Neil Young Jams with Arcade Fire, Mumford & Sons, Beck, Others for Bridge School Benefit

All-star collaborations and acoustic performances mark the school's 25th year

October 23, 2011 2:50 PM ET
Neil Young, Régine Chassagne, Win Butler
Neil Young performs with Régine Chassagne and Win Butler of Arcade Fire at the 25th Annual Bridge School Benefit Concert at Shoreline Amphitheatre on October 22nd, 2011
John Shearer/WireImage

San Francisco's Shoreline Amphitheatre was designed to resemble the Grateful Dead's Steal Your Face logo when viewed from above. On the ground level, however, the venue's concourse actually resembles a bridge, in honor of the Bridge School Benefit, which has taken place there for the past 25 years.

The walls are decorated with framed photographs of historical moments from past editions. After this weekend, the wall is going to need some more space – from Beck sitting in with Eddie Vedder to Neil Young sitting in with pretty much everybody, this year was not without its share of podium-worthy performances. Assisting on covers of his own classics, Young played with Arcade Fire ("Helpless"), Mumford & Sons ("Dance, Dance, Dance") and Beck ("Pocahontas"). (Watch Arcade Fire and Young's duet below.) Dave Matthews also enlisted Young on the campfire standard, "Oh! Susanna."

That wasn't entirely unexpected, of course, given that Young hosts the benefit with his wife Pegi. The couple founded the Bridge School in 1986 for children with severe physical and speech impairments. Also participating in the event was their own son, Ben, who appeared onstage throughout the night on a back riser along with his fellow Bridge students. And while Young was technically the headliner, he also kicked off the musical proceedings appropriately with "I Am a Child," followed by a duet with Pegi on the Youngbloods' "Get Together." "We'll play that song again in seven hours," he said. Spoiler alert: He wasn't kidding.

But while Young's surprises were somehow to be expected, Saturday's edition of the two-day affair offered enough true left-fielders from all the artists to keep the audience perpetually on their toes, if not on their feet, for the entire day. With all the bands required to perform acoustically, some artists – such as Beck – reached into their back catalog to find suitable material while others – like Arcade Fire – opted to change their instruments without changing their tunes. 

An understated starter set by Devendra Banhart fed into Norah Jones showcasing her new project, the Little Willies. "We started out as a Willie Nelson cover band," Jones said about the potentially implicating – and, hence, damaging – title for the group. "But now those guys have to live with the name." They played old-timey music like it was straight out of a modern western.

For Beck's third Bridge School appearance, he revisited his 2002 album, Sea Change, busting out such beloved nuggets as "Golden Age," "Guess I'm Doing Fine" and "Lost Cause." As he told the audience, it was the first time he performed those songs on stage with some of the original musicians in nearly a decade.

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