Bridge School Benefit
Mountain View, California
October 21st & 22nd, 2006
For twenty years, Neil Young and his wife Pegi's annual Bridge School acoustic concerts have created a unique musical space – one where artists from Metallica to Sonic Youth have found the soft side of even the heaviest music. This anniversary year was no exception, with an unplugged Trent Reznor jamming with a string quartet, along with similar performances from Foo Fighters and Pearl Jam.
Nine acts, including Dave Matthews Band, Brian Wilson and Death Cab for Cutie, teamed up for the two-day event, held at the 22,000-capacity Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California – raising $1.4 million for the school Pegi co-founded in 1985 in nearby Hillsborough, California, to educate their son (who has cerebral palsy) and other children with severe physical and speech impairments. On November 14th, iTunes will release a trove of previous Bridge School performances, with tracks from more than fifty participants, including Bruce Springsteen, Green Day and Thom Yorke. "These events bridge my worlds of music and disability," Pegi Young says. "I feel very humbled by the company I keep."
As is customary, this year's concerts began and ended with Young, who often joined and considerably elevated his guest musicians. Death Cab for Cutie was tuneful but timid until Young, Gillian Welch and partner David Rawlings joined the quartet for a timely rendition of Graham Nash's "Military Madness." Evening sets by Pearl Jam and Dave Matthews Band similarly shifted out of the ordinary when Young dropped in for "Throw Your Hatred Down" and Down by the River," respectively. The Foo Fighters and the ten-member band behind Brian Wilson didn't need Young's help to orchestrate full-sounding and heartfelt renditions of Foo and Beach Boys hits, although Young sat in with Wilson during "Good Vibrations" and "Barbara Ann."
First appearing with his wife and then with the Prairie Wind Band, Young mixed gentle standbys like "Old Man" with his recent, mournful "After the Garden." A newly bearded Trent Reznor contributed the day's most singular peaks with hushed-yet-volatile string-quartet and keyboard arrangements of Nine Inch Nails classics like "Something I Can Never Have" and "Hurt." A unique aspect of these concerts is that Bridge School students, parents and alumni sit on the stage right behind the performers – who are clearly humbled by the arrangement. "You're surrounded by so much love, and you focus only on love," Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl says. "This is between Neil and his son."
This story is from the November 16th, 2006 issue of Rolling Stone.