Whilst at a local friends' gig, I received a call from a very dear, generous friend telling me that I need to head to Napa now because he had a ticket for me to see Neil Young. I had an hour to get to the show. So I said my goodbyes and made my swift exit to get on the road as quickly as possible, and I headed to Napa.
I had applied to photograph the show but hadn't heard back from Another Planet Entertainment approving a photo credential for me, so I wasn't planning to attend. But I still wanted to see Neil Young as I hadn't ever seen him before. I had previously photographed the others, Crosby, Stills and Nash but never Neil Young until this show, (sadly, only with my iPhone!). He's an icon after all. Distinctive voice, songwriting and epic political and love ballads we've listened to all our lives. So I looked forward to seeing this legendary musician play at this beautiful outdoor venue in Napa. Even if I didn't get to shoot it. So please keep in mind that the photo gallery below was all shot from my phone, not my proper camera.
When I arrived in the venue, I was happy to find my seat was in the front center section of the venue. I couldn't have asked for a better seat location, (massive thank you S). Then I saw other people that I knew there that called me over, as they were even closer to the stage so I ended up sitting in the first few rows. Not bad for last minute! And, as we all know, seeing the show from the first few rows always improves the experience.
The stage was set in a very unusual manner this evening. There was a lit kiva fireplace with a tiny toy train circling around and around, as well as candles, a painting, and a lighted sign that said "Love". There were three pianos and a pipe organ and multiple guitars. One of which, a Martin guitar, given to Neil by Stephen Stills.
As far as the music he played...In my opinion, with a song catalogue like Neil Youngs' you'd think each and every song he plays live would have a chorus of fans singing along. Not so at this performance. His choice of tunes were a little obscure. He began this packed, Oxbow River Stage performance with, "I'm the Ocean" and then a few Buffalo Springfield tunes of which I've never heard. (That may just be me I realize, but I can usually tell by the enthusiasm or lack of, around me if people know the material or not). Then the seventh song, at the 45th minute into the show came, "Birds", which was a familiar tune. Then another six unfamiliar songs were played whilst the audience shouted out song requests continually but he ignored them all only acknowledging the shout outs by saying, all those songs are "worn out". Referring to his iconic songs like Old Man, Hey Hey My My, Cinnamon Girl, Harvest Moon, Southern Man, or Cowgirl in the Sand and so many more. He didn't play any of those...Nada, zip, zero! Those are the songs that the Neil Young is famous for and the fans that spent their hard earned money on concert tickets wanted to hear and be part of. He played mostly lesser known tunes. Some of which were from the VERY early days, even a few from before Buffalo Springfield. Again, it may be me, but I did notice the crowd was less enthusiastic for those than they were when he played the first few chords of songs like, "Ohio" or "Heart of Gold".
On this night there was no band, he played completely solo, going from guitar and harmonica to keys. Between each song he asked the audience which planet is their favorite, of course they answered, "earth"...and at the end of the set he performed the song, "Love Earth". He played 19 songs, totaling, exactly 90 minutes, and because Napa has strict noise ordinance rules in place, he stopped at precisely 10pm. I did think for a minute that he'd come back to perform at least a couple of his big hits like, Cinnamon Girl, or Harvest Moon but no, the end was the end.
I probably won't see Neil Young again as I was a tad underwhelmed, but I was very grateful to my friend S, that I've seen him now at least this once. The audience was very appreciative to see him play, as I was also. His music will live on in the music history books forever! And be the soundtrack of the lives of many music lovers from around this planet earth! Thank you Neil Young for all the great songs you've given us for the past 50+ years!
(All photos from this show are iPhone photos). © Cheryl Alterman Photography 2023