Where do I even start? Months ago, when it was announced that Neil Young would be playing two dates in Telluride, Colorado for the very first time, I knew I’d make the trip up from Phoenix. Not a doubt. On my live music bucket list, Neil ranked at the top, numero uno.
It took me 46 years, but there I was Saturday night, leaning against the barrier left of the stage, my 12-yr old daughter by my side, watching Neil Young – just a few weeks shy of his 71st birthday – rock our faces off with his amazing backing band, Promise of the Real.
The setting? Telluride Town Park. Not your run of mill venue. Rather, one of the most picturesque settings on God’d green earth. See for yourself:
Friday night, we rolled into town just before Neil took the stage around 6:30. My folks have a place just across the beaver pond from Town Park, so although I didn’t go to Friday’s show, I grabbed a beer and parked myself on the balcony. Neil’s voice filled the box canyon as he started off the night with “After the Gold Rush,” “Heart of Gold”, and “Long May You Run”… The sound was so crisp and clear that I took in the whole show, all the way to the final notes of “Cinnamon Girl.”
Saturday, it was time to get in and get close. My daughter and I walked into Town Park about an hour and a quarter before show time, and, as you can see above, we did just fine.
Neil walked out from stage left and quickly took a seat at the piano for the opener, “After the Gold Rush.” The next few songs featured Neil with his acoustic guitar and harmonica: “Heart of Gold,” “Sugar Mountain” (the first time he’d played it outside of his Bridge School Benefit since 1993), and “Old Man.” Then, a seat at the organ for “Mother Earth (Natural Anthem)”, which sounded sacred in the beautiful setting.
Then out came Promise of the Real. It’s worth mentioning each of these guys, because they each add so much to the experience.
Lukas Nelson – guitar; Willie’s 27 year old son and de facto front man of POTR. Great voice and guitar chops.
Micah Nelson – guitar, keys, etc.; Willie’s youngest son, early/mid 20’s I’m guessing. More vocal chops and handy with the bow and guitar.
Corey McCormick – bass; Corey is the most animated of the bunch, jumping around, dancing, deep in the groove. His spirit is infectious and he’s a lot of fun to watch.
Anthony LoGerfo – drums; partnering up with Corey for a killer rhythm section that held down Neil’s tunes, old and new.
Tato Melgar – percussion; solid percussionist, although I couldn’t see him from my far front/left-side vantage point.
I heard Neil in a recent interview talking about Promise of the Real, their talent, and how intimate & familiar they were with his back catalog – deep cuts included. And how apparent that was. Their playing was the perfect accompaniment to Neil: raunchy and raw, or dialed down to a mellow folk-rock feel – whatever the song called for, they were there delivering it just as well as any band that’s ever backed Neil.
And the background vocals and harmonizing! Lukas, Micah and Corey were on point the whole night, enriching classics like “Powderfinger,” “Down by the River” and “Harvest Moon” with beautiful harmonies (three of my all time Neil favorites).
The “moment” for me came during the raucous and powerful choruses of “Down by the River.” Live music lovers all know it. That moment when the goosebumps are in full effect from the sheer force of the Music, a smile plastered across your face…and a glance around the crowd shows you hundreds of others feeling exactly the same way. It’s transcendent and inspiring and gives you hope for humanity – much needed these days.
“Winterlong” was a cut I wasn’t all too familiar with (released on Neil’s 1977 compilation album Decade, and limited pressings of Tonight’s The Night). I loved the feel of that tune – the wistful tinges of sadness and the really pretty melody.
“Out on the Weekend” !! Also one of my favorites, and the first tune of the night with Promise of the Real.
We were treated to “Cortez the Killer” with its sinister vibe, made all the more interesting by a nearby woman succumbing to a combination of altitude and substance – passing out a few feet behind us, then being lifted by security over the front barrier. “Cortez, Cortez, what a killer.”
Family highlight: My daughter was fully aware she was seeing a legend that Saturday night – she was reminded often by yours truly in the weeks and days leading up to the trip. By the end of the night, she was bouncing and singing along to “Rockin’ in the Free World” with all the rest of us. Smiles all around as the song was about to end three or four times, with Neil counting off “1-2-3-4!” and lunging back to the microphone for another round: “Keep on rockin’ in the free world!” It’s something special to make memories with your kids – especially live music memories.
With temps dropping well into the 40’s, Neil and POTR wrapped the night with the encore, “Roll Another Number (for the Road),” then met at center stage where they all huddled, jumping up and down in a shared primal grunt.
After two hours and forty-five minutes of breathtaking folk and wild, reckless rock & roll, we walked off into the cold Telluride night, savoring the evening..
Age is irrelevant. Rock & Roll is timeless.
- Latest Release: Neil Young & Promise of the Real: Earth
SET LIST – October 1st, 2016 Telluride, Colorado