The 10th annual "Kneel to Neil" gig -- staged each year to benefit WMSE and The Bridge School -- is set for Friday, Nov. 14 at 7:30 p.m., at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn, 1001 E. Locust St.
The first show -- held in 2005 -- was the brainchild of three Milwaukee musicians: The Aimless Blades’ Blaine Schultz, Juniper Tar’s Jason Mohr and West of Rome’s Chris DeMay.
The idea, says Schultz, was to pay tribute to Neil Young by interpreting his music and, at the same time, raise money for two good causes: a respected local radio station and The Bridge School, a school for disabled children in California that receives funds raised by Young himself at an annual concert.
Admission to the Milwaukee show is $10 and among the artists already slated to perform are Red Hawks, Calliope, Jordan Davis of Space Raft, Greatest Lakes, Peder Hedman, The Whiskeybelles, Caley Conway, Bella Bruto, The Aimless Blades, The Carolinas, Marielle & Chris, and Arkansas Kelly.
"When Chris was in the band West of Rome he asked me to play guitar on a Neil Young song called ‘Revolution Blues’ a few times," Schultz recalls. "I think that was where the connection started."
"Ten years ago Chris and I were talking about the annual Nod to Bob event that happens every year before Thanksgiving at Linneman’s -- the tribute to Bob Dylan that is also a benefit. Our event's name is a tribute to their's. We were Neil Young fans and thought it would be a fun idea to try it with Neil's music. Jason got on board early on and was also an instigator."
And Linnemann’s seemed like a natural venue.
"Jim Linneman and Marty Hacker had been doing Nod to Bob, so the template was already there -- the multi-band benefit," Schultz says. "They really are gracious hosts. The turnout is wonderful each year."
Two years after the first show, Slothrop Music released a related Young tribute CD, called "More Barn," that included songs recorded by artists who have performed at "Kneel to Neil." That same year, there was a sense that the benefit concert might have a special guest.
"As I recall Neil was on tour that year, played St. Louis and had a day off," says Schultz. "Chris contacted Neil's management and said he has an open invitation to drop in. I brought an extra amplifier, but if he was there I never saw him."
That feeling of anticipation, however, is a regular thing at "Kneel to Neil," because only the performers really know what they’re going to do once they get on stage.
"That's the thing," says Schultz. "We never ask for set lists. You never know.
"Neil's music goes from solo acoustic performances to high energy rock and roll. We've had melaniejane play electric cello; The Viper and His Famous Orchestra play songs from "Tonight's the Night" on toy instruments and it was amazing; during the Thriftones’ set the piano chair went out and Matthew finished playing on his knees. Acts with parents and kids sharing the stage. One year Sammy Bodean crashed the party. The variety alone is really unique to a tribute show."
That variety helps keeping performers, fans and the organizers coming back for more each year. Actually, for 10 years now. That can be a lifetime in the world of rock and roll.
"We had no expectations going in," says Schultz. "But then why couldn't it? A lot of things go on for over a decade. We still have fun doing it. Chris and I do a little legwork, we line up an artist to do the poster but it really runs itself. We take it one year at at time but in the back of our mind it is ongoing.
"The Aimless Blades have been together for so long now, that this gig is something we mark our calendar by. What songs to play this year, how does that part go, who take the first guitar solo?"
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.