Soaked in Hope:
The Bridge School Benefit
Originally published in The Santa Cruz Sentinel
November 5th 2000
Imagine having something important, if not brilliant to say, but you lacked the physical ability to say it. This was the scenario that two parents (Peggy Young and James Forderer) and one speech pathologist (Dr. Marilyn Buzolich) faced when they formed the Bridge School in 1986. The school helps children with severe speech and physical impairments acquire the skills they need to accomplish their goals.
All this great work requires money. To help out with the finances, Neil Young (husband of school co-founder Peggy Young) throws an incredible, two-day party at the Shoreline Amphitheater.
This collection of friends and supporters is known as the Bridge School Benefit, and this year’s lineup was so good it looked like an Internet prank:
Crosby Stills Nash and Young
Dave Matthews Band
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Red Hot Chili Peppers
And up-and-comers Tenga and Sara.
It is 3:30 p.m. on a rainy Saturday, and I’ve made it to the Shoreline in record time (55 minutes from Soquel to parking my car at the Amphitheater … a minor miracle of sorts).
Waiting in the rain, I’m starting to think that my cheap rain poncho might be the best $2 investment I’ve ever made.
I’m joined by Pete Crooks, a freelance photographer who’s shooting for tompetty.com, and we wait for Kaari to bring us our photo passes.
“OK, here’s the deal,” she says when she arrives. “The Bridge School Benefit is kind of a sit-down event, so you’ll need to shoot from their level. If the audience begins to stand, then you can also stand. Oh, and one more thing … Neil Young doesn’t like to see photographers while he’s onstage, so …”
“Be discreet.” Pete and I both chime in.
Kaari takes us down to the stage, as the rest of the photographers arrive.
Kicking off the evening’s festivities is co-founder Peggy Young. The students of the Bridge School line the back of the stage beneath the school logo, and Peggy introduces Neil.
After a quick song, Canadian twin folk rockers Tenga and Sara take the stage and entertain the audience with their blend of traditional folk and contemporary vocal rhythms.
Completely forgetting that I’m squatting over mud puddles, I put down one knee for balance. How much water can one pant leg absorb? About two cups it seems.
After some traditional sound problems, next up is the Foo Fighters. I am particularly excited about seeing them because I had missed every opportunity over the last three years.
Now’s my chance, and I get to take photos to boot. Dave Grohl’s pop sensibilities are so strong and well-developed it makes one wonder if Nirvana could have been the band they were without him.
Having never heard him play acoustic, I’m wondering if he can pull it off. No problem.
After declaring, “If this were Seattle, it’d be just another beautiful day,” the Foo Fighters dazzle the crowd with “Learning to Fly” and a solo version of “Everlong.”
Ever the shy one, David pauses in the middle of the song to lower his knit hat over his eyes and mumble something about this being a little overwhelming.
The sound system goes on the blink again, so we are all rewarded with a guest appearance by Robin Williams.
The photographers are torn between enjoying his performance (i. e., laughing) and getting some incredible shots.
Squatting over mud puddles, we pull off just enough shots between chuckles so as not to blow the moment for ourselves. Seeing him live, that close-up, it’s obvious why he’s one of the giants of comedy.
Next up is Beck. Back in 1994 with the release of his first major label album, “Mellow Gold,” it was hard to imagine that the man who coined the shuffling, hillbilly rap song, “Loser,” would go on to become such a versatile and talented musician.
Confident yet humble, Beck holds the audience with his polished blend of, uh … you know, Beck music.
Alternating between his “Is that a spaceship in the sky?” and his “Aw shucks, Ah’m just glad you like mah music” facial expressions, Beck finishes off his short but sweet 40-minute set.
After some more sound problems, the Chili Peppers stroll on stage and take their seats on a row of stools.
Dressed more for a walk in the redwoods than for a performance, the Chili Peppers reinforce the unspoken theme of the day: warmth, comfort and dry feet.
Part of the excitement of a Bridge School Concert is the much anticipated “wow” factor. You never know what’s going to happen, and bands have 35 minutes to leave your jaw dropping.
Not to disappoint, the Chili’s play “Under the Bridge,” “Californication” and a wonderful version of “Breaking the Girl,” complete with cowbell accents by singer Anthony.
The Chili Peppers are quite good, but compared to the nuanced professionalism of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, they sound like a garage band (albeit an excellent garage band).
I was never a fan of Tom Petty’s music, but always admired his integrity and skill as a songwriter. Now I can add performer to that list.
Changing seamlessly from thumping rock to sweeping piano ballads, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers create a rich palette of textures that would be hard for any music fan not to appreciate.
My personal favorite is the extended jam in the middle of his top-40 hit, “Breakdown.”
Tom introduces the song, “Won’t Back Down,” with the declaration that he refused to let George W. Bush’s Campaign use it as a theme song. This is greeted with a smattering of boos amid a sea of cheers. About a 20/80 split. Interesting, but predictable.
By now the rain has stopped, the air cools, and a few dry spots to sit down are beginning to emerge.
When you’re hanging around the stage all night, you lose all concept of time. Out of the corner of my eye, I can still see blue skies and sunshine. Unfortunately the “sky” is just blue light reflected on the overhead canopy, and the “sunshine” the giant spotlights that constantly illuminate the stage. It’s 10 p.m., but it feels like four in the afternoon.
Next up is the Dave Matthews band. Halfway through their first song, it’s clear to see why they have such a devout and growing fan base.
In addition to top-notch song writing and excellent musicianship, Dave Matthews projects an infectious vibe that I’m sure could be felt to the last patch of mud in the back.
It’s almost impossible not to smile when watching this band. Blasting through his hits “Crash Into Me,” “Too Much” and “So Much to Say,” Dave maintains a tight-lipped grin, as if he were trying to hold in his laughter at a funeral or wedding. For those prone to inappropriate laughter, you know what I mean.
For the last song, Neil Young joins Dave for a haunting version of “Cortez the Killer,” and we grab our cameras to capture the money shot.
After another little break, Neil Young and band hit the stage. As a casual Neil Young listener, I recognize about half the songs.
For fans in the audience, it is obvious that any set list would have been a greatest hits collection.
Neil Young fans are serious about their music, as I find out when numerous women nudge me aside and tell me to move when I accidentally block their view for a few seconds.
After Neil’s set, actor Woody Harrelson comes out to introduce Crosby, Stills and Nash. They kick off their set with “Our House,” “Helpless” and “Teach Your Children.”
I’m impressed at how good their harmonies still sound. Sure, some of the falsettos are botched a little, but who does a good falsetto in their 50s?
It is now 1 a.m., and my body and mind are fading fast. I am about ready to leave when Pete from tompetty.com tells me I have to stick around for the grand finale.
I’m glad I do. Dave Matthews and Woody Harrelson join the stage and lend their vocals to a rousing version of ” Love the One You’re With.”
The audience leaps from their seats and surges forward to the stage. Knowing full well that this is the last song, with the best lighting and the most stars, I pop off shots like they’re going out of style.
Funny thing, even amid all the chaos of swaying bodies crowded together, I am twice tapped on the shoulder by a petite woman because I’m blocking her view.
With mud-covered shoes and soaking wet clothes I get home at 2:10 a.m. But wait, daylight savings ended 10 minutes ago — it’s really only 1:10 am!
Suddenly I feel so refreshed. Refreshed enough to shoot the Pearl Jam show in three days, but that’s another story.