The Riverboat hosted many notable Canadian musicians, including Young, Mitchell, Lenny Breau, and Gordon Lightfoot, but it was also a destination on the worldwide circuit. Many famous American performers played there, including Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, John Lee Hooker, Tim Hardin, and, of course, Phil Ochs.
Neil Young is the most intimately associated with the venue of all of these performers. Notably, in 1974’s ‘Ambulance Blues’ from On the Beach, Young reflects on his early years as a singer, singing: “Back in the old folky days / The air was magic when we played / The riverboat was rockin’ in the rain.” Young’s 2009 album Live at the Riverboat 1969 adds to the impression that they are tightly correlated.
Meanwhile, Young’s connection with The Riverboat was not always so pleasant. Don’t Be Denied, John Einarson’s 1992 biography of Neil Young’s earlier years as a musician, recounted a scenario in which Young performed a prank on The Riverboat when the concierge refused them entry to see Jess Colin Young’s play.
In retaliation, Young and McDonald reportedly persuaded the organizers that Bob Dylan would be doing an unexpected gig there. People couldn’t believe it when the news emerged, and the venue was filled to the rafters. They all stayed till six a.m. for Dylan, who never showed up.