Watch David Crosby’s final performance – a rendition of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s Ohio with Jason Isbell

David Crosby
(Image credit: Mairo Cinquetti/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Yesterday (January 19), it was announced that David Crosby had passed away at the age of 81.

Founder of the Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the influential guitarist, singer and songwriter performed his last-ever live show early last year, when he joined Jason Isbell for a powerful two-song cameo at The Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara.

Footage from that evening has resurfaced online, with fans flocking to clips of Crosby performing his last-ever live song: a cover of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Ohio.

Joining country guitar star Isbell and his house group, The 400 Unit, on February 26, Crosby helped his peers perform a cover of the band’s protest song Ohio, which was written by Neil Young and released as a single in 1970 by the band.

Wielding a Stratocaster, Crosby can be seen corralling the crowd into singing along and punctuating Isbell’s vocals with his own improvised contributions, all while supplying some gritty supportive strums.

It’s a track the pair know well, having performed it at various venues and occasions, including a rousing rendition in 2019 at the Red Rocks Amphitheater.

Just before playing Ohio on the evening in question, Crosby, Isbell and The 400 Unit also joined forces for a live rendition of Isbell’s What’ve I Done to Help – a track for which Isbell drafted Crosby into the studio for vocal duties.

Crosby and Isbell’s relationship extended far beyond the Arlington Theatre performance, with the pair first meeting at the 2018 Newport Folk Festival, where they performed Ohio and CSN’s Wooden Ships. After a handful of sporadic live team-ups – including that Red Rocks show – Crosby then helped Isbell record What’ve I Done to Help and Only Children in 2020.

Speaking to Rolling Stone, Isbell reflected at length on his relationship with Crosby, and recalled the evening of February 26 when the pair teamed up for Crosby’s final performance.

“What got him out of the house and to the show was that he wanted to come see his buddies,” he said. “And it would have been silly for him to come and not sing.”

“That was the last time I saw him,” Isbell continued. “At that time, he didn’t think he was going to be able to do any more touring. He was having trouble with his hands for a long time and getting to the point where it was hard for him to play. 

“I think that had caused him to resign himself to not be able to do any more live shows, but recently I think he was feeling a little more optimistic about it. He was still writing and recording a whole lot and finished another record from what I understand.”

David Crosby

(Image credit: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images)

Isbell also took the opportunity to pay tribute to Crosby’s carefree spirit by recalling the time the pair recorded What’ve I Done to Help, saying, “Dave [Cobb, producer] had just bought a brand new API console, the first brand-new one I had ever seen in my life, and [Crosby] came in, sat down and dumped out a big sack of weed right on the console, and started rolling a joint.

“He smoked a joint, we sang together, and then he laid down on the couch and went to sleep.”

Isbell added, “Rule No. 1 for David was to be honest. So if he complimented you, it wasn’t bullshit. He was somebody who would challenge even the greatest of his peers, be it Neil [Young] or Joni [Mitchell]. 

“He would challenge them to go somewhere that wasn’t comfortable for them musically. If he got bored with the way a guitar sounded, he’d tune a different tuning that nobody had ever tried before.”

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.