John Kicks Off Kennedy Center’s Springsteen Tribute

The centerpiece of Sunday night’s Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C. was the musical tribute to honoree Bruce Springsteen, which began with John’s slowed-down version of Springsteen’s anthemic “Born in the U.S.A.”

“We did it as a folk-blues song the first half,” says Andy York, who played electric guitar with the house band. “John played acoustic, and halfway though he did a verse and chorus a cappella--and then counted it off and we finished it the Bruce way with the big hooks. So it ended with the full band playing with [John’s former drummer] Kenny Aronoff in the house band on drums.”

Andy says the performance sounded great.

“Bruce came up to me at the after-party and thanked me and told me to thank John,” he says. “Apparently we made a big splash.”

John had prefaced his performance with a heartfelt recollection of his first exposure to Springsteen’s music.

Recalling how he heard a new artist’s music being played in a store, Springsteen’s future fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Famer went up to the clerk and asked who the artist was. After being told it was Bruce Springsteen—and that the album was the store’s only copy of “The Wild, The Innocent & the E Street Shuffle”—John asked if he could buy it.

It was the best $3.99 he ever spent, he said, then dedicated his version of “Born in the U.S.A.” to the soldiers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

John was followed by Jennifer Nettles, Melissa Etheridge and Sting. Springsteen’s fellow honorees were Robert De Niro, Mel Brooks, jazz legend Dave Brubeck and opera star Grace Bumbry.

The annual Kennedy Center Honors Gala, which recognizes artists for their lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts, is the highlight of the Washington cultural year. Sunday’s event was recorded for broadcast on CBS as a two-hour primetime special on Tuesday, December 29 at 9:00 p.m. (ET/PT).