Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Willie Nelson Unite for Autism Benefit - Rolling Stone
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Neil Young, Stephen Stills and Willie Nelson Unite for Los Angeles Autism Benefit

‘Light Up the Blues VI — Concert to Benefit Autism Speaks’ will take place May 30th at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles

Light Up The Blues neil young stephen stills

Chuck Saftler

Stephen Stills and his wife Kristen are bringing their long-running autism benefit show Light Up the Blues to L.A.’s Greek Theater on May 30th with a bill that includes Neil Young, Willie Nelson, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Lucius and Fantastic Negrito — along with Stills himself and his sons Oliver Stills and Chris Stills.

Long-time Light Up the Blues friend Jack Black will be returning once again to serve as the emcee of the evening. Tickets go on sale Friday February 14th at 10:00 am PST.

The Stills’ (whose adult son Henry is on the autism spectrum) staged the first Light Up the Blues show in 2013 at the Club Nokia in Los Angeles to raise funds for Autism Speaks. Over the years, it grew to progressively larger venues like the Theater at the Ace Hotel, the Pantages Theater and the Dolby Theater. Along the way, everyone from Burt Bacharach to Beck, Lucinda Williams and Crosby, Stills and Nash have performed.

The 5,870-seat Greek Theater is the biggest place they’ve ever held it. “It’s a logical progression for us,” Stephen tells Rolling Stone. “They welcomed us with open arms. And if you go any bigger than it, it becomes a zoo. Neil [Young] warned me, ‘Go too big and suddenly it turns into a thing that eats up half your year.'”

The last Light Up the Blues took place April 21st, 2018 at the Dolby Theater. It’s such an enormous undertaking that the Stills family now book one every other year. “We had to move out of our house for about a year to get some work done,” Kristen says. “We knew that would be a good year not to plan a concert. But then Neil stopped by a year ago and said, ‘Let’s do it in 2020.’ That’s where it started.”

Stephen remembers the moment well. “He just came roaring in one day,” he says. “He said, ‘You’re going to do it and I’m going to be there. If you need anything, just call.’ Of course, it’s like trying to call Howard Hughes. But he’s always there for me. God bless him.”

Young also helped make arrangements for Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real to serve as the house band for the evening, although bassist Kevin McCormick will be helping out where needed. The other acts, Lucius and Fantastic Negrito, were selected by the Stills. “We didn’t go to a Top 40 chart to pick them,” Kristen says. “We are very much about vibe. And a couple of years ago, someone sent me a link to a song by Fantastic Negrito and I had a very strong reaction to it. It’s very hard this day and age of music to have a kick in the gut about something, but it really moved me.”

She came across Lucius when she saw the indie pop band back Brandi Carlile at a special show honoring the Joni Mitchell classic Blue at L.A.’s Disney Hall last October. “It was the first time I saw them perform and I was just blown away,” she says. “Immediately I thought I had to get them. I reached out to and Brandi’s wife [Catherine Shepherd] and she got me their contact info.”

Bringing in Jack Black required less thought. He’s been involved in every Light Up the Blues since the original. “I can’t imagine doing it without him,” Stephen says. “He’s the perfect mix of four or five different great hosts. He’s so irreverent and he and my son always get together and think of something really outlandish to do and hopefully I’ll get included in one of those this time. He’s just got this aplomb.”

Details are still being worked out, but three different artists on the autism spectrum will also perform at the show. The only one confirmed at the moment is Will Breman from The Voice. “We want these three talented, musically gifted people performing alongside some of the greats that people know and recognize,” Kristen says. “Whatever their challenges are, music is in their heart and soul. It’s at the center of what they do.”

The show will mark the first time Stills and Young performance at the Greek Theater since Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young played a seven-night stand there in August 1969, just about a week after Woodstock. “I wish I had that body [I had back then],” Stephen says with laugh. “I had a 28-inch waist and nothing hurt.”

The long-time friends haven’t had many opportunities to perform together since the brief Buffalo Springfield reunion tour ended in 2011, making their Light Up the Blues appearances extra special to fans. “When we play together it’s all guesswork and an accident,” Stephen says. “We just know each other so well, but I’m glad it’s taking on mythical proportions because the myth has always been more interesting than the truth.”

This will be the first Light Up the Blues since the sudden death of Elliot Roberts last year. He managed both Stills and Young and helped get the show off the ground. They are going to dedicate the evening to his honor. And as always, the proceeds will benefit Autism Speaks.

“We raise money for them in such a way that it’s unrestricted dollars for them to use as they see fit,” Kristen says. “We have all the confidence in the world that it’s going to be tied to the programs and the research and the clients, legislation, advocacy and services that they determine need the most attention. We have the utmost faith in them.”

The show will also mark Stills’ first public performance in more than a year. He’s been taking it easy since the end of his 2018 co-headlining tour with Judy Collins and has no firm plans to tour any time soon. “I’m tired of touring,” he says. “But if it can be in limited and quality, I’ll do it.”

Kristen says they do have some thoughts about how to get him back on the road. “Let’s just say there are some things on the horizon that are going to be very curated,” she says. “In other words, he’s going to pick things very wisely he wants to do. It won’t be your typical tour.”

“In other words,” Stephen says, “that means I’m going to give it heavy thought.”

He also says he’s been “kicking a few things around” for a possible new album and been “pecking away” at his long-awaited memoir. “The trouble is the second I sit down to write one story, that feeds another one,” he says. “I’m going to eventually hand some editor two and a half feet of printouts and say, ‘Go to it.’ They’re going to have a heart attack.”

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