By John W. Barry
With pipe organ vocal harmonies and the shrill of an electric guitar, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young Sunday night underscored the timelessness of peace and protest.
Perhaps the most famous set of consonants in popular culture, CSNY Sunday night performed at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in Sullivan County. The multi-million dollar amphitheater sits on the site of the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair, which all four musicians played 37 years ago this week.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the roughly three hours of music the quartet delivered to a sold-out crowd of 16,800 was the relevance in 2006 of songs written decades ago. These songs — "Find the Cost of Freedom" and "For What It's Worth" among them — were penned in protest of tumultuous times that included the Vietnam War and a military crackdown on civilian protesters.
As CSNY sang the quiet and haunting "Find the Cost of Freedom," large video screens showed the pictures — thousands of them — of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.
"For What It's Worth" could be the battle cry for Iraq War protesters as much as an anthem for those against the Vietnam War.
While engaged in an electric guitar duel with Neil Young, Stephen Stills sang, "What a field day for the heat/A thousand people in the street/Singing songs and carrying signs/Mostly say, hooray for our side."
'Tin soldiers and Nixon'
The unmistakable opening riff for "Ohio" brought the crowd to its feet. That song is about the fatal shooting in 1970 of Kent State University students by the Ohio National Guard and criticizes former President Richard Nixon.
The politics were over-the-top Sunday night, and well-received.
But anchoring the evening was the musicianship. The vocal harmonies of Crosby and Nash sounded as solid as they did four decades ago. And Stills and Young played their guitars with the enthusiasm of 15-year-olds at a high school battle of the bands.
Two out of the dozens of highlights: Nash and Crosby singing simple backup vocals as Young plunked on an old, worn, upright piano during "Only Love Can Break Your Heart"; and "Treetop Flyer," an acoustic guitar duet featuring Stills and Young.
John W. Barry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.