Tonight – Friday, Oct. 5 – Boynton Beach singer-songwriter Jason Colannino will be paying tribute to a music icon: Neil Young. Those familiar with Palm Beach County nightlife may recognize Colannino for his weekly gigs at venues like the Sundy House, Johnnie Brown’s and Havana Hideout, where he performs the music of the Beatles, Paul Simon, James Taylor and others.
Tonight, though, at the Crest Theatre at Center for the Arts at Old School Square, it’s all about Canada’s most versatile and outspoken musical export – and it’s no ordinary tribute concert. The $25 cover charge will benefit the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, which aims to cure spinal cord injuries. Colannino, who himself has suffered from a much-publicized degenerative disease, discusses the importance of the cause, the appeals and challenges of Neil Young’s music, and his origins in the music business.
How did you become involved in this benefit event – and what does it mean to you to be able to contribute to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation?
I heard about the Foundation through Steve Levenson. I played at a party for Steve earlier this year. We talked about how cool it would be to put on a show. A few months later a co-worker of his named Katherine Sharp asked if I would do a benefit for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. A friend of Steve' named Alan Brown has had a spinal cord in jury and been confined to a wheelchair for 25 years.
I have done many benefits over the years, and it’s always very meaningful to me to share music with people that have disabilities and can’t get out to see or hear live music. I am legally blind with retinitis pigmentosa. So it is very meaningful to be able to contribute in any way I can to help bring hope to people with disabilities.
Neil Young’s music has encompassed many styles – folk, country, Americana, “adult-contemporary,” protest music, noise rock. Is there a particular style that you favor, and that you most like to play?
The beauty of Neil's music is the fact that it can’t be categorized. He has ventured into many different styles, which is the trademark of a true artist. I never looked at Neil's music as different styles, but just the mood Neil must have been in. Any of his styles are interchangeable. Neil's songs can be played in any style. I play his songs simply as a catalog of his work.
What are some of the Neil Young songs you’ll be performing?
I will be performing songs that people expect to hear and perhaps some that are unexpected.
Have you had to learn (or re-learn) more Neil Young tunes than usually turn up in your sets, to do an entire set of songs by one performer?
I haven’t really had to learn the songs for this night. Granted, I will be playing songs I’ve never played live before. I play every night of the week, and I just want to offer something that can’t be seen at my regular gigs.
I saw an excellent video of your live version of “Harvest Moon,” and if I didn’t see the video, I would have assumed it was Neil’s version! Did you have to practice Neil’s distinctive voice, or does voice mimicry come naturally to you?
Neil’s voice does come naturally. This is not an impersonation show – although I have occasionally dressed up as Neil for Halloween, and portrayed Neil in a stage production of “The Last Waltz” at the Crest Theatre. It’s funny how if you don’t sound like Neil when you play his songs, people tend to think you’re tring too hard. I do have an ear for catching little things in Neil's guitar work. It takes time and practice but it seems to come easy for me, because I love the music.
How does the Crest Theatre rank among the best venues you’ve played?
The Crest Theatre is a beautiful historic theater, as well as the rest of Old School Square. I’ve also played in the gym. Delray Beach really does respect the history of its town and preserving it as well, so it ranks very high.
How long have you been playing music – and at what point did you realize this would be your career?
I’ve been playing music for a career since 1992, full-time. I guess I was around 7 when I went to my first concert. I saw Harry Chapin in Asbury Park in 1975, and that was pretty much it. I didn’t start playing guitar for real until eighth grade.
Do you want to talk about your battle with retinitis pigmentosa at all? Has there been any progress combating your condition?
There seems to be progress in the treatment research, but not in this country. My vision loss is extremely slow. I am 43 years old, and it took this long to get to this point. But I think I’ve adapted quite well.
The concert begins at 8 p.m. at the Crest Theatre, 51 N. Swinton Ave., Delray Beach. Call 561/243-7922 or visit delraycenterforthearts.org.