Addicted To Vinyl Musical thoughts from the open road, with headphones on

5Nov/094

Concert Review: The Bridge School Benefit – 10/24 & 10/25/09

The Bridge School

Today, we're welcoming our good pal Rob Evanoff to the pages of ATV with a review of the recent Bridge School Benefit concerts in San Francisco!

DAY 1 - At this time nearly two weeks ago, I was hurtling my German-engineered sports coupe at triple digit speeds over a 343-mile stretch up I-5 in an effort to immerse myself in an inaugural visit to the world-famous event known as the Bridge School Benefit; an annual weekend of concerts hosted by Neil Young and his wife Pegi. This year marked the 23rd Annual Benefit which has seen the likes of Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Elton John, Brian Wilson, Pearl Jam, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Trent Reznor, Metallica, Thom Yorke and hundreds of others grace its stage; all to support the Bridge School where Neil & Pegi’s son Ben attends.

The drive up I-5 north to Mountain View, CA (45 minutes south of San Francisco) from Los Angeles is a barren one fraught with scores of fields of vineyards of grapes & strawberries matched by large swaths of trees bearing avocados & almonds which are delicious in my belly but desolate before my eyes. Fortunately for me, Matt from ATV had cued up a 45-song playlist of Neil Young and CSNY tracks to accompany these barren miles with a 5-hour jam of Neil at his finest. “Down By the River,” “Cowgirl in the Sand,” Southern Man” and their musical brethren were the perfect road-trip soundtrack.

I don’t take long road trips too often as I prefer to fly but when I do drive, I find the fleeting relationships you build on a two-lane highway intriguing as, over the course of the hours, the cars in the fast lane tend to drive in a pack passing semis together before merging right and then left to pass and then rinse and repeat. These vehicles become your speed-junkie buddies and an instant bond is born. My best bud was a family in a white extended cab Ford F150 who tailed me for the better part of an hour before our paths diverged. I miss ‘em dearly.

Shoreline

A quick pit stop to check in at the hotel where quite a few of the bands were staying and soon I was standing at will call at Shoreline Amphitheater which, coincidentally, I had been to once before in the late 90’s; having flown from Chicago to catch a transcendent Phish concert. Having remembered little about that evening from over 10 years ago, except for the boisterous crowd, the venue looked brand new to me. First up was a side-stage set by ambient Canadian rockers Jets Overhead who played their entire engaging new album No Nations from end to beginning. A cool little twist. The late afternoon crowd enjoyed the harmonizing vocal interplay between lead singers Adam Kittredge and Antonia Freybe-Smith (also husband and wife) as a prelude to the main stage festivities kicking off at 5PM.

I made my way down to row J; center stage. To my left (for a short time) was Devendra Banhart who just released What Will We Be this week. To my right was 7-foot basketball Hall-of-Famer Bill Walton who has been to several of the BSB events and someone I would say “Excuse me” to time and time again upon exiting the row. Pegi Young soon came out to the podium to introduce several dozen children from the Bridge School who would be watching this grand event from the back of the stage, elevated on a platform behind the artists performing. She then introduced her husband Neil who sauntered out to start things off with an acoustic rendition of “Comes a Time”. It should be noted that all artists that perform at the BSB do so acoustically over a 30-35 minute set, though as 45,000 witnessed over the course of two days, that didn’t stop Australian rock act Wolfmother from amping up the energy level to 11.

After “Comes a Time,” Gavin Rossdale and a piano player hit the stage to play covers of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” and Prince’s “Sometimes it Snows in April” as well as a few favorites from the debut record from his band Bush. Next up was the aforementioned Wolfmother who accelerated the crowd’s collective heart rate up as they ripped through tracks from their debut album as well as their recently released opus Cosmic Egg. Singer Andrew Stockdale wailing like an early 70’s Robert Plant surely was heard by more than a few people for the first time though few will forget this band’s viscosity. Highlights were “Woman” and the epic barrage of “The Joker and The Thief”. Multiple broken guitar strings were left dangling off their guitars as a testament to their intensified fret attacks. It was incendiary though I overheard someone quip after their set that they thought they were great but that the kick-drum was too loud. Too loud? At a Neil Young-hosted concert? If only. It’s not possible.

Next up were the Fleet Foxes which I have to admit I had missed the boat on. Well, I’m out at sea swimming to catch up now. Replete with a cathedral-style organ and a mandolin to accompany the three guitars, the Foxes of Fleet and their quadruple harmonies meshed together to form a pristine chapel of elegance that echoed a mini choral choir and a strong similarity to the vocalizing of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. “Blue Ridge Mountains” was a revelation and an appropriate compliment to the setting sun.

Dinner time was soon ending backstage, so I hurried back with a meal ticket to absorb my hunger with a choice between a NY strip-steak and Salmon. I leaned toward beef and soon I was at a table with the members of Jets Overhead enjoying a splendid spread with the Monsters of Folk providing the soundtrack. I augmented my meal with a freshly baked mini pastry rather than a soft-serve cone for dessert though overheard discussion of an impending “Cone-off” challenge between two people, one a long-ago former McDonald’s employee; one a long-ago former Dairy Queen employee. That sight would have indeed been the sprinkle topping on the evening but I didn’t see it materialize.

Jimmy Buffett

The capacity sold-out crowd seemed to now be in place for the remainder of the evening with Sheryl Crow taking the stage covering The Beatles “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love away” before energizing the audience to clap and dance along to her hit “Soak Up the Sun”. Soon thereafter Jimmy Buffett wandered out in his trademark sandals and after a warm-up number launched into The Grateful Dead’s "Scarlet Begonias" as a tribute to the pot-smoking Bay-area crowd which lived up to its presumed stereotype. Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band admirably elevated the mood with their Calypso steel-drum rhythms through a number of songs before the obligatory sing-song of “Margaritaville”. One of the day’s three scheduled intermissions came next; this time to show a brief film about the Bridge School and to remind patrons to purchase raffle tickets to win, among other great prizes, a MacBook and now, an autographed pair of freshly-worn Jimmy Buffett sandals; with all proceeds to go to the Bridge School.

The home stretch of this nine-hour event was upon us as Coldplay singer Chris Martin strolled out to a black piano with a striped stocking hat on his head. Beginning with “Clocks” into “Lost,” a violin player soon emerged for stripped-down versions of “Yellow” and “Viva La Vida” before ending with an audience-enhanced cover of “Earth Angel,” acknowledged as Martin’s favorite song from his favorite film Back to the Future. He proceeded to ask the women in the crowd to sing the high part of the background vocal line and the men to sing the low ‘Bum Da Bum Da Bum’ melody. It worked like a charm and was a little surreal.

Gwen Stefani soon graced the stage in a beautiful black dress singing half of the opening number “Spiderwebs” directly to the Bridge School kids at the back of the stage. It was a tender moment; one that she seemed to be enjoying as much as the kids she was singing to. Her band No Doubt is a tight-knit musical bunch and was in full effect in what was a mini Greatest Hits set featuring “Just a Girl,” “Underneath It All,” “Simple Kind of Life,” “It’s My Life” and “Don’t Speak”.

Sheryl Crow with Neil and Pegi Young

With the midnight hour upon us, host Neil Young came out with his wife Pegi to close out a tremendous first day. Neil played “Sugar Mountain,” “I Am a Child” and “Out on the Weekend” before Sheryl Crow joined him for a few songs including “Harvest Moon”. The chilly evening ended with all the artists from the first day assembling on stage for a reprise of “Comes a Time” which seemed like it had been performed the day before. A monumental day for a fantastic cause was now in the books.

Neil Young

Armed with a fresh Bridge School tee, I retired to the Sheraton hotel bar where Jets Overhead singer Adam Kittredge had joined an impromptu jam session with Neil Young bassist Rick Rosas as they sloshed their way through “Beast of Burden”. A fitting nightcap to this 20-hour day.

Day 2

Bridge Schedule - Day Two!

The time schedule for day two was three hours earlier with the main stage acts starting at 2PM. I drove over to Shoreline once again, though this time following a VIP parking sign that ended in an unscheduled tour of the expanse of the Google corporate campus which anchors one end of the Amphitheater’s grounds. Later in the day, Fleet Foxes’ singer Robin Pecknold (whom are from Seattle) would sardonically quip “So how many Bing users are in the crowd today” which I seemed to be the only one chuckling at.

I arrived in time to catch an early set by L.A.-based Infantree, a promising young band that are an acoustic quartet to begin with so this setting was second nature to them. Meshing three acoustic guitars with a measured interlocking trio of hypnotic vocals, the band’s sound reminds me of Layne Staley/Alice in Chains on their seminal Jar of Flies EP. After their set, I browsed through a tent next to the side stage dubbed the Bridge School museum which housed framed autographed photos of some of the exalted moments etched in time during the previous twenty-two years of Bridge School performances.

The majority of the second day of performances and set lists (and, in fact, my row and my seat) stuck close to those of the first day. Highlights included Wolfmother’s set which somehow eclipsed the intensity of the first day. Perhaps it was because Mr. Neil Young himself looked on during their entire set which included a cover of his “Don’t Let It Bring you Down”. Neil was diggin’ it and at one point during their set, lead singer Andrew Stockdale asked the sound guy “Turn it up! Jesus, I’m playing in front of Neil ‘F’in’ Young! Can you please turn it UP”! Neil personally shook their hands as they left the stage after their riveting ovation-inducing set.

As sacrilegious as it may have been, I spent quite a bit more time in the backstage area during the afternoon, lounging on a black cloth couch watching some of the performances on a large flat panel TV. It also gave me a chance to mingle with the artists that had just played or we’re getting ready to play. This choice ended up giving me the surprise opportunity to meet bassist Jason Newsted (of Metallica fame) who was just hanging out chatting with some friends. This was especially cool since I’ve been a fan of Metallica for 25 years.

Adam Sandler and Neil Young

The only switch-up for Day Two was the addition of Adam Sandler filling in the slot that Jimmy Buffett had occupied after Sheryl Crow’s time slot. Sandler brought the house down with a set that included covers of The Doors “Break On Through” and Led Zeppelin’s “Hey Hey What Can I Do” as well as fan favorites “Lunch Lady” and “The Hanukkah Song”. Adam also did a song about a “7-Foot Man” which, at its conclusion, brought Bill Walton to raise both of his hands high above his head in appreciation. The capper, though, to even this indelible moment (I mean how often is a song about a 7-foot man sung, let alone having a famous 7-foot man in the audience to enthusiastically respond) was when Sandler invited Neil Young to come out to duet on “Powderfinger”. It was classic. I’m sure that this moment in time will find its place in next year’s Bridge School museum.

With the clock ticking towards my planned departure time, I stuck around long enough to sing with Chris Martin on “Earth Angel” once again before bidding adieu to the Bridge School Benefit as a long nighttime trek lay ahead. I powered up with an In N Out burger and motored due south at much the same speed as I had traversed north. Sleep-deprived delirium set in about 1AM as I zigzagged through the winding hills as I closed in on the outskirts of L.A. At times, I felt like I was in a video game, a one-way Le Mans with Zelda as my prize upon my safe arrival home. When I finally arrived at mi casa, I reflected on the immensity of the past 40 hours and how it would soon become a staple memory in the museum of my mind.

I’d like to express my gratitude to Bonnie and Elliot at Vapor Records/Lookout Management for the superb tickets and VIP hook-up throughout the weekend and a big shout-out to Matt at ATV for the I-5 playlist and the space for a personal public record.

Out in the crowd...

About The Bridge School:

The Bridge School is a non-profit organization whose mission is to ensure that individuals with severe speech and physical impairments achieve full participation in their communities through the use of augmentative & alternative means of communication (AAC) and assistive technology (AT) applications and through the development, implementation and dissemination of innovative life-long educational strategies. The Bridge School is an internationally recognized leader in the education of children who use augmentative and alternative communication and has developed unique programs and trained highly skilled professionals in the use of state of the art assistive technology.

Photos courtesy of Rob Evanoff with additional photos from Christopher Victorio, and Wire Image.

  • Matt

    This year's lineup wasn't stellar in comparison to previous years of Bridge, but I still would have really enjoyed this show. Gavin Rossdale performing acoustically though, is something that should never happen.

    It would have been cool to see Adam Sandler performing with Neil. A lot of people aren't aware of how big of a music fan Adam Sandler really is – check out his performance of “Werewolves of London” on the Zevon “Enjoy Every Sandwich” tribute disc for a lovingly dead-on Zevon impression – it kicks ass!

    I would have been all about that ice cream cone backstage. Heck, I'll take ice cream cones any time, anywhere!

    Good stuff!

  • Sam

    After reading this review, I'm bummed that I missed the show. Great detailed review and photos.

  • anniezaleski

    this really, really makes me want to go to this next year!

  • anniezaleski

    this really, really makes me want to go to this next year!