John’s “Gritty” Version Of “Down By the River” A High Point In “Joyous” Neil Young Gala

Last week’s MusiCares Person of the Year gala honoring Neil Young in Los Angeles was a joyous occasion, says Andy York, who played guitar on John’s tribute performance of his Farm Aid co-founding partner’s classic “Down By the River.”

“Kenny Aronoff played a cocktail drumkit we brought in from Indianapolis, and Don Was played upright bass and T Bone Burnett played this beautiful electric vibe guitar,” says York. “We rehearsed the song a couple times during soundcheck and it really felt like a band from the first note. It was a blast playing together.”

John, he notes, “sang with the conviction that he’s famous for.”

He adds: “We tried to make the song more spooky even than Neil’s original—with tremelo guitars and the cocktail drums and the upright bass all supporting John’s vocal delivery.”

John was the first performer in an all-star lineup that also included Ozomatli, Jackson Browne, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, Sheryl Crow, Elton John, Leon Russell, Neko Case, Lady Antebellum, Norah Jones, Jason Mraz, Shawn Colvin, Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin, Lucinda Williams, Dave Matthews, Everest, Elvis Costello, Wilco, Ben Harper, Keith Urban, John Fogerty, James Taylor Dierks Bentley and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Aronoff and Was served as the house rhythm section.

USA Today cited John’s “brawny version” of “Down By the River” while Rolling Stone, noting that “the evening boasted some of the best that modern day artistry can offer,” called it “gritty.” Canadian press was also there to cover Toronto native Young, with the Toronto Sun terming John’s rendition “slow-burning” and the Vancouver Sun characterizing it as “a low-key swampy version.”

“It was fun having Jack Black as the emcee,” concludes York. “He was at the Kennedy Center Honors when we were there for Bruce Springsteen--dressed as Robin Hood in ‘Robin Hood: Men in Tights’ to honor Mel Brooks.”

York is now getting ready to return to Washington with John to participate in the “In Performance at the White House: A Celebration of Music from the Civil Rights Movement” concert event on Feb.10.