The finale at this year’s Experience Music Project Founders Award tribute to Crosby, Stills and Nash could not have been more predictable, but it was also appropriate — and magical. EMP’s annual Founders Award raises money for the museum’s youth programs, and each year Paul Allen handpicks a superstar act to honor at the big-ticket gala. Past honorees have included Carlos Santana, Buddy Guy and Ann and Nancy Wilson.
This year’s event Thursday night was the best Founders ceremony yet, perhaps because CSN’s folk rock sensibility fits so perfectly with the current crop of Seattle musicians who toasted them. Over two hours, a dozen local stars — along with visitors like Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Jason Mraz and Shawn Colvin — played their favorite CSN songs. Usually tribute shows lag, but this one started great and got better.
The Head and the Heart seemed like a perfect fit early in the bill, and it was. Their take on “Simple Man” was sublime and drew rousing applause. Pete Droge and Elaine Summers did a moving “Our House” which ended, appropriately, with a photograph of their own home.
Sean Nelson chose to go deep for a Byrds’ song, “Everybody has Been Burned.” Backed by a crack house band (including guitar whiz Ian Moore) it had a biting energy. John Roderick took on “Southern Cross,” and pulled off the difficult vocal shifts.
But the musical highlight of the evening came with Brandi Carlile’s show-stopping performance of “Long Time Gone.” She sang it as if she were Janis Joplin mixed with Joni Mitchell, and it was just the right mix of rough and sweet.
It wasn’t just Carlile who made the song come alive — Stephen Stills came onstage to play guitar, and proved that he still has incredible chops. In his remarks, Paul Allen noted that EMP had been inspired by Jimi Hendrix, but “as an aspiring guitarist, I was pretty interested in Stephen’s playing. He’s a killer guitarist.” Allen is right.
Allen cited CSN’s harmony singing and songwriting, but also their ability to tackle political issues. Dan Rather had been at the event early on, as he’s profiling CSN for a television special. Krist Novoselic was also present, and played accordion in the lobby.
When Crosby, Stills and Nash finally took the stage themselves, Nash said, “I can’t tell you how special it is to hear musicians we respect doing songs we wrote.” All three members thanked the crowd, and Stills joked that winning awards was a sign they had gotten old.
In a fitting move, it was a group of young musicians — Vuga De, from EMP’s youth programs — who presented CSN their actual award. That was a perfect set up for the finale, which anyone who knew anything about CSN’s catalog could see coming.
The Founders Award celebration raises thousands of dollars that go to music education programs. If there’s an unofficial theme song to those efforts it must be CSN’s “Teach Your Children.” So on that classic, CSN was joined by a dozen Seattle musicians. It was a touching, and perfect way to end a special night.