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First Listen: Neil Young's 'Sugar Mountain: Live At Canterbury House 1968'

Neil Young in 1968, around the time of the 'Sugar Mountain' concert.  He was just 22 years old.
Neil Young in 1968, around the time of the 'Sugar Mountain' concert. He was just 22 years old.

Neil Young was just a few days shy of his 23rd birthday when he took the stage at the Canterbury House in Ann Arbor, Mich., for what would become a legendary performance. It was 1968, and Young was about to release his self-titled debut solo album. His old band, Buffalo Springfield, had split up six months earlier, and few people even knew who Young was. But to his own surprise, and to the surprise of the Canterbury House, Young drew a sold-out audience.

Neil Young was horribly nervous before the performance and had to be coaxed from his hotel room by his manager Elliot Roberts and the minister of Canterbury House, Dan Burke. Burke tells NPR Music he remembers Neil Young huddled in Young's hotel room bed, too scared to perform. He told Burke no one would want to hear the Buffalo Springfield tunes or his new tunes. Young was afraid he didn't have enough material. But he was eventually persuaded to take the small stage.

"You really blew our minds," an astonished emcee said while introducing the performance. "We only expected a lot less people than showed up. I think you are a lot wiser than we were."

Despite the packed house, it was an intimate performance, as Young treated his audience to a cozy set of material most had never heard before, though some were Buffalo Springfield tracks. Studio versions of some of the songs, like "Birds" and "The Old Laughing Lady," would appear later on various Neil Young solo albums.

Few people outside of those in attendance that night would have known about the Ann Arbor performance if it weren't for a 1970 single Young released called "The Loner." The B-side of that 45 was "Sugar Mountain" — which, according to a note printed on the disc, was recorded live at the Canterbury House. Neil Young fans speculated that a recording of the entire concert must exist somewhere, and eagerly awaited its release.

The live recording of "Sugar Mountain" reappeared as a B-side to the "Cinnamon Girl" single in 1970, and again in 1977 on the double disc Decade, a compilation of Neil Young hits. But the rest of the concert recorded in Ann Arbor remained a mystery.

Now, 40 years later, Neil Young and Reprise Records are finally releasing the long-awaited Canterbury House performance as part of the Archives Performance Series, Young's effort to release box-set editions of past live concerts. Live at the Fillmore East was released in 2006, with Live at Massey Hall 1971 following a year later.

Sugar Mountain — Live At Canterbury House 1968 will be released Dec. 2, but you can hear the entire album here on NPR Music as an exclusive first listen.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.