Van Zandt brings tour, teachers’ workshop to region
He may be nicknamed “Little Stevie,” but E Street Band founding member Steven Van Zandt is onto big things.
The actor, musician, producer, composer and host/ DJ of “Little Steven’s Underground Garage” is set to come to Wilkes-Barre on Thursday for a pair of events that look to entertain and enlighten.
Music fans can catch Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul in concert at 7:30 p.m. at F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts, while area music teachers can sign up for a free educational workshop, TeachRock, held earlier that day, that will feature an appearance by Van Zandt.
The workshop is part of an online initiative, teachrock. org/tour, that Van Zandt has developed for a decade. It offers unique lesson plans for kindergarten through grade 12 and counts toward educators’ required annual professional development hours at no cost to them.
During the hour-long workshop, teachers will engage in group activities, learn arts integration techniques, network and have a chance to meet Van Zandt, who also will present them with a pair of free tickets to that night’s show.
After years spent compiling the lessons for the online database, Van Zandt decided the time had come for direct outreach, and so he combined the effort with his concert tour across the states.
“In my mind, they are the frontline of our defense. They are the future of our country, and we tend to take it for granted. So we dedicate this tour to them,” he said.
Giving teachers free access to the workshops is crucial to keeping the arts alive for students as school districts cut funding, Van Zandt noted.
“It’s a terrible tragedy. We hope, first of all, to just keep music in the system,” Van Zandt explained. “Another goal is to have enough coverage in all grade levels to affect the drop-out rate, because it’s epidemic. Statistics show if (students) like one single class or one single teacher, they’ll come to school. We want to be that one cool class they love. We want to see these teachers appreciated as the heroes they are.”
Beyond this philanthropy, Van Zandt feels thrilled to share the talents of the 15-piece band of the “greatest New York musicians” he put together for his show, which supports his 2017 “Soulfire” album.
“It’s kind of a summation of my whole career and a ‘best of ’ my whole work,” the longtime Bruce Springsteen collaborator said.
For his stop in WilkesBarre, guests will receive their own history lesson in the sources of Van Zandt’s greatest inspirations.
“I included a lot of the roots of where I came from, everything from doo-wop to blues, where rock began, right through cinematic Blaxploitation and Ennio Morricone, hard rock and salsa and even reggae once in a while,” he said. “By the end of the night, the goal is to give people more than a series of songs but a little bit of context of when those songs came out and why they were written. People leave with more energy than they came with.”
And while he has never shied away from activism for a variety of causes, from international peace and antiApartheid movements to rights for indigenous peo- ples, his current stage show strives to be apolitical and instead offer respite from the troubles of the world.
“I was very, very political in my early days, but now I leave it all outside and spend two hours transporting them to common ground so they can just enjoy the high-quality music,” Van Zandt said. “Forget about politics for a while, because we’re just inundated 24 hours a day. In the past, I brought it with me because it was all behind-the-scenes, but now it’s just the opposite. It’s giving sanctuary for that. Everybody is welcome to my show to enjoy the music.”