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Would Jon Anderson dare to perform ‘Close to the Edge’ with just a band of teens? Yes!

Former Yes singer Jon Anderson is backed on his "Close to the Edge" 50th anniversary tour by students from the Paul Green Rock Academy.Robin Gilbert

Fifty years ago, the band Yes — lead vocalist Jon Anderson, bassist Chris Squire, drummer Bill Buford, guitarist Steve Howe, and keyboardist Rick Wakeman — crafted an album that would be acclaimed as a prog rock classic. Combining complex music with mystical lyrics, “Close to the Edge” comprised a mere three songs, with the title track alone clocking in at just over 18 minutes. The album was certified platinum in 1998 and named one of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

This summer, to celebrate the album’s golden anniversary, Anderson is performing “Close to the Edge” in its entirety on a tour that launched this week and stops at The Cabot in Beverly on Friday. But there’s a twist: Instead of a traditional backup band, 20 teenage musicians from the Paul Green Rock Academy, based in Philadelphia and Connecticut, will accompany him.


This is not the first time Anderson has worked with Green’s students. In fact, that connection began forming 20 years ago.

“It’s a lovely story,” Anderson says. “Yes was performing in Philadelphia at the Spectrum there and we finished the show, and came outside afterwards backstage. There were about 15 kids … I said, ‘What are you guys?’ and they said, ‘We play rock and roll.’”

It turns out they were students of Paul Green, a music teacher and entrepreneur who founded what was then known as School of Rock (now the Paul Green Rock Academy). Green’s unique teaching style incorporated group rehearsals and workshops with well-known industry professionals. That night, Green asked Anderson if he’d be interested in working with the teenagers.

Anderson laughed. “I said, ‘Not really.’” It was just about a month later, however, when Green sent him a cassette of his students performing “Heart of the Sunrise.”


“It’s a very beautiful, powerful Yes song from the ‘Fragile’ album,” Anderson says, “and not an easy piece of music. They performed it so well I kind of freaked out and called him up and said, ‘These kids are amazing.’”

That was the beginning of his collaboration with Green’s students. Throughout the years, Anderson occasionally performed with them, and last summer they toured together for a few months. He agreed to tour with them again this year, with the provision that they perform “Close to the Edge.”

“We did it in Florida early this year and it went really well,” he says. “We realized it’s the 50th anniversary … so why don’t we do the whole album this summer, plus a lot of other wonderful pieces of music that we do together?” The setlist includes some of Anderson’s solo work as well as mash-ups from other rock artists including Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa, and The Beatles.

While Anderson is celebrating the anniversary of the album here in the United States, the current members of Yes (Steve Howe, Geoff Downes, Jon Davison, and Billy Sherwood, along with Jay Schellen, who will play drums following Alan White’s death in May), are conducting their own “Close to the Edge” tour throughout Europe and Japan. In 2008, Anderson was hospitalized with a respiratory illness, and the band asked Canadian singer Benoit David to step in as lead singer. David then went on tour with Yes and Anderson, once he recovered, pursued a solo career.


Asked what it’s like to perform this music now compared with its inception in 1972, Anderson says it’s “as refreshing as it was when we first did it, actually.”

“It’s always a challenge, especially working with teenagers. It’s important that they enjoy playing what they play and making it sound as good as the record or as near to the right chord as possible. That’s the fun and games, [and] it’s wonderful.”

The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of performing with a rock legend has been impactful for the young musicians who have spent countless hours rehearsing. “Having been in this business as long as I have, I am still amazed by the effect this experience has on my students,” says Green. “Not only are they playing these legendary songs with the dude who wrote and sang them, but they are actually working with Jon … harmonizing vocals, trading solos at his direction, and arranging songs on the fly. It’s like a year of music college in three weeks on the road.”

In the meantime, Anderson is continuing to write new music, and he just finished a five-year project. “Four hours of new music. I’m just figuring out how I’m going to put it out into the world, and generally speaking I’d love to perform it all when it’s ready because it’s with a full orchestra and choir and everything.”

Anderson believes a new wave of prog rock is just ahead. “They [the current generation of artists] have this definite style of music going on that’s very, very hip and very cool and very soulful, very clear, really powerful stuff, but it’s all down to three or four minutes, five minutes at the most,” he says. ”All the musicians have to do is spread their wings and start being a little bit more adventurous, and the next batch of what you will call progressive music will come through in the next year or two.”


As for his current touring band: “These kids are smart, they’re sweet, they’re so evolved, and they love making music,” Anderson says. “To be with them you get a feeling of joyfulness, gratefulness, thankfulness. It’s really special.”


At The Cabot, Beverly. July 8 at 8 p.m. Tickets from $49.50-$69.50. thecabot.org