What: Church of Neil

When: 7 p.m. Saturday, doors open at 6 p.m.

Where: Worthy Brewing, 495 NE Bellevue Drive, Bend

Cost: $10-$20 suggested donation

Contact: bit.ly/bbchurchofneil

Every early November for the past 15 years, down by the (Deschutes) river, under a harvest moon (it’s probably happened some years), Bend keeps on rockin’ in the free world.

The occasion (not that Bend ever needs an occasion to rock out): Canadian singer-songwriter, guitarist, activist and entrepreneur Neil Young’s birthday, Nov. 12. Young turns 73 this year, and Bend’s annual birthday celebration spearheaded by Redbird the Band’s Andy Fecteau — the Church of Neil — returns Saturday with eight bands featuring roughly 35 local musicians on three stages at Worthy Brewing.

That last statement may give longtime Bendites pause. In the past, Church of Neil, which serves as a fundraiser for Rise Up International’s educational programs in Bend-La Pine Schools, has been an underground affair, with the venue left unannounced until sometimes hours before the show (an “Everybody Knows this is Nowhere” situation, to continue the streak of Young puns).

The event went public last year, its second at Spoken Moto, drawing about 1,300 people and raising $6,000 for Rise Up. Fecteau said he wanted to go underground again this year, but the opportunity at Worthy Brewing was too good to pass up.

“Roger Worthington (Worthy Brewing owner) called us up and said, ‘Hey, we heard’ — because we were kind of underground looking for a place to have it — he said, ‘I heard you’re looking for a place; I’ll close down, and you can have my whole brewery to do it,’” Fecteau said. “So we were like, OK. And then, he said, ‘It’s a nonprofit event, let’s flip it the other way and go real huge.’ So why not?”

But for those lamenting the loss of Bend’s best-kept secret, Fecteau pointed out that Church of Neil has gone public before.

“Century Center, we did one where we advertised and had a cover at the door and everything,” he said. “… It was also at the Domino Room, we did one year that we went commercial and public and what have you.”

Fecteau, a physical therapist who co-founded Rebound Physical Therapy and owns Redbird Physio, and his wife, Kathy O’Hara, started Church of Neil as an informal party initially to celebrate the opening of the Rebound Sports Performance Lab. About 60 to 70 people came to the lab, and Fecteau played Young videos and records. The second year was similar.

“The most significant (thing that happened) that year was there were two individuals riding an electric tandem bicycle on my high-speed treadmill at the end of the show,” Fecteau said. “… And there was blue frosting everywhere.”

Why the frosting?

“I’m not gonna tell you any more than that,” Fecteau said, laughing. “But that’s good to know — blue frosting and electric tandem bicycles on a high-speed treadmill. You don’t hear those words put together very often. That could be a Neil song.”

In its third year, Church of Neil took over the upstairs Annex in the Midtown Ballroom complex. A single house band with rotating musicians performed Young songs for three to four hours, Fecteau said. The following year, Fecteau was unable to find a venue and erected a large tent in the front yard of his house (“That year was marked by mud and police,” Fecteau said).

“I think there was maybe a few years where it was like, oh, just somebody maybe with just an acoustic guitar, like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll get up and do ‘Heart of Gold’ or whatever,’ and it was like, that’s cool,” local bassist and music educator Patrick Pearsall said. Pearsall, who has played most of the Church of Neil events with live music, will lead one of two house bands at this year’s event. “And then, ‘Well, hey, my band could learn a few songs, and hey, why don’t we kind of make a band for the thing?’ It was a really organic development. And then, it became more well known, of course, and then, people were like, ‘Dude, can I please do the Church of Neil? This is awesome.’”

The event hasn’t been in a single venue for more than two years. Past locations include the Domino Room, Century Center, Pakit Liquidators and the climbing gym that used to be near Strictly Organic on Bond Street, among others.

“It’s a pop-up party, so we do it in places that aren’t necessarily venues,” Pearsall said. “… There’s a very D.I.Y. vibe sometimes. It just shows up, and then, it’s just gone.”

Singer-songwriter and music educator Mark Ransom, Pearsall’s bandmate in The Mostest, played the third Church of Neil in the Annex and has returned every year since, despite not being a Young fan initially. Ransom and Pearsall co-founded the annual Bend Roots Revival festival, Church of Neil’s sister event of sorts — both focus heavily on local musicians and raise money for Rise Up International.

“I made fun of Neil Young’s one-note guitar solos, and I didn’t understand why (his music) felt sometimes dissonant and out-of-tune. It seemed overly simple to me,” Ransom said. “… What I think I was missing in the over-simplification and the grunginess of it that I didn’t really care for was his message, and I think his message is really aligned with Rise Up and with (Bend) Roots (Revival) and giving people a voice in their community through creative expression.”

Though many musicians return year after year, newcomers find their way onto the bill. Local band Northwest Compromise will perform at its third Church of Neil in a row Saturday.

“It’s just really cool. All the musicians are coming up to you from other groups and talking to you, and that’s not always the case when you’re playing out at other spots,” guitarist and vocalist Mark Keating said. “It kind of gives you the feeling — it’s goofy, but it kind of fulfills that — every kid who takes a guitar lesson wants to get up onstage and rip, and it’s an excuse to do that.”

Fostering that kind of musical community is a big reason Fecteau continues to host the event (other than his love of Young’s music, of course).

“We get musicians sometimes who don’t normally work together who are — here we are, we’re doing these six songs,” Fecteau said.

“And they get together. Like my band — I’m in House Band One — we’re on our fourth practice, and we have one more practice before the event, and half (of) the musicians I’ve never worked with before. It’s a cool thing for the musicians to cross-pollinate.”

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