USA TODAY - January 31, 2010

Celebs Fete Neil Young at MusiCares Gala
Updated 1/31/2010

By Edna Gundersen, USA TODAY
LOS ANGELES — Friends and disciples led Neil Young on a journey through the past, singing his songs and his praises at the 20th annual MusiCares gala Friday night.
"He made the free world a better place to rock in," said actor/musician Jack Black, host of the benefit at the Los Angeles Convention Center. "Long may Neil run."

Named 2010's Person of the Year, Young, 64, was celebrated for his artistic and philanthropic contributions, especially his longtime commitment to Farm Aid and the Bridge School for children with severe speech and physical disabilities.

The Recording Academy charity event, which provides financial and medical assistance to musicians in need, drew a record crowd of more than 2,200, including such brand names as Jeff Beck and Brian Wilson.

Black discouraged civilians from confronting celebrities with convoluted tales of adoration. "Keep it caveman," he said.

The stage served up a steady parade of stars, starting with John Mellencamp, joined by T Bone Burnett on guitar, performing a brawny version of Down By the River. Ozomatli's Mr. Soul, a brassy, bruising slice of psychedelic Latin rock, followed, and then the mood turned mellow with Jackson Browne's Don't Let It Bring You Down and a duet of Long May You Run by Stephen Stills and Sheryl Crow.

Stills returned for Crosby, Stills & Nash's Human Highway, and Crow reappeared for one of the evening's high points, a rendition of Helpless with Elton John, Leon Russell and Neko Case.

"As a philanthropist and humanitarian, you're one my heroes," said John, who spoke of Young's early support and generosity. "I'll never forget your kindness."

Ballads and midtempo tunes dominated the bill: Only Love Can Break Your Heart performed by Lady Antebellum, Tell Me Why by Norah Jones, Lotta Love by Jason Mraz and Shawn Colvin. The twangy harmonies of Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin and Lucinda Williams graced Comes a Time.

Introducing the harrowing The Needle and the Damage Done, Dave Matthews said, "Death is a wicked way for life to remind us how precious it is."

Rising band Everest turned Revolution Blues into Dylanesque punk. Elvis Costello, reminiscing about hearing early Young tunes on Radio Luxembourg, played The Losing End (When You're On).

Wilco, providing another peak moment, delivered an impassioned Broken Arrow that built to a cacophonous climax. Ben Harper, on acoustic slide guitar with three backup singers, revived protest tune Ohio. And Keith Urban and John Fogerty joined forces on a rollicking Rockin' in the Free World.

Not every effort soared. James Taylor's Heart of Gold felt unrehearsed, Dierks Bentley's flavorless Cinnamon Girl had none of the original's charm. And the Red Hot Chili Peppers' off-key A Man Needs a Maid lumbered. As for Josh Groban's formal treatment of Harvest Moon: bad fit.

In a live auction, Elton John coughed up $12,000 for the chance to sing background vocals on Brian Wilson's next album. Afterward, Black began to improvise, first with his shoes, which fetched $500.

"It has arch supports," he said. "Those are not included. I'll give you the socks later."

Next he offered his tie. "Flowers, colors — 50 bucks?"

A fan paid $100. And finally:

"Who wants my pants?" he said, dropping his trousers to reveal red boxers. He warned the cameraman, "Don't go close up!"

Black hoisted a large sign that Young had created backstage for performers. It read: "Just do what you want to do. Don't listen to anyone else."

"This should get more than my shoes," Black said.

Sure enough. Young agreed to sign it, and a bidder paid $20,000.

The flustered honoree took the podium and thanked the night's many musicians.

"I forgot how many songs I've written," Young said. "It's been a great night. Wore me out."

He expressed discomfort in gazing back, that it's difficult to recognize the prolific young artist who wrote Broken Arrow. And he wonders what's left in his quiver.

"I listen to some of those songs — who was that guy?" he said. "Look at Tony Bennett. He rocks. I look at that man and say, 'I can do this.' I'm going to keep on going, and I hope you do, too."