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Bridge School Returns to Shoreline with Axl Rose, Jack White and Crazy Horse

In Music
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Neil Young closes the Bridge School Benefit in 2011. // Photo by Jennifer Anderson.

For more than 25 years now, the annual Bridge School Benefit concert organized by Neil Young and his wife, Pegi, have brought together some of the biggest names and legends of rock & roll at Shoreline Amphitheatre to raise money for the Hillsborough-based organization that helps educate children with severe speech and physical impairments.

Neil and Pegi, co-founded the Bridge School in 1986 after finding limited educational options available at the time for their son Ben, who was born with cerebral palsy. The first benefit concert took place that same year, and now every October, Young puts together a stellar lineup of different bands and artists, which has included everybody from Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam to Elvis Costello, David Bowie and Sonic Youth.

As one of the figureheads for the Bridge School concerts, Young performs every year, generally playing one song to kick off the show before bringing on the other acts and eventually coming out for his headlining slot. The show often ends with a big, all-star jam session will most of the performers from the bill.

This weekend finds Young slated to play with Crazy Horse, with whom he reunited to record and release Americana, a collection of mostly covers, earlier this year, along with the forthcoming album Psychedelic Pill, which is due out at the end of the month. Based on their epic two-and-a-half hour gig at Outside Lands in San Francisco this past August, and the fact that the opening track of the new record supposedly clocks in at 27 minutes and 36 seconds, one could surmise that Young and company will be in a jamming mood this weekend.

Jack White, who also played at this year’s Outside Lands, comes back to the Bay Area in support of his excellent debut solo album, Blunderbuss, a blues- and country-infused collection of songs that mark the first time he has released material under his own name, and not that of the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, the Dead Weather or any of the number of other collaborations and projects he’s worked on over the years.

White is touring with two backing bands this year, one all male and the other all female. It’s unclear if he’ll bring just one band for the two shows, or if the guys will hit the stage on one day and the girls on the other. But that’s what makes the Bridge School Benefit so great—the unpredictable nature of who’s going to sit in with who, what odd cover or rare gem will an artist unearth, or in the case is this year’s lineup, whether the singer of a headliner will show up on time.

The inclusion of Guns N’ Roses on the bill likely came as a surprise to many, especially considering the acoustic slant of the shows, but then again, Ministry played back in 1994, and after taking the stage with acoustic instruments and playing a set of cover tunes, they turned on the distortion and ripped through a couple of songs to end their time slot.

The question on many fans minds will probably be “Which Axl Rose is going to show up?” Will it be the one that led G N’ R to be one of the biggest rock bands of the ‘80s and ‘90s with his fiery stage presence and searing vocals? Or will it be the angry, bloated one who comes on two hours late and gets in fights with fans?

He might have blown off the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and his former band mates, but if recent review are accurate, and Rose and his current group can manage to pull out the stops and tear through some epic versions of “November Rain,” “Don’t Cry,” or “Sweet Child O Mine,” it will be worth it.

Also performing at this weekend’s concerts are the Flaming Lips, Sarah McLachlan, Foster the People, Lucinda Williams, Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, K.D. Lang and Gary Clark Jr.

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