Neil Young‘s Bridge School Concerts
For thirty years global artists would play an annual concert in California to raise money for pupils with additional needs, although the gigs rarely received nationwide coverage.
The Bridge School Benefit saw acts such as Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen, R.E.M, Elton John, The Who and a whole list of other international artists perform every October at the Shoreline Amphitheatre between 1986 and 2016 with the exception of 1987 and 1988.
You may wonder how someone could put together such a stellar line-up if their surname wasn’t Geldof, but when you discover it was Neil Young and his wife Pegi things start to become clear.
For their first year the couple booked Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Nils Lofgren, Don Henley, Tom Petty, Robin Williams, and Springsteen to play the inaugural gig on October 13, 1986 in Mountain View, California.
Tickets were not only hot property, but extremely expensive. Just the reserved seating brought over a million dollars a year.
Neil himself would perform at every show and often collaborate with other artists for the privileged intimate audience.
For those who couldn’t attend, in other words almost the whole world!, six collections of the concerts were released through iTunes in 2006 and a 25th anniversary edition in October 2011.
On June 14, 2017 Neil and Pegi announced there would be no more Bridge School concerts, the show held in 2016 saw Metallica, Roger Waters, Dave Matthews, My Morning Jacket, Willie Nelson, Norah Jones, Cage the Elephant and Nils Lofgren play the final show.
The cause was very close to Neil’s heart, all three of his children Zeke (from his previous marriage to actress Carrie Snodgrass) and Ben and Amber, who he had with his wife Pegi, were born with various levels of disabilities.
Zeke and Ben had cerebral palsy whilst Amber developed severe epilepsy, although her condition hasn’t held her back perusing an art career in San Francisco.
Pegi sadly died on New Year’s Day 2019, but her memory lives on at Bridge School, which she co-founded in 1986 after the family had difficulty finding a suitable place for Ben to excel in his education.
Her younger brother Paul Morton told an American journalist after her passing: She realized that if the schools weren’t good enough for her son, they couldn’t be good for anybody else.”
The Bridge School is still in operation today, its website has a page dedicated to the concerts, which thousands of disabled children in California owe their early lives to.
[ Neil Young’s first instrument was a cheap plastic ukulele he got as a stocking stuffer for Christmas in 1958. ]