WASHINGTON — He’s a music and TV icon, from his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame role in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band to his gangster role in “The Sopranos.”
Now, “Little Steven” himself, Steven Van Zandt, will headline the annual Rock and Roll for Children concert at The Fillmore in Silver Spring on Saturday, March 18 to benefit the Children’s Inn at NIH.
“You can’t do enough for kids and this is one of the best in the country,” Van Zandt told WTOP. “It’s very unusual. They take special care and it’s run very well. Friends of mine have been doing it for years and they’re very happy with everybody, so they got me involved. I’m very happy to be involved.”
Last year, the Rock and Roll For Children Foundation raised roughly $50,000 to benefit the Children’s Inn with a sold-out concert held at the 400-seat Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club in Bethesda.
This year, the event is moving to a larger venue at The Fillmore with tickets still available. Just like last year, the event will also feature an auction with memorabilia from Prince, Billy Joel and Ringo Starr.
“How they put this together blows my mind,” musician Chris Pati told WTOP. “Some of the things they’ve gotten in past years. I just can’t even believe. This year, I know they’re gonna have stuff from Dave Matthews, The Eagles, AC/DC, The Rolling Stones. I mean, they auctioned off stuff from like Neil Armstrong last year. Everyone from Muhammad Ali to Justin Bieber, that’s how eclectic.”
After an opening act by The Peacemakers, the first set will feature the Rock and Roll for Children All-Star Band, comprised of key members from major acts: Bakithi Kumalo (Paul Simon), Mark Stein (Vanilla Fudge), Ricky Byrd (Joan Jett & The Blackhearts), Chris Pati (IndiMusicTV.com), Amy Keys (Phil Collins), Christine Ohlman (“SNL”), Eric Biondo (Monkees), Lynn Ligammari (Lincoln Center Institute), Elizabeth Frascoia (Michael Bolton), Greg Schleich (Funk Filharmonik) and John Miceli (Meatloaf).
“If you’re a parent, the idea of your child getting terminally sick, is there anything more heart-wrenching?” Pati told WTOP. “What better cause is there? I feel blessed to know that playing a couple guitar licks might help raise some money for these wonderful children and this great cause.”
Set two will feature Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul, as Van Zandt takes the stage with Marc Ribler, Eddie Manion, Jack Daley, Daniel Sadownick, Andy Burton, Steve Janikowski, Clark Gayton, Stan Harrison, John Martin, Elaine Caswell, Rob Clores, Amy Keys, Christine Ohlman and Ricky Byrd.
“It’s a great cause,” Ribler told WTOP. “By paying for a ticket, [you’ll] be helping the cause and be witnessing some amazing music by some of the world’s best musicians. It’s a win-win all around.”
Attendees will also receive a special bonus, becoming the first to hear Van Zandt’s new album, which will arrive around September after a European tour. The first single, “St. Valentine’s Day,” came out a few weeks ago on Valentine’s Day — with more singles to arrive every six weeks.
“It’s not going to be out for a little while, but this is going to be the first preview of it,” Van Zandt said. “This is going to be the first time people are going to be able to hear it, so that’s really quite something special I think. It’s gonna be the debut performance for whoever’s there [on March 18].”
What can we expect from Van Zandt’s new album?
“The album is basically me covering me,” Van Zandt joked. “I’m doing songs that I’ve written for other people. Some I’ve written for Southside Johnny, some for Gary U.S. Bonds, Jimmy Barnes in Australia, groups in Europe like The Breakers and Cocktail Flippers, and a couple covers I didn’t write. I put one blues thing on the record. I also have a James Brown song.”
It’s a rebirth for his band Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul, which began back in the 1980s.
“I remember with Disciples of Soul in 1982, Steve would bring a portable gym underneath the tour bus,” Manion told WTOP. “In those days, Holiday Inn didn’t have gyms, so Steve would bring his own gym and set it up in a room. We were all asked to be down there at six in the morning and work out.”
“This is a rebirth,” Van Zandt said. “I haven’t visited The Artist Formerly Known as Little Steven for a long time. It’s been probably 15 or 20 years since I toured or put out something of my own, so this is a bit of a rebirth and I’m gonna keep it together [going forward]. I’m gonna continue to be touring.”
Van Zandt says he’ll split time between The Disciples of Soul and Springsteen’s E Street Band.
“I’m gonna stay in the E Street Band,” he said. “Bruce will probably tour another year or so, then when the E Street Band’s not touring, I will. It’ll be that kind of thing where we’ll alternate between the band and solo. It’s wonderful to have both things going. You can express yourself on the one hand, and then do the E Street Band thing, which has become such an institution now. Nothing quite like it.”
Even if he’s been away from his solo stuff for decades, he’s certainly not rusty. Van Zandt has been busy cranking out four-hour shows night after night with The Boss, giving fans their money’s worth.
“It’s pretty nutty!” Van Zandt said. “He’s a little crazy and he’s our leader, so you just try to keep up. He’s very inspiring. He’s in such great shape. We’ve never lost our enthusiasm. We’ve never started taking it for granted, or taking the fans for granted. It’s a great relationship we’ve had through the years with our audience. We go on stage fully intending to do the best show anyone’s ever seen.”
Speaking of “the greatest show anyone’e sever seen,” Van Zandt also starred in HBO’s “The Sopranos,” playing Tony Soprano’s trusted consigliere Silvio Dante, who we last saw in a coma.
“He’s definitely still breathing, don’t worry about that,” Van Zandt said with a laugh. “It was just a [unique] circumstance. I found myself acting for the first time in what ended up being such a great show. What an acting class to go to. What a way to learn the craft. It was incredible. Fantastic actors. I learned as I went, got better every day. What a gift to be given a new craft at this point in my life.”
His bandmate Manion thinks it was spot-on casting.
“It was just the perfect part for Steven,” Manion said. “Knowing him all these years, he’s always been a character and he’s always loved gangster movies like ‘The Godfather.’ He used to watch them when we were on tour. I can remember watching them on the bus with him. He’s very much an authority on Hollywood and film history, which was surprising to me. Then he’s got that comical part about him, like a cartoon character, so you put that together with the gangster and that’s a perfect part for Steven.”
What are his thoughts on the controversial “Sopranos” finale? Is Tony Soprano whacked in the diner?
“Everyone always asks, ‘How did it end?’ OK, I’m gonna tell you,” Van Zandt said. “This is the definitive version. Are you ready? The director yelled, ‘Cut,’ and the actors went home. That’s how it ended.”
Van Zandt parlayed his experience on “The Sopranos” into the Norwegian-American Netflix series “Lilyhammer,” playing a former crime boss who goes into witness protection in Lillehammer, Norway.
“I was really able to take everything I learned [on ‘Sopranos’] and use it on ‘Lilyhammer,'” Van Zandt said. “To go from starring in the show, to producing it, co-writing it. I even directed the final episode. It was a wonderful 10-year trip — seven years on ‘Sopranos,’ three with ‘Lilyhammer.’ Now, I love TV. I was just in L.A. meeting new agents [to] get a new TV show going, so I’ll be doing that between the music.”
But first, come check him out at The Fillmore for a very good cause on March 18.
“It’s extremely important to support the National Institutes of Health and Rock & Roll for Children,” Van Zandt said. “That alone is a good enough reason to come, but like I said, you’re gonna get a debut of most of my new album. We always put on a good show. There’s gonna be great music all night. It’s an entertaining show for a very good cause. What’s better than that?”
Click here for more information. Listen to the full conversations with the participating band members below:
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