By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Oct 03, 2010 at 5:18 AM

The much-discussed Farm Aid 25 finally came alive Saturday at Miller Park.

It took Farm Aid a while to make it to Milwaukee so maybe we should have expected that it would take Milwaukee a while to make it through the gates and into Farm Aid.

Anyway, at a show this big you've got to pick your favorites and make a strategic strike, unless you have the luxury of spending 10 or so hours at a concert.

Alas, like many others, I don't, so I focused on some acts I really wanted to see -- Band of Horses and Wilco's Jeff Tweedy topped that list -- and managed to (entirely accidentally) time it so that I got to my seat perhaps 60 seconds before South Carolina-based Band of Horses started at 3:15 p.m.

At that point it seemed as if more Farm Aid ticket holders were still drinking, tailgating, hanging and arriving in the parking lots than were in their seats.

Inside Miller Park, the crowd was respectable but sparse.

Certainly a lot of folks were doing like me and picking their battles. As one fellow scribe noted, the big names wouldn't really start until Jason Mraz. He was scheduled to take the stage around 5 p.m., which, not coincidentally, was when the TV broadcast was slated to start.

As Mraz neared the end of his set, around 5:15, the stands and outfield finally did appear to fill in. The infield was cordoned off and was a seat-less no-go zone.

But that means that many of the fans missed not only hometown boys the BoDeans, but also The Blackwood Quartet gospel singers, Robert Francis, Randy Rogers, Amos Lee, Jamey Johnson and Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real, which was introduced after Band of Horses' set by Nelson's dad Willie.

If fans were smart, they didn't miss Band of Horses, whose 20-minute set of roots-inflected alt.countryish guitar rock had just enough edge to set it apart from the others playing during daylight.

And Tweedy, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar and sometimes harmonica, played the most emotive and engaging set up to that point.

Certainly the musical lineup at Farm Aid was quirky, mixing the so-called big-name "board artists" -- Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young and Dave Matthews -- with roots rockers, singer/songwriters, a gospel vocal group, jazz-tinged singers and more.

There were enough musical commonalities tying them all together, however, that the resulting show managed to feel pretty unified. That's no small feat for a bill that includes, for example, both Norah Jones and Kenny Chesney (and they played back to back).

Add in Nelson's penchant for popping onstage to duet with his fellow performers (Nelson, himself, was joined by Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, who was in town as part of the "American Idol" judging this weekend), and it all fits together even better.

Exactly a week ago I was a few dozen yards from here, in the stands watching the Brewers play their penultimate home game of the season.

So, it felt a little weird to see messages like "learn more about farmers and your food" on the flashing wraparound sign boards that usually carry ads for McDonalds and other big-name advertisers.

And I couldn't stop wondering, if a band played a really amazing set would fireworks go off as Bernie slides down from the chalet? (When there was no sign of him at the end of Tweedy's set, I gave up wondering.)

Would there be sausage races between Chesney and Dave Matthews?

But in all seriousness, while Farm Aid takes the music seriously it refuses to let its mission -- helping independent farmers -- take a back seat.

The high profile Homegrown Village saw a steady flow of concertgoers and had information on composting, the Good Food Movement, Growing Power, family farms and more.

The concessions featured local foods sourced from area family farms, too.

There were big musical stars here at Farm Aid but they and event organizers never let the crowd forget that the real stars are the farmers and the fans who support the cause.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.