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Monday, February 15, 2010

The Neil Young Project: Vancouver Tribute by Hal Willner

UPDATE 2/28/10: Neil Young News: It is Official! Neil Young Will Play Olympics Closing Ceremonies

UPDATE: See Concert Reviews of Vancouver Olympics Tribute to Neil Young.

Hal Willner
Director of The Neil Young Project

This week, there will be another tribute to Neil Young at the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Broken Social Scene, Iron & Wine, Sun Kil Moon, Ron Sexsmith, Joan As Police Woman and Lou Reed, among others, will pay tribute to Neil Young's music.

Called "The Neil Young Project" the program is being directed by Saturday Night Live's music supervisor Hal Willner. From Hal Willner's taking risks with his Neil Young Project | Vancouver, Canada | by Alexander Varty:
“We know the songs are great, and we know the artists are great,” he explains. “So the thing we can guarantee is that it's going to be something really worth seeing.”

His approach, Willner says, is a mixture of studious research and spur-of-the-moment inspiration. He begins by studying the source material, which in the case of the Neil Young Project involved listening to something like 600 songs. (“I've always loved his work,” he notes wryly, “but I wouldn't have been able to answer a Trivial Pursuit game on him before we did this.”) Once he's chosen the songs he wants to work with, he begins assigning them to the different artists.

“By the time we get on the stage, there will be a script,” he says. “And I always find if you know exactly what's going to happen next, then the artists can be loose within that. A lot of magical moments come out of that.

“It's a lot of risk,” he adds, confessing that he hasn't quite finished planning his Vancouver shows. “But what happens then is that you're guaranteed some once-in-a-lifetime, magical things, and you're guaranteed stuff that's not going to work. So what you hope for is that 95 percent of the show is the magical part, right? And usually it works out that way.”

From Olympic tribute set for Neil Young | Music | Entertainment | Winnipeg Sun By DARRYL STERDAN, QMI Agency:

“They asked me to do it two years ago,” says the 52-year-old Willner during a busy day in his New York office. “We had done a Neil Young Project in 2004, so I thought, why not. The material is really cool to work with.”

“The way I prefer to do it is to go listen to everything the composer has written,” says the veteran producer, who has also helmed tributes to Leonard Cohen (I’m Your Man), Kurt Weill (Lost in the Stars and September Songs) and others. “Then I put the show together just from the material. I want something that balances the well-known and unknown, and covers all styles and approaches.

“After that, I start approaching artists that I think would be cool. Basically, I cast it like a movie. But the trick is to have a very well-thought-out, very tight script ahead of time.”

It’s somewhat remarkable — and perhaps a testimony to the respect Willner commands — that the artists he casts are usually happy to check their egos and go along with his suggestions.

“If somebody comes in and has a particular song that they’re attached to, we’ll try to fit it in, or take out something that was similar — or sometimes we try to talk them out of it. But that doesn’t happen very often.”

Besides, surprises are welcome, he claims.

“You never know what’s going to click or not. The worst thing that can happen is that you’ll see something that can never be repeated. And usually you can be guaranteed to see stuff that’s incredible and magic, and you’ll be talking forever about how you were there. Sure, there’s stuff that doesn’t work. But when it does, 90% of it is great.”

Among the stuff Willner expects to work: Broken Social Scene, who will serve as one of two house bands; avant-garde guitarist James Blood Ulmer, who will team with Reed on “some good noise”; and Canadian troubadour Sexsmith, described by Willner as a “risk-taker (who) could have written some of these songs.”

That’s high praise, Sexsmith says. But for him, just being invited is a bigger compliment.

“Neil is part of that old guard,” he says. “There’s Leonard and Gordie and Joni and Neil. They’re four of the most influential songwriters in the world. Whenever I’m writing, it’s so daunting when you think of the history you’re up against. I’m always conscious of the work that they did, and I always try to walk in their footsteps.

“I used to do a lot of Neil Young songs when I started out in the bars. I could play Neil all night and nobody could complain. That’s probably still the case."


UPDATE: See Concert Reviews of Vancouver Olympics Tribute to Neil Young.

UPDATE 2/28/10: Neil Young News: It is Official! Neil Young Will Play Olympics Closing Ceremonies

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At 2/15/2010 12:49:00 PM, Blogger Ryan Wall said...

I recall searching in vain for many a month during the fall of 2004 and many times later for recordings of the 2004 version.

Was always amazed at the lack of a source for this show. Was it simply looking in the wrong places?

Anyone willing to steer me in the right direction?

At 5/17/2011 01:47:00 AM, Blogger Jazzie Casas said...

I read your other post Neil Young Tribute. They are my favorite band at all time and during the Neil Young Tribute I was reminiscing my youth days before I am in my profession now.

Vancouver Family Dentist
Comprehensive Dental Services at reasonable rates.


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