The Bridge School Benefit: 25 Years Of Goodness
Twenty-seven years ago, Pegi Young was having a conversation with her husband Neil Young. They were talking about their son, Ben. Pegi told Neil they should start a school for Ben and kids like him. Ben, who is now 32, has developmental disabilities. Pegi suggested they could get money to start the school by having a benefit concert, where Neil recruited his rock star friends to perform at the concert—Bruce Springsteen being the first.
The concert was put on two years later and The Bridge School Benefit was born. So was The Bridge School, a non-profit organization whose mission has been to help individuals with severe speech and physical impairments achieve full participation in their communities. Sunday night at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, Calif., Neil Young told that story during the 25th Bridge School Benefit, where he was joined by Eddie Vedder, Dave Mathews, Arcade Fire, and Pegi as the weekend came to a close.
Beck played early in the day with a set that began with highlights from his decade-old album Sea Change—including some of the same artists who accompanied him of the production of Sea Change. His last song, “Where It’s At,” stuck to the benefit’s acoustic rules, but still rocked with the audience helping out on backup vocals. Mumford and Sons followed, proving to be a highlight of the event. The English rockers put out an outstanding album last year and perform it even better live, including songs such as “Sigh No More,” “Roll Away Your Stone,” “The Cave” and “Dance, Dance, Dance” performed with Neil Young.
Los Invisibles, a Carlos Santana project, followed with a combination of quiet jazz instrumentation, salsa rhythms, and Latin melodies. Santana took a moment in between songs to thank Pegi and Neil Young for having him, and called them, “architects of compassion.” Dave Matthews came onstage to sing “Love of My Life” from Santana’s chart topping album Supernatural. Eddie Vedder, a Bridge School Benefit regular, turned his set into a collaboration, sharing the stage with Jerry Hannan. Regine Chassagne, Beck, and Young. Vedder joked that he “fucked up” one of Young’s songs the night before, and he told him after his set on Saturday, “You should have invited me out there to sing it with you. We could have fucked it up together.”
By the time darkness fell over The Shoreline, The Foo Fighters took the stage. The highlight of their set was when Dave Grohl spoke of being invited to The Bridge School Benefit early in his career. Grohl recounted how at one point in his life he couldn’t imagine being a family man and a rock star. He thought you had to be one or the other. Then he met Neil Young and his family, and realized it could be done. Needless to say, Grohl is now married with children, and yes, still a rock star.
Another highlight of the night was the incomparable Mr. Tony Bennett. At age 85, he jogged on stage, belting out notes that made the crowd’s eyes wide, and had the crowd screaming at the end of his set, “one more song.” Bennett sang an emotional “Maybe This Time,” a swinging “I Got Rhythm,” and a Bay-based-crowd pleasing, “I left My Heart in San Francisco.”
After Dave Matthews performed with long time accomplice Tim Reynolds, before the Arcade Fire took to the stage. Lead singer, Win Butler, was clearly moved and honored to be invited to the event. He even appeared somewhat overwhelmed to be there. But emotions did not stop him or the band of eight getting the crowd up and moving as the night grew darker and cooler. One of their numbers was Young’s “Helpless,” played along side Young himself.
And this brings us back to Mr. Young—the “architect of compassion,” the orchestrator of artist collaboration and the father of Ben Young—the founding student of The Bridge School. Young expressed his gratitude and love for his son during his final set before he sang the finale with his wife and fellow musicians. The Bridge School Benefit would be a delight in-and-of itself, as a for-profit fall tour. But then again, if that were the case an event like this would never happen. The Bridge School Benefit, 25 years later, still shows that there’s magic in people doing good for goodness sake.