Stephen Stills talks family, phones, flag, and staying relevant

Stephen Stills performs during the 25th Anniversary Rainforest Fund Benefit Concert at Carnegie Hall on April 17, 2014 in New York.
Stephen Stills performs during the 25th Anniversary Rainforest Fund Benefit Concert at Carnegie Hall on April 17, 2014 in New York. Getty Images

Stephen Stills was scheduled to spend the summer on the road with the Rides – his trio with Kenny Wayne Shepherd and keyboardist Barry Goldberg – but when the band’s album was pushed back and Shepherd was offered an opening slot with Van Halen, Stills decided to hit the road solo. He’ll play two sets – one solo acoustic and one with his band – Tuesday at Neighborhood Theatre. He spoke to the Observer last week.

Q. How have you spent the time off between Crosby, Stills & Nash and this tour?

A. I’m doing as much with my littlest one as I can. He’s 10. In the “Light Up the Blues” film (documenting Stills’ benefit concert for Autism Speaks), he plays bongos with us for three-quarters of the act. We had to do something to take the eyes off the gnarly, nasty old men in front.

Q. How is your son Henry (who was featured in the 2007 documentary “Autism: The Musical” and was the catalyst for “Light Up the Blues”) now?

A. Henry just graduated from high school and is going to film school. We beat the autism back. He graduated at grade level, thanks to my wife, Kristen.

Q. You’ve raised close to $1 million through three concerts. Will you continue to do them?

A. I’ve run out of band members. I had CSN two years and Neil (Young) for one. Now comes the thing I hate – to ask somebody and find a headliner.

Q. I hear you’ll play some new songs on this tour.

A. We’re going to. There’s one good song on the Rides’ album which I started doing with CSN on the East Coast this spring. It’s a nifty song called “Virtual World” about the distance created by social media. I went into (the studio) to do the vocal and everyone in the booth, including the engineer, were on their cellphones.

(Onstage) I’m famous for reminding people the rules of etiquette of being in the front row. Just because our eyes are closed and it’s a ballad, you should sit there and wait: It’s not like we’re not going to notice you walked out on this beautiful song to go to the bathroom. I understand. The first half of the set is too long.

Q. As someone who writes socially relevant songs, what’s your take on the Confederate flag coming down?

A. I’m sure there will be something about this little fulcrum that we’ve just turned with the grand old flag. Having grown up in the Southeast, I owe black people too much – my music and pretty much everything useful I do in life, except for my English teacher. It’s so over. Honoring our.… It’s bull. The way they treated (President Barack Obama) is indicative enough. It’s way past time. We knew post-racist America would be hard to get to, (but) everybody is reacting with the same thing and it’s been organic and spontaneous.

Q. Are you surprised the issues you were writing about almost 50 years ago are still relevant?

A. You’re talking to a guy who never made less than an A- in history class and (because of what) history tells us, there’s a part of me that isn’t surprised. But there’s part of me that is surprised we’re still singing about the same stuff. The fact that I can sing “For What It’s Worth” with a straight face….

(As a writer) you try to be more of a chronicler and not so incident-specific. At least I do. Sometimes I’ll unleash a torrent of vitriol at something that really sets me off.

Courtney’s blog: cltsoundbites.blogspot.com


Stephen Stills

WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesday.

WHERE: Neighborhood Theatre, 511 E. 36th St.


DETAILS: 704-942-7997; www.neighborhoodtheatre.com.