I had a great time seeing music Sunday night at the Fairgrounds in Essex Junction. I’ve seen a lot of great artists over the years, but had never caught up with Neil Young. His new album is about love of our planet and fears about what companies like Monsanto are doing to our food and food system. Vermont just enacted a law saying products with GMO’s in them need to be labeled and Neil came to our state to voice his support, and play a killer rock show. I was not sure if I was going to make it but on Friday Mike Luoma said he got tickets and asked if I wanted to go. I did. I got out of work around 4:30 and had time to grab some food and relax and we headed out about 6:30. There was a lot of traffic trying to get into the venue, but we took it slow and steady and arrived just after 7:30. The weather for the outdoor show looked iffy, and the black cloud over us on the way in spit a few drops or rain, but that was it. As we approached the parking spot a couple of close lightning bolts lit up the sky, but the cloud steadily moved away. We made our way to the will call and picked up the tickets. There was a small packed bar in the grandstand area, but no obvious beer garden. We guessed there would be one inside, so in we went. There was not. There was an open standing area in front of the stage, then rows of seats. Ours were 4 rows behind the standing area and dead center. Aside from the lack of beer, it was perfect.
Puss n Boots were on stage when we found out seats. They played some Americana songs, that would not feel out of place on the Oh Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack. They played some nice songs, but didn’t really grab me. I listened intently for the 20 minutes or so until their set ended, and was in a happy place.
A long set break followed, but as the sun began to set, the lights dimmed and two farmers wandered onto the stage. With large hats to keep away the sun, and large bags of seed hung on their shoulders, they broadcast seeds all over the stage, and stopped now and then to water their flowers. This went on for several minutes until Neil walked out on the left side of the stage, sat at the piano and began singing After The Gold Rush. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up as I let the gorgeous sounds and words fill me. The image of the farmers followed by the line “Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 21st century perfectly set up the whole show. I knew he had a band, so opening solo acoustic said the show was going to be his classic style of starting slow and rocking hard at the end. Changing the line about Mother Nature set the stage for many songs about being stewards of the earth, which is heavily reflected in his new album The Monsanto Years. He switched to acoustic guitar for Heart Of Gold, Long May You Run, and Old Man and the audience was enchanted. He moved over to the pump organ for one of the many songs I would not recognize by title, but knew from the first note. Mother Earth (Natural Anthem) was beautiful and the line, “Respect Mother Earth and her giving ways Or trade away our children’s days” drove home the point of the whole show.
As Neil donned the acoustic, and the roadies rolled the organ off the stage, several men in chemical contamination suits, with gas masks and oxygen tanks, doused the stage in an ominous fog. As they blasted the flowers with an unknown substance, the point was not subtle. They left the stage and the Promise Of The Real settled into their instruments, and the show went on. Lucas and Michah Nelson each took a guitar, and the rest of the band was a bass player, a drummer and a percussionist who was set up in the back by the drums. They followed with a couple of classics that I did not know by name, Out for The Weekend and Unknown Legend, then lit up the audience with Only Love Can Break Your Heart. They followed with From Hank To Hendrix, which I’ve always really liked, then let loose a gorgeous Harvest Moon. The band sounded great and Neil was still playing acoustic when they followed with the first new song of the night, Wolf Moon. It really sounded nice, but then things got a bit more intense
Neil strapped on the electric guitar and kicked off one of those riffs that were instantly recognizable and off we ran through Words (Between The Lines Of Age). Looking For A Love followed, and was great fun. A special surprise followed when Neil introduced Lucas Nelson, who sat down at the piano and the band played a beautiful version of Moonlight In Vermont. It went over exactly as you would expect. Until this point Neil had not chatted with the audience much if at all, but at this point he firmly stated “Strong Vermont. Standing up when other states sit down”. He started off a run of songs from the Monsanto Years with A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop. The Vermont references in the song charged the crowd and the band went from the whistling chorus into a spot where they rocked hard and brought it back to the whistling with a beautiful precision. They followed with a couple more Monsanto songs, People Want To Hear About Love, and A New Day For Love. I forget which one, but one of them rocked so hard that I thought even if he did not play some classics, such as Like A Hurricane, it would not matter since he played some blisteringly intense leads in that one. They pulled out another Crazy Horse classic , Country Home, then came the highlight of the night. Down By The River was epic with huge guitar solos and completely wicked playing. It must have run 15 minutes or so and was face-meltingly fantastic. After that he said curfew was at 11 and he was not going to waste any time. There was no encore break, they just kept going. They played two more Monsanto songs, Workin’ Man and Monsanto Years, which were quite nice. They closed with Love And Only Love, which again had some epic guitar work wrapped in and around the easy to sing verses. As the song ground to a conclusion Neil hit another note on the guitar, then another, then the band went back into the crashing ending until the music began to fade. Neil hit another note, then another note and another epic end jam happened. They ran the final jamming right until 11 and said good night. This was my first time seeing him, and the show was everything I could have hoped for. I loved every note and did not even mind the long slow wait to get out of the parking lot.