Thanks to our friends at Little Kids Rock for throwing an incredible party in New York City in the heart of Broadway to honor longtime Epiphone fan Elvis Costello ("the first guitar I wanted was an Epiphone Casino!")
with their Rocker of the Year Award and Little Kids Rock champion Bonnie Raitt with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
The all-star fundraiser was held at the elegant Playstation Theater on the same block as many of Manhattan’s most legendary Broadway theaters and was hosted by Spinal Tap
’s Michael McKean. The event included an auction featuring Epiphone classics signed by all of the attending artists including presenters Keb' Mo', R&B legend Darlene Love, Bettye LaVette, Harry Connick Jr., Mike Myers, and former Late Night with David Letterman
bandleader Paul Shaffer as well as an auction of Epiphone guitars signed by Slash, Nancy Wilson, Peter Frampton, and a vintage poster from Costello's Armed Forces
tour from 1979. The event also honored Little Kids Rock fan Michael Dorf, who founded the progressive rock club Knitting Factory and is CEO of the City Winery venues.
"Over the past 15 years, Little Kids Rock teachers have turned this into a national movement," said Little Kids Rock founder David Wish. "Since then, Little Kids Rock has been restoring, expanding and innovating music education around the country."
This year, Epiphone and Little Kids Rock joined forces in a special initiative to bring music instruction back to public schools and throughout 2017, LKR and Epiphone have hosted special events around the U.S. The annual fall benefit kicked off with the New York City All-Star Band of junior high and high school students who brought the crowd to their feet right away with a terrific spot-on cover of the Tom Petty classic “Running Down A Dream” followed by TEP, The Equity Project Charter School from New York City and their drum-heavy rock out of "Girl on Fire."
After legend Bettye LaVette performed her now trademark arrangement of The Beatles’ “Blackbird,” any other performer would have been quacking in their shoes. But the Eliot Arts Magnet Academy from Pasadena, California--who had flown in the night before in time for a full-volume rehearsal at the Gibson showroom (while consuming 15 pizzas in about 10 minutes)--were up for the challenge. They too received a standing ovation for a assuredly rocking rendition of Guns N’ Roses’ classic “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” with lead guitarist Ludwin Vasquez Jr. blazing out Slash's solo's note for note on an Epiphone G-400 PRO
Keb’ Mo’ followed the Eliot Arts Magnet Academy with a cool reading of Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions mid-60s Civil Rights inspired single, “We’re A Winner,” with former Late Night
bassist and bandleader Will Lee. “Man, the best guitar the Epiphone ever made was the Riviera," said Keb' Mo' backstage. "I miss that even more than the Sheraton I lost. And that was a great guitar.”
Harry Connick Jr. formerly presented Bonnie Raitt with the Little Kids Rock Lifetime Achievement Award and the kids helped her out on a rocking version of Aretha Franklin’s “Baby, I Love You,” and Raitt staples “The Road’s My Middle Name” and Thing Called Love.”
"I came from a musical family and was blessed to grow up in an era when there was school orchestra with 16 percussion players," said Raitt. "The guitar allowed me to expressed myself. It was my voice and it helped me build (since) I had a confidence problem and a self-esteem problem. There's been study after study proving the benefits of music education and exposure to the arts makes all the difference."
Elvis Costello was introduced by former Saturday Night Live
cast member and Austin Powers
maestro Michael Myers, who called Costello “the poet laureate of my generation.” Costello who had just flown in from London for the event, accepted the award of Rocker of the Year with Harpo Marx’s infamous quip, “Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking…”
“For those of you who are here for the first time you know now this is a very worthwhile endeavor,” said Costello, “and I'm very proud to be here and very thankful. And without any further adieu, let’s have some music because that’s why we’re here.”
Costello began with a solo version of his classic “Alison” before being joined by the band and winding them through a melody of tunes by last year’s honoree Smokey Robinson including “Tracks of My Tears,” “No More Tearstained Make Up,” and “Tears of A Clown.” Costello joked about being intimidated by meeting Raitt for the first time back stage in the 70s (“she said something about girls not making passes at boys who wear glasses and I skulked back to the corner”
) before performing a beautiful solo version of “Forbidden Love,” which he composed for Darlene Love’s 2015 LP, “Introducing Darlene Love.”
“This was written about falling in love with someone you’re not supposed to,” said Costello who began the tune on a classic J-45 before being joined on stage by Love herself for a full-band version with an arrangement that recalled her classic singles, “He’s A Rebel” and “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” produced by Phil Spector. Costello tied up the evening by performing “What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding" with all of the Little Kids Rock bands and Raitt with Costello directing the kids during "All You Need Is Love” to repeat the "She Loves You" refrain, “yeah, yeah yeah,” that Paul McCartney sang on the original. Even the most jaded New Yorker—who has seen it all and attended numerous all-star events—would have to have been made of solid granite to have not been moved by the enthusiasm and the talent of the kids on stage who were having the time of their lives.
Both Raitt and Costello also paid tribute to Tom Petty earlier in the evening. “It’s a terrible loss—so young and so beloved,” said Raitt. “I went back and watched the documentary on him that Peter Bogdanovich did. It’s astonishing the body of work that he’s had. He was the great bridge between an era of new wave and the music that was coming back to rock and roll.”
“If anything else he was a terrific songwriter, terrific singer, great attitude,” said Costello. “He had his point of view in the songs and there’s no mistaking it. He was the only person I ever opened for for the first 25 years of my career. We played the Riviera Theater in Chicago and we barely filled it with the two bands.”
Little Kids Rock and Epiphone have more events and good news to share soon. Visit the Little Kids Rock website
for more info on events in your area.
"In these days of discord, dissonance and distraction I am constantly reminded of a truth as old as the human family itself: that music brings people together in ways that little else can,” said Little Kids Rock founder David Wish. “I have seen it happen time and time again with my own eyes for the past 20 years. That's why I believe in the possible. I also believe that music lives IN everyone, is FOR everyone and comes FROM everyone." Thanks Little Kids Rock! Let's do it again next year!