The middle of October is usually a pretty safe bet for weather in the Bay Area.  The Indian Summer is hanging in and sun shine tends to be the norm.  Neil Young knows the region and he knows his fans.  And since he knows his fans so well, I doubt he was very worried about attendance for this year’s 24th Annual Bridge School Benefit Concert, despite the fact that both Saturday and Sunday were forecasted to have rain.

I looked at the awning covered seats in the front of the giant out-door Shoreline Amphitheatre with little to no envy as I weaved my way through the lawn.  Ah, the lawn people at the Shoreline, I have never known such a fine group of people.  Hanging tough, thousands upon thousands of people were encamped with tarps covering their belongings and adorned in full rain gear.  In many cases that rain gear was nothing more than a black plastic trash bag.

I have been coming to this concert since I was about 11, in 1994 I believe.  It has become a family tradition and my aunt and uncle and cousins were all in attendance.  All said, I think we had a crew of about a dozen.  My dad got there early and laid out plenty of tarp space for all of us and as my bother, my girlfriend, my friend and yours truly rolled in, the music was just starting.  Neil and his wife Peggy were doing some songs and introducing the exceptional children on stage, who the concert is ultimately for.

Of all the concerts in the Bay Area, this one really stands out.  The generosity of all the musicians, the intention of the concert, the school that it benefits and the fans that come out to support it are all truly working toward something greater.  Good fortune and talent should be shared and used for the betterment of people at a disadvantage, and this is a good example of that at work.

As the rain fell periodically throughout the evening and into the night, the crowd was treated to one fine musical act after another.  I felt like this was the best lineup in the past couple of years and each act held my attention.  Neil Young likes to choose new and old acts, mixing nostalgia with up and coming talent to appeal to all crowds and turn people onto new things.  The acts also have to be able to hold their own on the acoustic only stage.  Removing the mask of affect-pedals and synthesizers shows a band’s ability beyond what you may regularly hear.

When Billy Idol came out I was blown away.  The iconic 1980s musician has always stood in my eyes as somewhat of a novelty act and just a recognizable face of an era.  But his performance proved to be one of my favorites of the day.  He possessed an energy and forceful presence that completely answered my question of “why is Billy Idol still so popular?”

He is a timeless musician.  As a Bridge School veteran he was very comfortable on the acoustic stage and was great at engaging the children.  You could see the excitement in their faces as he came up and sang just for them.  It was heart warming.  He ripped through a set of music comprised almost entirely of tunes from his 1970s punk band, Generation X.  He closed his set with Rebel Yell, during which the Giants beat the Phillies to go to the 2010 World Series, the crowd erupted and it was awesome.

I remember the first time I went to Bridge School in the fifth grade I was to say the very lest, ecstatic, to see Pearl Jam.  They were my band at the time.  The early nineties were in full swing and among all the great music that was emerging, Pearl Jam was in my top 3 for sure.

So to see them again this year was great.  Eddie Vedder has an amazing voice and in my opinion is one of the best lyricists of the past 20 years.  Their sound transfers perfectly to the acoustic stage and despite the rain that was falling pretty heavily during their set, I think everyone was warmed by their melting sound.  We also snuck in a few bottles of red wine, so that didn’t hurt matters either.

The video montage of the children of Bridge School was a tear jerker as usual.  It reminds me how lucky I am to have full and uninhibited use of my body, a treasure that is greater than anything else.  These brave kids and their fantastic teachers work so hard to live life and it is truly humbling.  It gets me every time.

The night usually wraps up with Neil Young doing his solo thing.  And while I love Neil Young, his lula-bye voice is a little slow for midnight when you need something to pick you up before heading home.  This year was different.  This year he was joined by members of his original band, Buffalo Springfield to close the night out with a rocking set of music that hasn’t been performed for a long time.  The last time they were on stage together was in 1968.

Stephen Stills and Richie Furay joined old Neil, along with some accompanying musicians and treated the audience to some very old classics.  So old, I couldn’t personally tell you the names of the songs without looking them up.  But boy oh boy, my dad was on the spot to inform us youngsters of the entire history.

The night really closed with everyone coming back out on stage and doing a big, group rendition of Neil Young’s “Keep on Rocking the Free World.”

The powerful lyrics were shared back and forth between Eddie Vedder and Neil and it brought the house down.  Two musicians who have forged a bond over the years singing away and telling the people how it is.

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