Before he heads to Ohio to stump for President Obama, Bruce Springsteen made a surprise appearance at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom last night to pay tribute to his E Street bandmate and friend of 47 years, guitarist Steven Van Zandt.
"There's been no better bandmate or wingman or friend to me than Steve Van Zandt," Springsteen said onstage before introducing Van Zandt, who received the "Big Man of the Year" award from Little Kids Rock. "One of the greatest rock & roll friendships: still with Steve, I laugh the loudest and the longest."
Little Kids Rock is a nonprofit foundation that provides free musical instruments and instruction to public school children. Its "Big Man" award is named after fellow E Street Band member Clarence Clemons, who passed away last year and received the award in 2009. Van Zandt previously joined educational efforts with Little Kids Rock by starting the Underground Garage radio, a format for young artists.
"You watch these kids' eyes light up when you hand them a guitar," Van Zandt said in his acceptance speech. "We haven't left much for the next generation. We have left our progeny no practical means by which to make a living in music. We find ourselves with no government support, no infrastructure left in the private sector, and no standards of quality in sight. Instead of whining about it, we're gonna do something about it. Because, I don't know about you, but I'm not gonna live in a world without great rock & roll."
After the formality of the award ceremony, the stage turned raucous and celebratory with performances by Elvis Costello, Jesse Malin and Darlene Love. Tom Morello brought down the house with his guitar-scratching theatrics while covering "Sun City," an anti-Apartheid protest song written and produced by Van Zandt and recorded by Artists United Against Apartheid in 1985.
"It inspired American youth [to be] part of the global movement which eventually pressured Apartheid out of existence," Morello said about "Sun City." "It was literally a song that changed the world."
Springsteen and Van Zandt then joined the whole night's cast, as well as children from schools in the Bronx and Jersey City, to perform Southside Johnny's "I Don't Want to Go Home." Little Kids Rock founder David Wish ended the night with an announcement that the organization had raised $800,000 through silent auctions of memorabilia and other prizes.
"We thank all the artists for encouraging David Wish and helping realize his crazy dream," Van Zandt said in closing. "He believes that every kid on earth who wants one should have a guitar."