Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bridge School Concert

I’ve been a fan of rock legend Neil Young for more than three decades. I, of course, have always loved Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, arguably the most popular of all the bands he’s played with. But it wasn’t until I heard his solo album Harvest in the late 1970s—many years after it had been released, by the way—that I became a huge fan. I have followed him ever since. We don’t always like all of his music, but Tim and I have seen him perform on stage countless times. Each concert is as youthful and as memorable as the one before, even though Young is now well into his 60s.

An outspoken liberal, Neil lives in northern California on a ranch close to where counter-culture author Ken Kesey once lived. For the past 24 years Neil and his wife Pegi have organized a benefit concert for the Bridge School, which Pegi helped found in the mid-1980s. The concert traditionally attracts megawatt artists, like Bruce Springstein, Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, Sheryl Crowe, Jackson Browne, and The Who. The announcement of each year’s lineup is always highly anticipated. Although I’ve wanted to go forever, the thought of schlepping all the way up to Mountain View for a concert was never appealing. That is, until I opened the newspaper one morning last month and read that Buffalo Springfield, Young’s first band, was reuniting for this year’s Bridge School benefit. We had been wanting to visit Tim’s brother, who lives in Sebastopol, north of San Francisco, anyway, so we bought tickets to the concert and made plans to fly up on Saturday, even though all weather reports were predicting a wet weekend.

We landed in Oakland at 9:15AM. The sky was cloudy but dry. We congratulated ourselves for having such good fortune. By the time we got to Sebastopol, however, the skies had opened up, pouring down rain through the night and into the next day. The concert started at 2PM on Sunday.

We spent the night with friends in Bodega Bay and then left at 10AM to head south to Mountain View, where the outdoor Shoreline Amphitheater is located. The drive was harrowing. I am not the most adventurous driver even in the best of weather, so my brain was on major “red alert.” My biggest fear was crossing the Golden Gate Bridge at the height of the storm; but surprisingly the bridge ended up being the least scary stretch of all, even though (as you can tell from the photo) we could hardly to see the other side!

It took us nearly three hours to drive 100 miles, but when we arrived in Mountain View the sky was only partly cloudy. Could Neil Young possibly control the weather, too? We were ecstatic, though I took my rain parka along just in case. I also convinced Tim to buy a cheesy $5 parka when we were paying for our souvenir t-shirts. And, lucky, too, because about 30 minutes into the concert it started to rain and pretty much didn’t stop till we were back in the car several hours later.

The audience was fairly mixed: some young people, but mostly folks our age or even older. Tim was thrilled when a woman came up to him and said he looked like Mike Love of the Beach Boys, though I didn’t think that was much of a compliment!

The musical lineup was incredible: Kris Kristofferson, actor Jeff Bridges, country legend Ralph Stanley, Elvis Costello, Leon Russell, Elton John, Pearl Jam, and, of course, Neil Young and Buffalo Springfield. Bridges sang a couple of songs from his Oscar-winning movie Crazy Heart, while Stanley treated us to some old-time country standards, which drew a standing ovation. Tim was most moved by Kristofferson who, even though sounded kinda creaky, can still break your heart singing “Me and Bobby McGee.”

With all the rain and marijuana smoke in the air, we pretended we were at Woodstock, though we doubted garlic fries and pulled pork sandwiches were part of that particular outdoor festival!

The Bridge School concert is typically an acoustical event. Still, Elton John and Leon Russell, who just released a joint CD together, managed to rock the theater with their pianos and unplugged band. It was wonderful seeing the white-maned Leon pounding the keyboards after walking on stage using a cane. Elton, too, looked fabulous and sounded as good as the last time I’d seen him playing at his now historic Dodger Stadium concert in 1975. They brought the house down.

Russell and John were followed by Neil Young’s protégés Pearl Jam, whose music we don’t know, though they did open for Neil when he was touring in 1993. We went to that concert, but stood outside the arena until Pearl Jam was done because their music was just too damn loud. Playing acoustical, though, was much easier on the ears—so much so, I might even buy a couple of their songs on iTunes.

After a break, the stage was then set for Buffalo Springfield. We had by now been sitting in the on-again-off-again rain for six hours, but it was well worth the wait. Although the first couple of songs were a bit shaky, Stephen Stills, Richie Furay and Neil Young then launched into their biggest hit, “For What It’s Worth,” and we were suddenly transported back in time. The young woman in front of Tim turned around and asked him if Buffalo Springfield had originated that song. “YES!” he answered incredulously as I joyously sang along with the lyrics.

The set ended with “Bluebird,” another big Buffalo Springfield hit, before Neil, who had briefly played with many of the acts throughout the concert, invited all the performers back on-stage to join him in singing his anthem, “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World!” The audience sang gloriously in unison. It was the perfect ending to an unforgettably phenomenal day. I can’t wait to see who Neil Young plays with next year.

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