David Crosby couldn’t have known that his appearance as an opener for Jason Isbell on Sep. 17, 2019, was going to be his last proper concert before he died at the age of 81 on Jan. 18, 2023. Already approaching 80, he knew that time and health were against him. But a late-career revival had focused his attention on doing as much work as possible before the end came.
That night, at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Co., he delivered a nine-song set that heavily featured Crosby, Stills & Nash material but also contained his solo composition “Janet” and CSNY classic “Deja Vu.” He also returned to the stage to assist Isbell’s band with a cover of “Ohio” (Isbell had earlier guested on Crosby’s version of “Wooden Ships.”) He’d make one more stage appearance – a four-song set in Toronto on Oct. 5 with collaborator Michelle Willis, who wrote “Janet” – but those were his last moments onstage.
The chances of reuniting with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash – with or without Neil Young – had dropped to zero over the past decade, with relationships having soured due to Crosby’s ability to say the wrong things at the wrong moments. Despite that, he had enjoyed a new lease on his creative life, releasing the solo album Croz in 2014, followed by Lighthouse (2016), Sky Trails (2017), Here if You Listen (2018, featuring Willis, Michael League and Becca Stevens, known as the Lighthouse Band) and For Free (2021).
Watch David Crosby Perform ‘Long Time Gone’ and ‘Janet’ at His Last Full Show
“I know it’s going to end. I mean, that’s what happens. You get old, you die,” Crosby told UCR when For Free arrived. “You don’t know how much time you’ve got. You don’t know if you’ve got two weeks or 10 years. What you do know is what the quality of your life is, how you spend that time. I’m trying to spend it making music because I think it’s a contribution. I think it makes things better and that makes me feel good. And I’m trying to feel good. So this is all a complete joy to me.”
In the same interview he lamented that “maybe COVID stole my last functioning year” as a touring musician; in May 2022, at age 80, he asserted he was just too old to hit the road again. “I don’t have the stamina. I don’t have the strength. … Maybe I could do residencies if they paid me enough. But I think it’s entirely possible that I may not get to play anymore.”
Seven months later, on the release of Live at the Capitol Theatre – recorded in 2018 with the Lighthouse Band and featuring new material – Crosby explained that he was no longer able to perform a show properly. “It’s possible that I could teach my guitar parts to somebody else. I can’t play well enough anymore,” he said. “I’ve got tendonitis in both hands. I can’t play well enough for my standards onstage. I could probably get away with it and you’d probably like it, but it’s not good enough for me.”
Watch Jason Isbell Guest on ‘Wooden Ships’ at David Crosby’s Last Show
At that point, he revealed one new Lighthouse Band album had been completed but did not confirm a release date. He was also working on a follow-up to Sky Trails with his son James Raymond and started writing for another Lighthouse Band LP. “The real thing that drives me is the partnerships that I’ve got with these other people now,” he said. “It’s allowing me to extend my working life as a writer by probably 10 years. I can write with other people and successfully generate good stuff.”
Despite his comfort over the fact that “everybody dies … I’m sure someone told you,” his determination to remain positive was there until the end. On Dec. 15, 2022, he tweeted, “So I played with some friends the day before yesterday and spent today singing with two really good friends and … dare I say it? … I think I’m starting yet another band and going back out to play live.”
Watch David Crosby Guest with Jason Isbell at His Last Full Show
In Memoriam: 2022 Deaths
A look at those we’ve lost.