By Chuck Cox
Front Row Contributor
I remember being intrigued when the Neil Fest show popped up on the Granada Theater calendar.
I didn’t know much of anything about The Best Fest concerts at the time, but the opportunity to see Norah Jones, Boz Scaggs, Charlie Sexton and a ton of other tremendous artists on the same stage at one of my favorite venues was a no-brainer.
The celebration of the music of Neil Young was even more enthralling than I imagined. After playing a Neil Fest concert in Austin on Saturday night, the cavalcade of musical talent, backed by The Cabin Down Below Band, made its way up I-35 to Dallas on Sunday.
For more than three hours, different artists delivered amazing performance after amazing performance before an enthusiastic sold-out crowd. The
fact all of the proceeds went to the Refuge Foundation For the Arts made the evening even more incredible. The whole Best Fest concept is extremely cool.
The were also a couple of surprise guests. Shakey Graves, who played the Austin show but wasn’t scheduled for the Dallas show, and the great Leon Bridges both showed up to enhance the already impressive bill.
In addition to being just blown away by the quantity of Neil Young’s catalog, I got to experience so many great acts I had never seen live. Even though there was not a single sub-par performance among the 32-song setlist, there were a few songs that, for me, stood out a bit more than others.
Among my favorites were:
Cinnamon Girl (The Midnight Stroll): The fourth song of the night was the first one that really got things jumping. Singer Aaron Behrens and guitarist Jonas Wilson sizzled and made one of Young’s more beloved songs their own.
Ohio (Eric Pulido of Midlake): I was already a big Midlake fan, but my fandom of Pulido went up another notch with his killer turn on Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s protest anthem about the Kent State tragedy in 1970. It was the first time (definitely not the last) I got chills during the show.
Down By the River (Paul Cauthen): One of the few performers I wasn’t familiar with, Cauthen had the perfect look and attitude to perform this haunting murder ballad. Without ever hearing any of Cauthen’s original songs, this one sounded like it could have easily been one he penned.
Old Man (The Flatlanders): Seeing Texas music royalty Terry Allen, Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock together harmonizing on another Neil Young classic was everything it sounds like it would be. Remember those chills I was talking about?
Birds (Alison Mosshart of The Kills): This was one of the more unexpected tunes on the setlist, but Mosshart absolutely nailed it. The song provided probably the slowest, softest delivery of the night. It was truly beautiful.
Revolution Blues (Jonathan Tyler): I’m not sure if it out-dueled “Ohio” for most electrifying performance of the night, but I can pretty much tell you it was a photo finish.With the help of Sexton, Tyler absolutely tore up one of the creepier Neil Young tunes. So great.
Don’t Be Denied (Norah Jones): Jones could read the phone book, and I’m there. She used her immense vocal talent to put her own spin on this empowering tune that had the crowd eating out of the palm of her hand. Without question, Jones is one of the most talented vocalists in the music business.
Unknown Legend (Shakey Graves and Norah Jones): What a treat to see these two performers duet on such a wonderful song with one of my favorite Neil Young lyrics: “Somewhere on a desert highway, she rides a Harley-Davidson, her long blonde hair flying in the wind. She’s been running half her life. The chrome and steel she rides colliding with the very air she breathes.”
Southern Man (Boz Scaggs): As a Dallas guy, the opportunity to hear a true local legend rip up a tune like this one was a sight to behold. Add Sexton playing guitar to the mix and it was sheer perfection. I hope Scaggs decides to do a full-on tour sometime down the road.
Helpless (Everybody with Leon Bridges): What a great surprise to have Bridges come out and lead the rest of the musicians on the bill on another CSNY song for the finale. Much like Jones, I’m in if Bridges is playing. The Fort Worth R&B singer who has blown up in the last couple of years sounded like this song was made for him to sing, although that’s how he sounds on pretty much every song.
Although it was a long show, I couldn’t have been happier. Jones, Sexton and harmonica player Mickey Raphael joined some of the other artists to either play or sing background on their songs throughout the course of the night. And kudos to The Cabin Down Below Band, which had to have been exhausted after that show. They sounded fantastic from start to finish.
Neil Fest was absolutely one of the more unique and fun concert experiences I’ve ever had. If you missed this one, you really missed a great show. Here’s hoping another The Best Fest concert makes its way to Dallas again.
Come on Baby, Let’s Go Downtown (The Cabin Down Below Band)
Human Highway (The Candles)
Flags of Freedom (Eve Monsees of Eve & the Exiles)
Cinnamon Girl (The Midnight Stroll)
Star of Bethlehem (Carson McHone)
Don’t Cry No Tears (Robert Ellis)
Ohio (Eric Pulido of Midlake)
After the Goldrush (Jeff Klein of My Jerusalem)
Losing End (Nikki Lane)
Don’t Let it Bring You Down (James Petralli of White Denim)
Walk On (James Petralli)
Throw Your Hatred Down (Adam Busch)
Down By the River (Paul Cauthen)
I Believe in You (Erika Wennerstorm of Heartless Bastards)
Everybody Knows This is Nowhere (Erika Wennerstorm of Heartless Bastards)
Harvest (Cory Chisel)
Too Far Gone (The Flatlanders)
Old Man (The Flatlanders)
Tonight’s the Night (The Texas Gentlemen)
Birds (Alison Mosshart of The Kills)
Only Love Can Break Your Heart (Charlie Sexton and Alison Mosshart)
Like a Hurricane (Charlie Sexton and Alison Mosshart)
Harvest Moon (Jonathan Tyler)
Revolution Blues (Jonathan Tyler)
Comes a Time (Norah Jones)
Don’t Be Denied (Norah Jones)
Unknown Legend (Shakey Graves and Norah Jones)
Out on the Weekend (Shakey Graves)
On the Beach (Boz Scaggs)
Southern Man (Boz Scaggs)
Heart of Gold (Nikki Lane and Jonathan Tyler)
Helpless (Everybody with Leon Bridges)