Bridge Concert: big benefits from a low profile

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

First there was Live Aid. Then there was Farm Aid, the Amnesty International Concert for Hope, and Farm Aid II. Finally, there was the Bridge Concert. The Bridge Concert? If the name doesn't ring any bells with rock fans, it's not because the show didn't have big-name performers: It marked the first formal concert appearance of Bruce Springsteen since his ``Born in the USA'' tour ended a year ago, and the first reunion of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young since David Crosby returned to the group. Also appearing were Tom Petty, Don Henley, Robin Williams, and Nils Lofgren.

But where other large-scale, rock-and-roll charity shows were broadcast on live television and had the benefit of blanket media coverage, the Bridge Concert was notable mostly for how quiet and low-key it was. The four-hour concert, which took place just south of San Francisco last week and helped fund a local program to aid handicapped children, kept probably the lowest profile of any major benefit show.

``We've been getting calls all week from people wanting more details about the charity and the show, and a lot of them get mad at us for keeping it so quiet,'' said one employee of the firm that manages Neil Young and Tom Petty. ``But when they started putting the show together they decided to play it down, because everybody here has the feeling that people are all benefitted-out.''

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The organizers of the Bridge Concert aren't the only ones who worry about ``benefit burnout.'' When Ken Kragen, organizer of USA For Africa and Live Aid, was asked recently whether fans had become blas'e because of the sheer number of big charity events, he said, ``They definitely have, and that's a real problem for anybody who wants to do another show.''

So rather than simply being another rock benefit, the Bridge Concert was an example of how it's possible to deal with a music industry problem. In this case, it made perfect sense: ``We were dealing with a local charity, so we decided to keep it a local event,'' says a spokesperson for promoter Bill Graham, who staged this show as well as Live Aid and Amnesty International.

Pegi Young became involved in the Bridge School because she and Neil have two disabled children. When the school needed money to help launch a Bay Area program to help tutor nonspeaking disabled children, the Youngs put the word out. Onstage Neil said, ``It's so great the way so many of my friends everywhere just said, `OK, let's do it.' ''

The Youngs' friends put on a straightforward, touching show, while a dozen or so handicapped children watched from the sides of the stage. Highlights included the return of David Crosby, hefty in stature but a better singer now than he's been in years; Lofgren's dedication of a lilting, inspirational tune to Young's children; Don Henley accompanied by his former Eagles band cohort Tim Schmidt; Petty's rowdy version of ``Twist and Shout''; Robin Williams's rapid-fire reflections on his own young son; Springsteen's set, which mixed songs such as ``Born in the USA'' and the bleak, unrecorded ``Seeds'' with crowd-pleasing hits like ``Fire'' and ``Dancing in the Dark''; and a show-ending ``Teach Your Children,'' a Graham Nash classic.

It was, in many ways, an exemplary benefit that showed precisely how benefit burnout can be avoided. Still, it may be wrong to assume that it sets a predecent for future charity shows. Graham, for example, was headed for New York to put on a ``Crackdown on Crack'' concert -- one that will be televised and have a high profile.

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