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25 Apr 2015

Stagecoach 2015: Pegi Young Focuses on New Music—and Education for Special-Needs Children

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Pegi Young. Pegi Young. Kevin Fitzgerald

It was a first for Pegi Young and her band, the Survivors—and she was more than happy to be there.

Young has been in music since 1983, when she sang in The Pinkettes, a group that backed her now ex-husband, Neil Young. In 2007, she released her self-titled debut album.

During an interview at Stagecoach, she expressed excitement for playing at the festival for the first time.

“We are very excited to be here today,” Young said. “I’ve never been here before, but they really dress the place up great. People have been friendly, and they’ve checked our wristbands about 100 times. We’re in the right place!”

In 2014, she released a new album, Lonely in a Crowded Room.

“It feels like ancient history in my head. We recorded a bunch of it at Redwood Digital, and we did some sessions at Capitol, and we put in the backgrounds in Philadelphia,” she said about the album. “We had a little break in the tour, and I knew there were some good gospel singers in Philadelphia. As luck would have it, there was a gospel choir there, and there were these two sisters that broke off and sung backup on our record.”

I asked her whether it was becoming more normal to use gospel singers on Americana-style records.

“I didn’t even know it was a possibility of being cliché,” she said. “I guess I’m not listening to enough music. When you listen to the record, it’s not like traditional gospel. … It just gave me the sound I was looking for.”

A cause has been close to Young’s heart for years: education for children with special needs who suffer from severe physical and speech impairments. She founded the Bridge School with Neil Young in 1986, and every year, there has been a concert to raise money for the school. Her son, Ben, suffers from cerebral palsy.

“I do sit on a board called Artistic Realization Technology, which is art-therapy-based education. At Bridge School, our focus is to really enable kids to access their education by way of low-tech, high-tech or no-tech devices, and of course, I have a 36-year-old son with cerebral palsy. The genesis for founding the school was trying to find education-based programs that existed to fit his needs, and finding none in 1985 or 1986, that’s where we got the big idea to start the school.”

Both the Bridge School and the Bridge School Benefit have grown through the years; it’s an acoustic-based annual concert in Mountain View, Calif. Bands and musicians who have played include Metallica, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Sonic Youth, Pearl Jam and Willie Nelson, just to name a few. Young discussed the first show, back in 1986.

“We had no idea what the heck we were doing. Neil had this idea to make it an acoustic concert, which was a brilliant idea, because this was before MTV Unplugged and that whole thing,” she said. “We were winging it. We didn’t know what we were doing except going out there to raise money to get the school started. Indeed, it has grown, both the concert and the school. I did have big, wild dreams about where this school could go.”

Regarding her career: Young said a new album is in the works, and she’s enjoying playing for live audiences.

“I got a stack of new lyrics for a new record, so when we’re done here, we’re going to go back and work on some melodies for some of my lyrics,” she said. “I was really happy with my current record. We all love the record. We did a tour right after Bridge School Benefit last year and played for about a month, and we’ve been on a hiatus until now.”

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