These pages detail the performances of Neil Young and Crazy Horse at the Old Princeton Landing bar near Half Moon Bay in Northern California during March-June 1996

An overcast day at the OPL and The Roadhouse Cafe

During the Spring of 1996, Neil Young and Crazy Horse (Frank 'Poncho' Sampedro, Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina) were recording a new album up at Neil’s Broken Arrow Ranch in the Santa Cruz mountains near San Francisco. A Tour of Europe and the USA was planned to begin in mid-June.

For whatever reasons, whether to gain inspiration for the new album or to warm-up for the forthcoming tour, Neil and Crazy Horse embarked on what has become known as 'The Northern California Bar Tour of 1996' - a string of sixteen performances conducted over a period of three months. Although it is not uncommon for Neil and The Horse to play a few local warm-up shows before hitting the road, the number of these particular shows led some to speculate that they were a nostalgic celebration of a similar series of shows performed some twenty years earlier in 1976. However, although many old favourites from that time period were played, the intensity of the performances and the eventual introduction of all of the songs from the new album showed that this was a far cry from a stroll down memory lane.

While two of these shows occurred at The Catalyst in Santa Cruz, the remaining fourteen were performed at the Old Princeton Landing (OPL) bar in Princeton-By-The-Sea, a small harbour town about four miles north of Half Moon Bay on the California Coast south of San Francisco.

Formerly known as The Harbor Bar and Scotts, Old Princeton Landing has an occupancy limit of 150 people, and on weekends attracts a clientele of about 30-100 folk depending on the drawing power of the live band performing. The band that performed there in the Spring of 1996, though almost completely unpublicised, had an unusually high drawing power.

In order to avoid drawing undue attention to themselves, Neil and Crazy Horse played under the pseudonym of 'The Echos', and even went so far as to print up a small letter-sized advertisement for their performances:

"I heard a perfect Echo die

Into an anonymous wall of digital sound

Somewhere deep inside

Of my soul"

from 'Natural Beauty' - Neil Young

This advert appeared outside of Old Princeton Landing for the first set of shows (18 - 21 March 1996). Subsequent shows appeared to be planned on the spur of the moment, and for some of these events a photocopy of this advert was displayed with the 18 March area whited out and the new date written in its place (here is an an example of this). However, the advert was usually only to be found taped to part of the stage set-up since it didn't take too long before the true identity of 'The Echos' became widely known.

The first of the Echos shows occurred on the 18th March at Old Princeton Landing and the last show took place on the 9th June at the same venue. The dates of the shows were as follows:

The setlists for these shows may be found at Tom Hambleton's Sugar Mountain website. Two further shows that were to be held on the 10th and 11th of June at OPL were cancelled, most likely due to problems encountered with the sound system during the 9th June show, that necessitated urgent debugging in preparation for the upcoming European Tour.

Eric Rice described the scene after the first few shows in his Half Moon Bay Review

18 March 1996        OPL

19 March 1996        OPL

20 March 1996        OPL

21 March 1996        OPL

9 April 1996         OPL

10 April 1996        OPL

13 April 1996        OPL

14 April 1996        OPL

8 May 1996           The Catalyst

9 May 1996           The Catalyst

22 May 1996          OPL

23 May 1996          OPL

4 June 1996          OPL

5 June 1996          OPL

6 June 1996          OPL

9 June 1996          OPL

With a capacity of only 150, tickets for the OPL shows were extremely difficult to obtain. Initially, the breakdown in distribution was believed to be 50 tickets for guests of the band, 50 for guests of OPL and 50 to be sold to the public at a charge of $20 per ticket. In order to avoid the lucky few among the public from re-selling their ticket at an inflated price, the ticket took the form of a wristband that was customised to the individual wrist. A different coloured wristband was issued for each show.

Examples of the wristbands issued for some of the shows are pictured here. That at the second from bottom was for The Catalyst (9 May) while the rest were for OPL.

A local promoter for the Half Moon Bay area named Bob Lacey, pictured here (on right) with your humble narrator, was in charge of distributing the tickets to the public. Bob passed away in 2004. (pic:Devon).

At the later shows at OPL it appeared that a greater number of the tickets were sold to the public, as the band and OPL guest numbers dropped off. The tickets for the shows were issued on the morning of the performance, and if a second or third show was to be held on the following evening, the tickets were sold during the third and final set, so that a different 50 members of the public who had been patiently waiting outside for many hours got their chance to attend.

During the 'Echos' performances at OPL most of the windows were covered with black drapes. However, one small window on the band's right was left uncovered at the band's request. This allowed ten or more people without tickets to peer in at the show while standing atop a bench outside OPL or on a number of empty 20 gallon drums that were commandeered for the shows.

During some of the colder nights, those outside could venture into The Roadhouse Cafe (now closed) next door for a hot coffee and a bite to eat, and sit back and enjoy the sounds of the Horse through the wall.

Don and Jan Leary and Ken Schick snag the head of the queue for tickets to the following day's show - if there is one, that is - only 7 hours to go before they find out ! (pic:Richie). The guy in the background is on the "Echos at OPL" hotline.

The Catalyst in Santa Cruz holds around 800 - and it is believed that about 500 wristbands were sold for each of the two Echos shows at that venue. On the morning of the 9 May, the message on the answering machine of The Catalyst announced that tickets for 'The Echos' performance that evening were currently on sale at the venue !

The shows at OPL usually began around 9:30 pm, and those without tickets were free to come and go until around 8 pm. At that time only those with a wristband for that nights performance were allowed remain. The door to the bar was manned by two burly local guys named Ray and Eric, who were incredibly amiable, reflecting the very relaxed athmosphere that prevailed during the shows. Additional security for the performers was provided by three gentlemen with Walkie-Talkies that are usually to be found patrolling Shoreline Amphitheatre.

Following the shows, Ray (at left) tied the knot with Hilda on a sunny day at the Legion, next door to OPL.

Sadly, Ray passed away in his sleep within days of attending the 1997 Bridge School concert. I will dearly miss him on my future visits to the Old Princeton Landing, as I'm sure will many others. Ray was one of the nice people.

During the performances the bar was manned by Dan, pictured left (on right, with your humble narrator on left; pic:Devon), and Mike, pictured right. These guys took care of a lot of thirsty Rock 'n' Roll fans, but hey, they also got to see 14 performances by Neil and the Horse !

Neil at OPL
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Neil Young and Crazy Horse at Old Princeton Landing