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Honoree Neil Young fails to perform at music biz charity event

By Dean Goodman
January 30, 2010

Ever the “fierce independent” and “iconoclast” — two phrases showered on honoree Neil Young at the music industry’s annual Grammy charity bash on Friday — the grizzled rocker failed to perform for the black-tie crowd who had turned out to salute him. 

USA/Organizers said it was only the third time in the 20-year history of the MusiCares dinner that an honoree had not sung, after Billy Joel in 2002 and Luciano Pavarotti in 1998. Young’s publicist did not return a call seeking comment. Young was never billed as a performer, but disappointed guests assumed the tireless road warrior might dust off a few ditties.

The MusiCares event raises funds for musicians with medical and financial problems. It takes place two days before the Grammys, so an A-list crowd is always in attendance. Young, accompanied by his wife Pegi, was honored for his annual all-star concerts in Northern California for the Bridge School, an institution that helps disabled children.

mellenPlenty of big stars took to the stage at the cavernous Los Angeles Convention Center to hail the Canadian rocker, most of them turning in earnest versions of folkie songs such as “Down by the River” (John Mellencamp, pictured in the middle, at left), “Tell Me Why” (Norah Jones) and “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” (Jackson Browne), and “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” (Lady Antebellum). Josh Groban inadvertently set off an exodus to the bathrooms with his performance of the ballad “Harvest Moon,” but Wilco enlivened proceedings with an epic “Broken Arrow.” 

They steered clear of Young’s challenging ’80s material, nothing from the experimental fare of his vocoder-fueled 1981 opus “Trans” or from his 1985 country outing “Old Ways.” An examination of his political fare was limited to “Ohio” by Ben Harper. No one dared touch his recent protest song “Let’s Impeach the President.” Dave Matthews ventured to the dark side with the junkie ballad “The Needle and the Damage Done,” an ideal tune for the event. 

Comments from the stage were few and far between. Elton John — who did “Helpless” with Sheryl Crow, said Young was his “hero … He came up and played his new album for me in 1971, in London, in my apartment, and the neighbors complained at three o’clock in the morning.”

stillsYoung’s old bandmate, David Crosby, of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, added: “We made some of the best music of our lives with you, man.” CS&N covered “Human Highway,” and Stills teamed with Crow for “Long May You Run.” (Nash and Stills are pictured at left)

Young did get up from his table at the end to thank everyone, and to reveal that he was four or five songs into a new album.  “I won’t stop and I hope to be able to continue for a really long time,” he said.

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