Neil Young sat in the audience as 20 of his best known songs were performed on stage.
Elton John, James Taylor, Dave Matthews and more than a dozen other artists launched Grammy weekend with performances honoring Young as the MusiCares Person of the Year. The annual event celebrates an artist’s philanthropy each year as it raises funds for the music industry charity that provides financial, medical and personal assistance to artists in need.
Young was honored for his decades of philanthropic service, including work with Farm Aid and the Bridge School Concerts, which raise money to provide services for kids with severe speech and physical impairments. The singer-songwriter and more than 2,000 other guests at the Los Angeles Convention Center were treated to new interpretations of his timeless songs, including “Harvest Moon” and “Cinnamon Girl,” during Friday’s nearly four-hour program.
“I’d forgotten how many songs I’d written,” the 64-year-old musician said.
Jack Black served as the evening’s host. He said the night’s performers had been “unforgettably, awesomely and life-changingly” influenced by Young’s music.
They included John, who said Young was “my hero” as an artist, philanthropist and humanitarian. John played piano and sang “Helpless” backed by Sheryl Crow, Leon Russell and Neko Case.
Taylor performed “Heart of Gold.” Matthews offered a heartfelt version of “The Needle and the Damage Done.” John Fogerty and Keith Urban sang “Keep Rocking in the Free World.”
Ben Harper, backed by three female singers, offered a stirring take on “Ohio.” Jones duetted with another acoustic guitarist on “Tell Me Why,” and Crow played the accordion as she sang with Stephen Stills on “Long May You Run.”
“Neil, how are you enjoying your Bar Mitzvah so far?” Black cracked. Later in the evening, the actor-comedian auctioned off his tie and shoes to benefit MusiCares. (The shoes fetched $600. The tie, $100.) Then he inexplicably removed his pants, and for a brief moment stood on stage in his tuxedo jacket and red boxer shorts.
Young’s one-time band mates — Stills, David Crosby and Graham Nash — were the last to perform for their friend.
“We made some of the best music of our lives with you, man,” said Crosby, a previous MusiCares honoree.
Young watched the show with his wife, Pegi, by his side. At the end of the night, a humble Young took the stage and said he hoped the songs he’s writing today are as good as the ones performed Friday.
“It’s been a great night. It wore me out,” he said. “Now I’ve got to go back and try and write some songs.”
He went on to say that he’s inspired by fellow MusiCares honoree Tony Bennett and his longevity in the business.
“I look at him and say, ‘All right, I can do this,’” Young said. “I’m going to keep on going, and I hope you do, too.”
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