It's been a rough 24 hours for Will Forte. The keyboardist/manager for the long-running New Jersey Bruce Springsteen tribute act the B-Street Band has been pulling his hair out over the endless string of headlines reporting that his group will be part of the official festivities celebrating New York real estate mogul Donald Trump's presidential inauguration.
"We're just working stiffs, working musicians... who got invited to play a ball for guys like us, regular jerks, and it's non-political and just a celebration of the changing-over of power," said the 63-year-old father of four who has been paying homage to The Boss for 37 years. Despite the raft of stories connecting B-Street to the Trump inauguration (including a since-amended report on Billboard), Forte explained that B-Street was booked by the organizers of the Garden State Inaugural Gala -- an event with no official ties to Trump or the inauguration -- to play at next Thursday's (Jan. 19) party back in 2013, after they performed in honor of President Obama's re-election.
In a statement to fans he explained, "In 2009, The B-Street Band was honored to be contracted by the NJ Inaugural ball to perform at their gala celebrating Barack Obama's election celebration. The NJ State Society was so impressed, they immediately hired the band for their gala 4 years later 2013. At that time we performed for President Obama's successful re-election. The Gala again enjoyed our NJ Shore flavored style and signed us a third time for the 2017 Gala."
Forte said he and his five band mates "owe everything" to Springsteen, and they would never do anything to dishonor him or his music, which is why some of the headlines hit him so hard. "So many good things that have happened to us are because of our relationship to his music... we've raised millions for cancer, Parkinson's and people in need because of his music," he said of the group, which has played dozens of gigs for both Republicans and Democrats over the years, including last summer's DNC Block Party in Philadelphia. The irony of the gig, of course, is that Springsteen has been a very vocal critic of Trump, referring to the former Celebrity Apprentice host as a "moron" and a "toxic narcissist," and questioning his competence to lead the country.
"It's a non-political event, and being from New Jersey, we just wanted to give it some Jersey flavor, and we didn't even really think that much about there being blowback when people found out we were playing," said Forte, who acts as the band's driver, booker, website guru and, along with his cohorts, road crew for their 200-plus gigs a year. "It's the night before and it was not even on the charts as far as that's concerned. We didn't get booked by the Trump people. We love Bruce and would never do anything to disrespect him."
As for whether they've considered bailing on the gig, Forte said he's torn. But given the band's blue-collar roots and dedication to Springsteen's songs about the struggle of the common man, he's determined to do the right thing and play it honest. "It hit us so hard so fast. We never thought of the political side," he said, sounding conflicted. "I'm going by the seat of my pants at the moment and I'm not sure if I'll say anything [from the stage] about it."
What he does know is this: he and the B-Street Band signed a contract and "when you do that you don't pull out."