RICHLAND — Rain is sometimes a good thing for farmers. According to Lori Stafford, rain makes the corn, which makes the whiskey, which makes "my baby feel a little frisky.”
At least that’s how she rehearses the Luke Bryan tune standing in a 40-acre Kalamazoo County hayfield, the sun dodging scattered clouds.
As someone who’s not used to the publicity, the Richland farmer’s world is soon to be broadcast to roughly 20,000 corn-n-whiskey-lovin’ fans of country music star Luke Bryan, whose 11th annual Farm Tour includes a Sept. 27 stop at Stafford Farms.
A series of concerts in rural areas, Bryan’s Farm Tour is the singer’s way of giving back to farmers, the people he said “never ever get rattled” despite “uphill battle(s).”
The “Country Girl, Shake it For Me” star is headlining the sold-out show, and it’s got Lori already singing “Rain is a Good Thing.”
“I am a Luke Bryan fan,” said Lori, who raises corn, soybeans, wheat, hay and beef cattle with her husband, W.J. “I think it’s great he’s got some farming background — obviously that’s near and dear to our hearts. And he’s a great singer, a great performer.
“What’s not to like about Luke Bryan?”
According to Rolling Stone, the Farm Tour began in 2009 as “a way to raise money and awareness for farmers and farm towns.” Bryan’s connection with farming started as a child, when his father grew peanuts in Georgia, according to a 2014 cmt.com article.
Fast forward to 2019 and Bryan, now 43, is an award-winning singer and songwriter with dozens of No. 1 singles.
“I would either be working at my dad’s fertilizer/peanut company, or I would probably be in some kind of real estate stuff with my brother-in-law,” Bryan told CMT. “Probably, I would have been driving a tractor hauling peanuts, breathing a lot of peanut dust, so I’m glad I’m singing.”
Stafford said the concert isn’t about her family, and it isn’t about Luke Bryan.
Instead, she said it’s about the thousands of Michigan farmers struggling with delayed planting and harvest, depressed commodities prices and international tariff spats, and the community of Richland.
The Staffords expect their own 2019 harvest to be delayed several weeks because of poor weather and conditions.
“Why not do this concert for the community, for Michigan, for farmers, for fun?” Lori said. “I think it’s awesome that Luke Bryan showcases farming. It’s not an easy profession… Certainly, this year has been a challenge for a lot of farmers, and the fact that he goes around the country and highlights some of those farmers who are working the fields and doing what they can, I think it’s an awesome opportunity to be a part of.”
ANSWERING THE CALL
Richland is home to one traffic light, one grocery store and fewer than 1,000 residents. A Farm Tour scout contacted Stafford Farms in November of last year looking for a farmer in the area to host a show.
“They wanted to talk to me,” she said, “so I returned the call, and that’s how it all started. We’re very honored he’s going to be at our farm.”
According to Lori, the Staffords chose Bob and Kay Willmarth’s land, which the family rents, to host the concert.
Bryan’s upcoming performance is even drumming up excitement from Staffords’ neighbors at Gull Meadow Farms LLC. There, one-half mile from Stafford Farms, Justin Wendzel designed a six-acre corn maze in the likeness of Bryan strumming his guitar, a bent-bill cap covering the Farm Tour star’s eyes.
“I’m excited about this event, and I’m excited it’s happening in Richland,” said Wendzel, farm manager of Gull Meadow Farms. “It puts us on a map. This is big that a big name is supporting agriculture.”
Similarly, Lori said the buzz in town is equal parts shock and awe: “We can’t believe he is coming to Richland — it’s so tiny.
“It’s been extremely positive all the way around, even from a Kalamazoo County perspective.”
As part of a social media campaign, concert sponsor Bayer AG is using the hashtag #HeresToTheFarmer toward donating meals through Feeding America, and some of the event’s proceeds will go toward scholarships for college students with agricultural backgrounds.
Gates open at 5 p.m. on Sept. 27, with performances beginning at 6 p.m. Food and beverages (yes, beer) will be available to purchase during the event.