Wednesday, August 02, 2006


I’ve been a fan of Crosby, Stills & Nash since 1969 when I heard a trio of classmates sing a couple of their songs at a school talent show. I immediately bought two copies of the group’s first album, “Crosby, Stills & Nash”—one for me and one for my best friend, who played acoustic guitar and loved rich harmonic music. While the other high school girls doodled pictures of their favorite football or basketball players on their notebooks, I carried around the lyrics of “Helplessly Hoping” on the outside of my peechee. To me, Crosby, Stills & Nash represented a whole new mature brand of music: intimate lyrics captured by the most beautiful male voices I had ever heard.

Neil Young joined the band the next year for the “Deja Vu” album, but I didn’t really take much notice of him until the late ‘70s when he released his two-disc “best of” compilation, “Decade,” which included songs from his Buffalo Springfield as well as Crazy Horse days. I have loved him ever since.

Tim and I saw Neil Young in concert in 1993, but had never seen Crosby, Stills & Nash play together because the group broke-up shortly after “Deja Vu.” This was one of those legendary rock-and-roll moments that had regretfully passed us by: neither of us saw the Beatles in concert nor had we seen Crosby, Stills & Nash perform.

Then something amazing happened. In 2000, the band—including Neil Young!—announced that they were getting back together and would be playing in Los Angeles as part of the CSNY2K tour! Tim quickly got us tickets through the radio station and we finally, after all those years, got to see our heroes in person. We cried at the end of the concert because we thought we’d never see them again. But then two nights later, Tim wrangled two tickets for a special VH-1 “unplugged” taping somewhere in Hollywood and we got to see them all over again, only this time they were no more than six feet away from us. That night was truly one of the highlights of my adult life.

No wonder, then, that I bugged Tim about getting tickets when I heard that CSNY was coming to the Hollywood Bowl, July 31. The tour, called “Freedom of Speech,” promised to mix their old songs in with cuts from Young’s latest CD “Living With War”—what I affectionately call the “Impeach the President” album, after its most notorious song. Miraculously, Tim was able to use his radio connections to get us a pair of highly coveted box seats, but we couldn’t pick them up until the night of the concert.

The show was supposed to start at 7:30PM, so we left the house three hours early. Normally we would take the bus to the Bowl, but our usual shuttle wasn’t running that night, so we drove instead. With traffic, I figured it would take us an hour to drive to Hollywood. We’d then have an hour to eat and another hour to board and ride the shuttle up the hill to the Bowl.

We arrived at Hollywood-and-Highland right on time—5:30PM—and made our way up to The Grill, an expensive but tasty restaurant in the mall. The hostess eyed my oversized bag stuffed with jackets, blanket, etc. and offered us a “price fixe” boxed-dinners-to-go menu. The cheapest meal was $38 each (yikes!), so we opted to dine in. No sooner were we seated then other concertgoers started to flood into the restaurant—our timing was impeccable.

As predicted, it took us an hour to eat (good food, but very slow service). We got down to the shuttle just as the bus was leaving, so we had to wait for the next one. I began to worry that we were going to miss the first song of the concert. Finally, at 6:50PM, we boarded and started the long crawl up Highland Blvd. The man standing next to us on the bus noted that it would have taken less time to walk and I nervously agreed. By now, I was very concerned about getting to our seats on time.

The Bowl was a mob scene as thousands of baby-boomers tried to file past the ticket-takers. Amidst the madness were tables setup promoting liberal causes, like Amnesty International, Progressive Democrats of America, Planned Parenthood, etc.—all groups that I support and would usually stop to acknowledge, but was impossible in such a huge crush of people. Tim had an email saying his name was on “a list” to get tickets, so we headed over to Will Call, where there was another long line. The friendly couple behind us (our age) said they hadn’t been to the Bowl since 1968. We told them where the restrooms were and how to get back to the shuttle after the concert.

At Will Call we were told that all record company tickets were being held at the “west gate” entrance, so we waded across the masses of people and made our way further up the hill behind the shell of the Bowl. The air is more rarefied here as this is the secret entrance for VIPs and other celebrities. This is also where the performers hang-out until the concert begins and, indeed, we quickly walked by the four million-dollar motor coaches individually housing David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, and Neil Young. A clutch of older (our age) groupies waited patiently outside the barricade to catch a glimpse of their heroes entering the back of the Hollywood Bowl.

With five minutes to go, we found the ticket table, where a disinterested woman on a cellphone pointed us toward the next table over. Tim gave his name and, after a couple of moments, was told there were no tickets waiting for us. He then tried the name of the record label and was told those tickets had already been picked up. Desperate, he left a voice message at the record company and then called his contact at the radio station. Meanwhile, I silently watched as various celebrities raced by on the way to their seats: James Spader (Alan Shore on my favorite TV show “Boston Legal”), Jeffrey Tambor (the father on the now canceled “Arrested Development”), and retired basketball great Bill Walton.

Tim’s radio contact told him that the tickets were supposed to be at Will Call, so we headed back down the hill, weaving among all the high-priced SUVs and convertibles now parked headlight-to-taillight behind the Bowl. The crowd had thinned out considerably, but there was still a long line of Will Call stragglers. We were halfway to the box office when I heard applause coming from inside the theater. CSNY had taken the stage. My concern about missing the opening song had turned into real panic that might not even get into the concert. I began debating with myself whether it was better to buy tickets at the window and watch the concert from the “cheap” ($48!) seats or just go home. I decided to make my decision once we got to Will Call.

At the window, Tim showed his ID once again. I held my breath as the woman took it and left. After what seemed like a lifetime, she returned holding an envelope with Tim’s name scrawled across it. We were in! I strained my ears to hear what the boys were playing—maybe I’d catch at least part of the opening song after all! We then joined the throng slowly moving into the theater and finally charged our way up to the entrance. I forgot all about using the restroom, my usual first stop inside the Bowl. I was now desperate to hear the last notes of the opening song!

Grabbing my hand, Tim pulled me inside the theater. I was literally stunned at how close we were to the stage. I probably would have stood there in a daze for the next three hours except, before I knew it, Tim was following an usher up to our seats. We sat down just as CSNY finished singing “Carry On.” As the audience leapt to its feet, I turned to Tim and whispered “THANK YOU” and started to cry. I couldn’t believe that we were finally there, sitting in the best seats (Garden Terrace) we’ve ever had at the Bowl, listening to one of our favorite rock groups of all time.

Needless to say, the concert was wonderful. Crosby and Nash looked good and sounded especially fine as they harmonized on several songs together. Time has been less kind to the once gorgeous Stephen Stills, nonetheless he managed to bring us to our feet several times throughout the night. The true driving force of the evening, though, was Neil Young who, after all these years, still looks like a big kid enthusiastically playing guitar for the very first time. Never one for subtlety, most of his songs focused on the futility of war, past and present. Jeffrey Tambor (who was sitting two boxes over from us) and I screamed out the lyrics to “Impeach the President,” which were projected at the back of the stage.

The concert ran over the 11PM curfew, so we were cheated out of an encore. But it didn’t seem to matter as everyone left the Bowl on wings. We skipped the shuttle and flew down Highland Blvd. on foot, while I quietly sang, “Helplessly hoping, her harlequin hovered nearby, awaiting a word...” I was fifteen years old once again...


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