There was hardly a dry eye in the house Saturday night at the 14th annual Bridge School Benefit concert.
During emotionally charged, subdued performances by everyone from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Beck, the Dave Matthews Band and organizer Neil Young, you could literally see the waterworks flowing down fans’ faces.
Of course, the cold, driving rain that pelted them for more than five of the concert’s eight hours might also have had something to do with it.
Despite a miserable storm that turned the lawn section into a Woodstock-worthy mud slick, 22,000 attendees huddled beneath tarps, garbage bags, yellow rain suits and cardboard boxes as an all-star cast of musicians took the stage to play acoustic sets in the first of two sold-out weekend performances. The concert, to raise funds for the school for physically disabled children co-founded by Young and his wife, Pegi, in 1987, has become an annual rite of passage for San Francisco Bay Area concertgoers.
This year didn’t disappoint, with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers playing a raucous set of blues standards and hits and the Chili Peppers pulling out two surprise covers, one from their ’80s punk heroes the Circle Jerks, the other from sensitive ’70s singer/songwriter Cat Stevens.
Although the show featured few of the surprise collaborations that typically mark the event, it was a soaring duet between the Dave Matthews Band and Young on the host’s epic “Cortez the Killer” that provided the evening’s musical high point.
Young opened the show with a short solo set, which included his ballad “Long May You Run,” followed by first-time Bridge performers the Foo Fighters.
The Dave Matthews Band seemed equally at home with the format, playing a set that relied heavily on their jazzy rock dynamics on songs such as “Best of What’s Around” and the funky “Too Much.” With the rain finally slowing to a fine mist, Young ambled out onto the stage to join Matthews
for a nearly 15-minute version of Young’s epic “Cortez the Killer.”
Matthews beamed at Young as the elder rock statesman stomped his way through several ringing guitar solos, trading riffs with violinist Boyd Tinsley and saxophone player LeRoi Moore as the jam band added its signature touch to the tune.
Young’s set — during which he was joined by an all-star session band and wife Pegi and sister Astrid on backing vocals — was built almost entirely on mournful, reflective ballads. With a world-weariness entering his voice, Young played songs from throughout his 30-year career, juxtaposing oldies such as “Old Man” and a ragtime-y “Tonight’s the Night” with a haunting version of “Razor Love,” from his recent album, Silver & Gold.
The evening ended with a long-awaited Bridge School reunion of folk icons Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. The quartet played melancholy versions of such chestnuts as “Helplessly Hoping,” “Our House” and “Teach Your Children,”
concluding the set with an all-star sing-along on “Love the One You’re With,” featuring Matthews, actor Woody Harrelson and Chili Peppers bassist Flea.