Whether an avid fan or a lucky first timer, those who attended this year’s Bridge School Benefit at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountainview, CA, are sure to make it a ritual event. Marking the 25th anniversary this year, Neil Young’s all-acoustic Benefit show was comprised of an all-star lineup: Neil Young, Dave Matthews, Arcade Fire, Foo Fighters, Eddie Vedder, Carlos Santana with Los Invisibles, Beck, Mumford & Sons, Tony Bennett, Devendra Banhart and Norah Jones with The Little Willies. To call it “mind-blowing” is truly an understatement, it was EPIC. For less than $50 you were able to sit on a grassy lawn, open up your picnic basket, sip on your beer, chat with the giddy person sitting next you and watch legendary artists jam with some of the greatest bands of our time; a music lover’s dream come true.
Inspired by their son Ben, Pegi and Neil Young started the Benefit show in 1986 to raise money for their non-profit organization, The Bridge School, whose mission has been to help individuals with severe speech and physical impairments achieve full participation in their communities. Since their first lineup, which included heavy-hitters such as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Nils Lofgren, Don Henley, Tom Petty, Robin Williams, and Bruce Springsteen, nothing has changed but a few new artists each year that are eager to share in this elite experience.
But this year was like no other. Not only did our hearts stop when reading the names on the program, but this phenomenal group of artists gave some of their most memorable performances of recent years, creating an exceptionally emotional and surreal experience for the audience.
Beck took us back to his decade old Album Sea Change, reuniting with the same band that helped him produce the album. Playing hits like “Where it’s at” and “Lost cause”, the acoustic rendition allowed Beck’s distinct and strong voice to shine through, amidst his normal heavy- synthesized production. Harmonizing kings Mumford and Sons followed, playing songs from their insanely popular “Sigh No More” which seems to have been ingrained in everyone’s minds as the sold-out audience sang along to every single song. Merengue ensued as Santana and Los Invisibles took the stage and Bridge School regular, Eddie Vedder, melted hearts with his sultry voice and engrossing presence. The Foo Fighters did not hold back, killing it with a grandiose performance. Like most of the acts, the Foo’s Dave Grohl took a moment to honor Neil Young and personally thanked him for showing musicians that it is possible to be both a rock star and a family man.
And then there was Tony Bennett. At 85, this man’s age has had no effect on his legendary voice. He moved around the stage and belted out classics such as “I got Rhythm” and, the very appropriate, “I left my heart in San Francisco”, leaving everyone cheering for an encore. Bringing another great partnership back to the stage, Dave Mathews and Tim Reynolds played some of our favorites, including “All Along the Watchtower” which was taken to a whole new level of music with the help of Mumford & Sons’ lead singer, Marcus Mumford. Arcade Fire headlined with an amazing set that was no less extravagant with the limitations of pure acoustics. This humble band blew everyone away, proving that some bands sound that much better live. And to end this musical ride, like every year before, was the legendary Neil Young. Having performed throughout the show with most of the acts, Neil took us back with his original classics, even performing a few with his wife Pegi.
Bridge School’s splendor is not only in the impressive group of artists that come to perform, which only a legend like Neil Young could muster, but the motivation behind it all. No matter the year attended, everyone leaves feeling happier and better having been a part of the love that Neil Young brings to the children of Bridge School. As “corny” as it sounds, once you attend the Benefit you’ll have reason to look forward to it year after year.