It's that time of the year again, folks! This Friday is Neil Young's 76th birthday, and as locals have come to find, there's no better way to celebrate the artist than by jamming out at Church of Neil. This year marks the 18th happening of the sacred event, happening this year at Worthy Brewing. If you haven't been before, this "church" trades stained-glass windows and pews for raging fire pits and glasses filled with beer. The similarities are found in the camaraderie and the love the hymns performed can bring.
"One thing I love about Neil more than anything is the power of his music to connect people," says Travis Ehrenstrom, longtime Church of Neil performer. "I've been playing Church of Neil since I was a teenager and have made some of my best memories and met some of my best friends through his music."
In other current Neil-Young-news, the iconic songwriter is close to releasing his next album with longtime collaborators Crazy Horse, the 10-track project titled "Barn." The album will be out in full Dec. 10, and so far Young has released two singles off the upcoming release—the first being "Song of the Seasons," a soft but vivid and descriptive song that takes you through what the singer hears and feels gazing at the world around him. The most recent single, "Heading West," is shorter than the former but packs in a little more energy as it details the story of the "good old days" from growing up as a little boy, to those teenage years as the protagonist heads west with his mother.
One of the most evident things about these two songs is that Young definitely still has it—that magical touch of songwriting and creating a story that sticks. Even after decades on decades of creating material, his skill at channeling prose into song is unmatched. This is just one bullet point in a list of many reasons why artists and bands cherish and look forward to spending the night performing and listening at Church of Neil.
"I love the simplicity and truth to most of Neil's songs. They are timeless, and the fact that he has just as successful a solo-acoustic career as he does with a full on rock 'n' roll band is inspiring to me," says Pete Kartsounes, another performer on Friday night. "Too many songs to just mention one... but of my favorite songs, 'Out On The Weekend' and 'Unknown Legend' stand out. I'm excited to be a part of both of those songs this Friday!"
Ehrenstrom also points to Young's longevity and dedication to staying true to himself as another inspiring piece of his artistry.
"Neil is one of the few artists who has survived a long career of 'no compromise.' He follows the muse on his own terms and goes wherever it leads. Though this has made him a notably stubborn and difficult person to work with, he's left behind a trail of incredible music for over 60+ years. While I couldn't possibly name a favorite Neil song, my flavor of the month is 'Hold On To Your Love' off of his '80s electronic record, 'Trans.'"
Bend's Church of Neil originally started as a gathering hosted by Andy Fecteau and his wife to celebrate Young's music among friends, but it has evolved into not only a special night for musicians, but also an important fundraiser for music education in Central Oregon, going through Bend Roots.
In 2019, Fecteau explained the importance of the event, following the "Neil-ethos" of doing good, and why funding arts programs is important, calling it a "circle of love" that gives back to current living musicians and offers opportunity to future generations of musicians that look to stand the test of time just as Young has.
Other performers for the evening include Alicia Viani, John Shipe, Gbots and The Journeymen, Ponderosa Kings and more. Plus—rumor has it Young was sent an invite to this special birthday party. Whether or not he's there physically, the spirit of Neil Young will be felt regardless.