BY MELISSA RUGGIERI
If you’re sitting in the front row at a Stephen Stills show, keep your phones away from him.
“If I’m in the middle of a soft ballad and my eyes are closed, believe me, I notice you texting. It’s a manners thing. I can’t imagine anyone having them at Chastain Park. I’ve played there enough times to know that crowd. But I’m glad to be in this theater, especially because it’s air-conditioned.”
That’s Stills. The 70-year-old goateed guitar legend in the triumvirate known as Crosby, Stills and Nash — which becomes a quartet when Neil Young peacefully co-exists with everyone — his bandmates for more than four decades.
He’s wickedly funny, refreshingly candid and a bit of a challenge as a focused interviewee.
But how can you not love a guy who responds, when asked if he and Young get along, “Neil and I have never not gotten along. I can’t hold a grudge. Besides, anything Neil did was heavily outweighed by Graham’s (Nash’s) book. Every time I would open a page, I would say, ‘NO! Crosby said that, I didn’t say that!’”
Or this unprompted comment regarding his financial worth, “I’m comfortable, but I’m no Paul McCartney.”
When it’s mentioned that his solo performance at the Buckhead Theatre on July 18 will be a treat for fans used to seeing him flanked by C&N, Stills pauses a millisecond and then laughs heartily. “Because David Crosby isn’t there, you’ll be able to hear me talk! Actually, it’s more Graham now. But God bless them. We’re like ‘The Sunshine Boys.’ We’ve learned our sell-by date. It’s three weeks, and then everything goes crazy.”
For a few weeks, at least, Stills will have the stage all to himself and his band — longtime CSN sidemen Kevin McCormick (bass) and Todd Caldwell (organ) and new drummer Mario Calire.
His concerts are presented in two sets: a solo acoustic offering and then the full band cranking out a career-spanning parade of favorites, including “Southern Cross,” a cover of Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World,” Stills’ free-love anthem, “Love the One You’re With,” and his Buffalo Springfield masterpiece, “For What It’s Worth.”
Also shoehorned into the set are several songs from Stills’ side project the Rides, which includes the exceptional guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd as well as stately blues man Barry Goldberg (while discussing the Rides, Stills returns to his pet peeve of rudeness and phones and notes that the Rides song “Virtual World” is in the set for a reason). He hopes to release a new Rides album this year.
“We start out real gentle,” he said of the show’s pacing. “We’re very aware of our demographic and we don’t make the first half too long; otherwise, I notice the squirming.”
Stills and his Crosby and Nash cohorts played the Fox Theatre last year, but it was a 2006 tour stop at Philips Arena with the Y component of the group that he immediately recalled.
“That tour with Neil did not go over well in Atlanta,” Stills said of the politically infused spate of dates dubbed the “Freedom of Speech Tour.” “But when I go back to Atlanta, I have a lot of friends left over from the Carter administration.”
He also has a stalwart friend in Young, who recently played with Stills at the Third Annual Light Up the Blues concert in Los Angeles to benefit Autism Speaks. The event is spearheaded by Stills and his wife, Kristen; Stills’ 18-year-old son, Henry, has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.
“Now I’m out of band members,” Stills said. “CSN did the first two and Neil did the third. The thing I’m worst at in the world is calling people to ask them to do something for free. But I’m sure Chrissie Hynde, Dave Matthews, someone like that will come through for next year.”
Stills will stay on the road with this solo run through the first week of August and, after a month off, will pick up with CSN again for a fall dash through Europe.
“I’m working at 70 and I’m going to have two children in college and the apple of my eye is my 10-year-old (son Oliver),” Stills said of his “vast and varied progeny” that totals seven.
But don’t expect to see him living the public life of a musician forever.
“I’ll do it until I become embarrassing. I don’t really see myself doing the B.B. King thing until I’m 89,” he said and then paused and laughed again. “But if I’m not careful with these kids in college …”
8 p.m. July 18. $48.50 (all reserved seating). Buckhead Theatre, 3110 Roswell Road, Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com.
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