotels including the Sheraton Indianapolis Hotel at Keystone Crossing, Courtyard by Marriott Indianapolis Fishers, and Drury Inn & Suites Indianapolis Northeast.
For something closer to the venue, Noblesville hotels include budget chains like the Courtyard by Marriott Indianapolis Noblesville and the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Indianapolis NE - Noblesville. The Prairie Guest House, in nearby Fishers, is a particularly bucolic option, while the Ironworks Hotel Indy is a rustic-chic, boutique-style property in the hip Bottleworks District near a slew of restaurants.
Where to eat in Hamilton County:
Seeing as Noblesville and Hamilton County are playing host to a farm festival, it’s no surprise that the area is teeming with locally sourced, homegrown restaurants too. One soulful example is Rosie’s Place, a cute and homey cafe wafting with fresh bread, buttery pastries, and scratch-made dishes like pork tenderloin Benedicts, oatmeal pancakes, blackened salmon BLTs, and turkey artichoke melts. Debbie’s Daughters, another quaint cafe and bakery in Noblesville, features seasonal dishes, sweets, and lattes, like peach crumble muffins, lemonade cookies, pistachio rose cappuccinos, and chimichurri roast beef sandwiches.
With a few locations in the area, the buzzy, Latin-leaning Livery has built a reputation for its empanadas and selection of tequilas—plus yucca fries, potato tarts, and tacos galore—served up in stylish, spirited digs. The Nesst, a new-ish sensation, offers swank steakhouse vibes and hearty eats like fried green tomatoes, stuffed cabbage leaves, veal chops, and filets.
To drink, Primeval Brewery is a downtown Noblesville haunt offering European-style craft beers, with special emphasis on German- and Belgian-style brews. Even oenophiles have something to savor here, with tastings at the pastoral Country Moon Winery, complete with both indoor seating and ample outdoor lawn space.