Bridge School Benefit

The Shoreline was packed, blanket edge to blanket edge, and yet it didn’t feel crowded at all. The south-of-San Francisco venue was brimming with love and openness and the kind of friendly banter that makes it perfectly acceptable to be in such close proximity to so many strangers. The weather was astounding. The music was majestic. And the cause was more than just a good one. The Bridge School Benefit took place on both Saturday and Sunday, featuring all acoustic music from performers as different from one another as Trent Reznor and Brian Wilson. And although I can think of pages and pages to say about the event, I can think of nothing negative to note at all.

The Bridge School Benefit Concert was started twenty years ago by performer Neil Young to help raise money for The Bridge School, a school which works to maximize the potential of speech and hearing impaired children of all ages. The school has made such great achievements during its short life that it is now used as a model for such schools everywhere, ensuring that more and more children are able to live full and rich lives despite lack of attention to their education by the mainstream public school system. The Bridge School Benefit Concert is one of the major sources of funding for the school.

But attending the event meant more than just supporting this great cause. It meant actively engaging with this community which I daily think of more and more as my home. The diversity of the people in the audience was nearly as diverse as the community of people one will see walking around San Francisco throughout the day. There was the young child who danced excitedly with his young father, a wild haired man with a tie-dyed shirt and a welcoming grin. There was the slightly older child who growled excitedly at passersby during and after the set by Trent Reznor, letting his own inner rock star shine. There was the tall, elegant, elderly woman who swayed to the sounds of various musicians, her silky bell bottoms flaring out and creating a breeze for those around her to enjoy. There was the woman in jean shorts who danced so actively during every song that her movement across the crowd provoked cheers, jeers and photographs. There were teenagers and post-teens and people of nearly every other generation.

The music was amazing. Every performer put every ounce of good-deed-intention in to each song he or she performed. Gillian Welch gained new fans. Brian Wilson reinvigorated old ones. Foo Fighters and Death Cab for Cutie and Pearl Jam each moved the crowd to singing along and swaying in sync. Dave Matthews drew the greatest attention. Neil Young joined every single performer on stage, inspiring the crowd with his sprightly exuberance and infectious energy. Alone, each performer stood out as talented in his or her own right. But together, they created magic.

There is something about music which can bring people together in a way that nothing else can. It combines the best qualities of silence and rapt attention with shared experience. It says the things that people do not always know how to say with words, bringing smiles to faces without requiring any sort of explanation. The already intensely communicative music of the concert was enhanced by video imagery of the children who benefit from the concert, many of whom sat on stage with the performers, clearly enjoying the experience. The Shoreline was literally filled person-to-person, and when everyone raised their lighter flames (and cell phone illumination!) in tandem, the effect was one which went straight to the heart of every person in the audience.

San Francisco is a city in which it is possible to have massive amounts of fun while enjoying the people around you and simultaneously contribute to social change and the increased awareness of important issues. Bridge School is just one of those causes, but if it is the one which tugs at your heart, you can help out by visiting

2 Comments so far

  1. anna (unregistered) on October 23rd, 2006 @ 2:15 pm

    Family friend works @ Bridge school- so I’ve been able to go a few times and get good seats- but I have to say last time I went I got really bad food poisoning, which I blame on Shoreline, not Bridge. It’s a great festival, and most of the acts I see there are great, and sound good acoustic, surprisingly. Thom Yorke & Eddy Vedder were my favorite performances, so far. FYI Neil Young’s sons also attended Bridge, so it has a personal note. I think Eddy Vedder goes every year, and he’s good friends with a Bridge graduate. I wonder how DCFC sounded acoustic. Oh and another note- once I saw Tenacious D, which was hilariuos, and some of the vendors of Bridge who had seats near us walked out due to the profanity! Friend said Jack Black was as funny backstage as he is on screen/stand-up.

  2. Kathryn (unregistered) on October 24th, 2006 @ 8:34 am

    Just wanted to respond to that to say that DCFC was fabulous. A few of the people in the group hadn’t heard them before and were completely won over. And yes, Vedder was great – more than any other performer, he made it about the kids!

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