Intimate nights at Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit

One of my favourite annual events and something I anticipate months before is Neil Young’s annual Bridge School benefit concert. I’ve been going to Bridge School since 1996 when I went to see Pearl Jam perform acoustically at the beautiful Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountainview, California. Neil and his wife Pegi have been organizing these annual two day shows since 1986 to raise money for the Bridge School, a place dedicated to providing specialized education for children afflicted with severe speech and physical impairments. The musicians who Neil and Pegi select each year make this weekend a very special one that is always very serene and focused on a cause they have poured so much love into. The live performances span a range of musical genres and there are often collaborations between artists that you would never see anywhere else. This year Arcade Fire sang with Neil Young, and My Morning Jacket covered Neil Young’s beautiful Harvest Moon with Neil and Jim James alternating vocals.

 

Each performer likes to bring something unique and original to their Bridge performances, which are usually played acoustically or in an acoustic arrangement. This year’s performance saw Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme singing a very sexy stripped down version of their new song Kalopsia. With so many great musicians lined up, and in a great spirits, there is often greater admiration between the artists themselves and new friendships forged. Backstage this year I witnessed Stephen Stills become a serious fan of Queens of the Stone Age as he watched them on stage. I recall Stephen hustling his way side stage on night two to catch their second set and saying to his band mate Graham Nash “I love these guys.”

 

 

Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age classing things up at Bridge

Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age classing things up at Bridge

 

During some downtime backstage I played a couple epic ping pong games with Win Butler of Arcade Fire, whose skills on the table are equal only to that of his vocal prowess. Win did beat me in a close match, but I was slightly intimidated by my opponent and his 6’7”stature, not to mention I was playing against the lead singer of an incredibly talented band!
 

Arcade Fire's Win Butler & TSL after a Ping Pong battle backstage

Arcade Fire’s Win Butler & TSL after a Ping Pong battle backstage

 

Some other highlights from backstage included a lengthy conversation with David Crosby about marijuana and how he stopped smoking because it stopped working for him. He told me a funny anecdote about his heavy pot smoking days when he would smoke and come up with great ideas but always forget them until his friend and peer Joni Mitchell told him to get a pen and a notebook because ‘if you don’t write it down, it never happened.’

 

David Crosby & Graham Nash pose backstage with TSL

David Crosby & Graham Nash pose backstage with TSL

 

Stephen Stills & Elvis Costello

Stephen Stills & Elvis Costello

 

Heart pose backstage with TSL

Heart pose backstage with TSL

 

Jack Johnson autographs and draws a wave on a beautiful guitar for TSL

Jack Johnson autographs and draws a wave on a beautiful guitar for TSL

 

Actor Tim Robbins & Bass player Les Claypool hanging out backstage

Actor Tim Robbins & Bass player Les Claypool hanging out backstage

The final highlight for me came on the second night when the enigmatic and beloved artist Tom Waits performed his one night only set to a worshiping audience, including all the musicians standing side stage eager to take in the rare performance. After Waits set, he walked straight off stage with security guards in tow, led directly to his waiting vehicle outside. Just before Waits drove off in the night, he was surrounded by fellow musicians from Elvis Costello to Graham Nash who wanted a chance to greet him. I managed to say hello to Waits who obliged me with a photo request, something he typically shies away from. This meeting was my send off as the night ended with an all-star jam featuring almost all of the musicians on the two day lineup singing the CSNY classic “Teach Your Children”.

 

The elusive & mysterious Tom Waits backstage with TSL

The elusive & mysterious Tom Waits backstage with TSL

 

CSNY perform for the intimate audience at Bridge School

CSNY perform for the intimate audience at Bridge School