Humility is a quality that becomes a legend most, and Neil Diamond showed it in spades while accepting the Legend of Live award at Billboard’s Touring Awards Thursday night, honoring his more than 45 years as a performer.
After giving ample thanks, particularly to his fans, for the honor, he proceeded to read the entirety of his first-ever newspaper concert review, a largely scathing yet exceptionally well-written piece in the Los Angeles Times of his performance at The Hullabaloo in 1966 (which concluded by saying, “his personal appearance at the Hullabaloo is sadly lacking in the evident talent that sparks his songs and records”), to uproarious laughter from the crowd.
“I’m here tonight to thank you for this and to thank you for the encouragement because I can now finally put away that 1966 review,” he said. “And I have it in my dressing room and I’ve kept it for the 45 years since. It was written to remind me that I still have a way to go, but maybe not quite as long a way as I did in 1966.”
Such moments of candor were in generous supply thanks to host Sandra Bernhard, who billed herself as “the other Hurricane Sandy” in the opening remarks she penned for Billboard editorial director Bill Werde.
“I’m giving you diamonds like Rihanna, Nicki Minaj’s booty, Mick Jagger’s lips, Stevie Nicks’ swirling shawls… and one of Madonna’s old G-strings. Do with it what you want,” Bernhard told the crowd, which was full of industry heavyweights. “I also brought a sack of cash and five ounces of blow just in case that still flies around here. Can I get something out of it? A single? Something on iTunes?”
Bernhard, a veteran comedienne and cabaret performer, had a few touring tales of her own. “This reminds me of when I was out on the road in the early ’80s when I opened for Doc Severinsen and my manager Irene Penn, who loved to eat, insisted on eating fried clam strips while the Northern Lights performed. Those were the days.”
Broadway veteran Leslie Uggams was on hand to present the Humanitarian Award to the Apollo Theater, a venue where she serves on the board and has a long history as a performer. “The Apollo is near and dear to me because I started playing at the Apollo when I was 9 years old,” she said, sharing a story of how she won an amateur-hour radio contest to play the famed Harlem venue. And she couldn’t have asked for a better headliner. “I got to play with the fabulous Louis Armstrong. And at 9 years old, I also got billed ‘Louis Satchmo Armstrong and extra added attraction.'”
The acceptance speeches were heavy on humility with frequent dashes of humor. Top Club winner Seth Hurwitz of Washington, D.C.’s 9:30 Club traded in political double entendre for his acceptance speech: “Well, that was a close one, and we won. Four more years.” Top Festival winners Coachella thanked Tupac, and even more importantly, the fans. “Fans don’t have a rider, so it’s kind of easy to deliver for them,” said Goldenvoice president Paul Tollett.
Top Manager Mark Fenwick, whose client Roger Waters’ The Wall tour also took home Top Tour, was in even more candid form. “I’ve been in the business since 1969 and I’ve never been so frightened as I am in this moment. I’ve met the nastiest people in the whole world and I am frightened to be on the stage with Sandra Bernhard. Two nights in Buenos Aires would finish me off,” Fenwick said. He then turned serious to share his sustained awe at the success of Waters’ tour. “Roger wrote “The Wall” in 1980, it toured with Pink Floyd for 29 shows and then in Berlin in 1990. We’ve done 191 shows now and it’s been unbelievably successful and it is Roger’s dream and this is for the people who actually worked on it. This is only one part of it and it’s for everybody and thank you very much for this award. Hopefully I will be able to get off the stage without being raped.”
Waters himself even made a special appearance via pre-taped video, and shared Fenwick’s surprise at The Wall’s box office draw. “The thought of someone becoming popular at my age is not necessarily something that one would aspire to I think,” he said. “It’s important to remain unpopular, otherwise you feel like you haven’t clung with enough tenacity to your principles and some of the messages that you’re trying to insert in your work.” Still, Waters was extremely grateful to all the audiences around the world who were able to let him put on an “extremely political and polemic [show] in the tradition of anti-authoritarian and anti-war troubadours of the past.”
The unofficial award for the night’s hardest-working performer, however, goes to Kenny Chesney, who appeared on-stage three different times — twice to accept awards for Top Package and Road Warrior, and the third to present Waddell with a special Legend of Scribe award. An eight-time winner of the Top Package award, this was Chesney’s first appearance at the Touring Awards.
“It was ironic that before I came up here they had ‘Dancing In The Dark’ playing, and I have a lot of heroes that have busted down the door for guys like me that help me make music like I make it and tour like I tour,” Chesney while accepting his Road Warrior award. “And Bruce is one of those. I met Neil Diamond, it was an honor to meet someone like Neil Diamond who continues to have focus and record music and go out and entertain people. To be able to do that in my life is one of the biggest honors and thrills that I have.”
Another ironic moment came when Waddell was introducing Diamond, and at one point referred to him as “Mr. Young,” a goof that the honoree did not fail to notice.
“Neil Young couldn’t make it here tonight, I’m sorry,” Diamond said to thunderous applause. “Ray, I love you… it could’ve been Neil Sedaka!”
Such grace and humor are just one reason why, after more than 45 years on the road, Diamond has no intention to retire — perhaps ever. “I’m still doing it and I’ll do it until the day that I die,” he said. “Although if you bought a ticket to the show on the day that I die, there will be no refunds. It’s a souvenir, enjoy it. I got a lot of bills to pay.”