After canceling Trump inauguration, Bruce Springsteen tribute B Street Band playing Scranton on Feb. 17
As NEPA Scene reported back in December, New Jersey-based Bruce Springsteen tribute act The B Street Band is set to perform at The Leonard Theater in downtown Scranton on Friday, Feb. 17 at 9 p.m. Since that time, however, the cover band that has opened for the Boss himself has become the center of controversy after agreeing to play the Garden State Presidential Inaugural Gala for Donald Trump this Thursday, Jan. 19 in Washington, D.C., and subsequently backing out.
The B Street Band, founded in 1980 by Hazleton native Willie Forte as “the first band in the world to do a unique tribute to a live performer,” performed at the New Jersey inauguration events for President Barack Obama in 2009 and 2013 and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in 2010. Christie, who endorsed Trump early in his campaign and was set to lead his transition team before the “Bridgegate” scandal and falling approval ratings caught up with him, is a big fan of the band and has sung with them onstage, so the Trump inauguration seemed like a natural fit for the group. They also agreed to play back in 2013, long before Trump was a factor in their decision.
But with Springsteen himself being an outspoken critic of Trump, calling him “a moron” in Rolling Stone and “a flagrant, toxic narcissist” in a Channel 4 News interview, The B Street Band came under fire from fans who felt that it was hypocritical of them to play Trump’s inauguration knowing how their “working class hero” felt about the president-elect.
“We’re a non-political band. … We’re hired to do things and we don’t look at what the repercussions are of playing an event at all,” Forte told Rolling Stone last week. “We don’t even go into politics that deeply. The guys in the band are so easy-going, I don’t even know if they have any politics.”
But as the backlash ensued, they followed up with Rolling Stone today to say that they’re dropping out, joining a long list of musicians, both large and small, who refuse to play any show celebrating Trump’s inauguration:
“We felt that we had to make it known that we didn’t want to seem disrespectful, in any way, shape or form, to Bruce and his music and his band,” Forte says. “I don’t want to upset them. We owe everything to him and our gratitude and respect to the band is imperative above all else. It became clear to us that this wasn’t working and we just had to do what we thought was the right thing to do and that was to pull out.”
The group had played the gala twice before to little controversy for President Obama and signed a contract for this year’s gig in 2013, long before the presidential nominees were decided. But this year was different.
“As time went by, the complexity of the situation became real immense and intense,” Forte tells Rolling Stone. “The band was caught in a hurricane. We didn’t see this coming, of course.”
For the last few days, the Facebook event page for The B Street Band’s upcoming Scranton show has become a battleground for Springsteen fans and Trump supporters torn on their decision. Some lauded their eventual stance, while others called them “cowards,” “pussies,” and “hand jobs” for breaking their contract, among other choice words.
“Thank you for changing your position. Thank you for respecting Bruce and his music. Thank you for having integrity and principles! Never surrender!” Grace Ricco-Pena of California wrote.
“You guys are cowards and should fulfill your agreement. But what do expect when you are tribute band for that jackass! If only all these celebrities would follow through with what they say. Trump won, so leave and stop crying you babies,” Mike Nicholson of New Jersey posted.
Though Springsteen has never shied away from sharing his political viewpoints, both in his music and in interviews, he has yet to weigh in on the controversy, but founding E Street Band bassist Garry Tallent didn’t seem too supportive of the tribute band playing the gig in a recent tweet, saying, “Please tell me this is more fake news. Or at least a joke,” before The B Street Band canceled their gala appearance.
It should be noted that the Garden State Presidential Inaugural Gala will be held at the Washington Court Hotel in Washington, D.C., and while it is typically a big event with many legislators in attendance, it is not the same event as the highly publicized “Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, which will be broadcast live that same night with performances by Toby Keith, 3 Doors Down, and Lee Greenwood, among other acts.
In September, Rolling Stone noted that Springsteen didn’t get involved in any political campaign in 2016, asking if he “lost faith in whatever power” he may have had to affect the outcome.
“I think you have a limited amount of impact as an entertainer, performer or musician. I feel what I’ve done was certainly worth doing. And I did it at the time because I felt the country was in crisis, which it certainly is right now. I don’t know if we’ve been approached or not to do anything at the moment. If so, I would take it into consideration and see where it goes,” Springsteen responded.
“I haven’t really lost faith in what I consider to be the small amount of impact that somebody in rock music might be able to have. I don’t think people go to musicians for their political points of view. I think your political point of view is circumstances and then how you were nurtured and brought up. But it’s worth giving a shot when it’s the only thing you have.”
Tickets for The B Street Band show at The Leonard (335 Adams Ave., Scranton), which are $15 for general admission or $75 for VIP couch seating with waitress service and two tickets, are on sale now and can be purchased in advance via Eventbrite or at the door.