Some events remain forever moments ago in your mind. I won the luck of the draw and was borne into the grey area that lives on the fringe of live entertainment. From earliest childhood, performers were dinner guests in my families home. As the tag-along-middle-child, I found myself wandering through the homes of many of the high powered promoters that lived in the DC area, while my parents attended parties and functions.
To the rest of the world, these “red carpet” types moved through life in aura of mystery and intrigue. To me, Booke Johns was just the cranky guy that sat on the porch singing some mishmash of country and blue grass. Mitzi Gaynor was just that woman that wore too much make up and perfume so strong it lingered on your skin for three days after her hug. Kenny and Karen Feld were just two other kids that had more than all my neighborhood friends combined. They were just people. I never learned the pedestal placement psychology.
With that little bit of background, I wanted to share the most poignant of moments I have experienced related to music. It was in 1993 or so. A friend of mine at Warner Brothers asked me if I wanted to go see Neil Young do an aucustic set. He was prepping for a “MTV Unplugged” appearance and concert tour promoting his recent album.
Now, I had seen Neil with and without Crazy Horse. I had seen Neil with Crosby, Stills and Nash. I had never seen Neil stripped of electricity. His catalogue of work wove a wonderful tapesty of our society. In some ways, we had grown up together. He had moved cat-like from one genre to the next leaving soundbites of love, anger and angst along the way. The label rep told me that this was his adult coming out party. I accepted the invite.
So a few nights later, I joined about 1,500 of my closest friends (I really didn’t know many more that 10-15 of the people in the crowd). We sat in a small amphitheater suffering through a local warm up band. Their set was mercifully short and many in attendance were caught standing next to beer vendors when the lights dimmed.
It was about that time, I realized that the summer had come to an end and the evening carried the chill of the coming fall. It was one of those “perfect” nights. The air still, the soft sound of crickets seeking companionship, and tempatures cool enough to remove the stuffy feeling that comes from concert seating mid-summer.
Without any fanfare, the gentle darkness of the stage was violated by a solitary spotlight. The focus was a single stool center stage. The rolling mumor of the crowd began to increase to an almost coherent level when a silouette appeared to our left and moved towards the stool.
The crowd rose to their feet (The first of many times that evening) and applause rocked the night. Neil Young, on stage, alone with a guitar and microphone sparked a sense of anticipation that was palpable in the crowd. He picked up the guitar, sat on the stool, turned his angular face to the masses and opened the show…..
Now, I can only share that in that opening song Neil Young completed the circle that had begun with the album “Harvest”. The lyrics poignantly shared the perspective of a man that has been down many roads to discover they have all led to the simple truth about life.
Life is best endured when shared with one you love. Harvest was filled with the promise that the singer would soon be a man. His hand out, he beckoned to the object of his affection…
“Dream up, dream up, let me fill your cup with the promise of a man”.
In the autumn of his years, he plaintively shared the fulfillment of that promise. Those of us that had been along for the ride welcomed his invitation to “dance again”.
As the song faded, the entire audience rose to their feet quietly. Then, like a gentle incoming wave, applause began. It reached quite a crescendo. A standing ovation after but one song reached out and wrapped Neil with the knowledge that once again he had stripped emotion bare and caressed the raw nerves of all that would listen.
We settled down and enjoyed well over an hour of Neil unplugged. His songs continued to bring us to our feet in appreciation. Then as gently as it began…….it ended with a nod and a silouette walking off stage.
As I was leaving the venue, arm in arm with my wife, we looked above the treeline and enjoyed the harvest moon rising. Now, every fall, we have the opportunity to slip into the backyard, pop in the cd and dance once again beneath that “Harvest Moon”.