Bruce Springsteen Plays Steve Earle’s Autism Benefit Show In New York City. Love Fills The Room.

So many songs that chart are written about love. So many, in fact that Jukebox The Ghost has a song in which the primary lyric begins “Why’s every song about love…” The fact is that the live entertainment industry players’ ethic is to give back by sharing their talents. I traveled cross-country just last week to attend the benefit organized by Steve Earle and Michael Dorf for The Keswell School which helps autistic children.

There may be no harder job category than that of parent. But, like all jobs, there are a lot of gradients within that scale of difficulty. Perhaps none is harder than parenting a non-verbal autistic child. That, however, is the situation which Steve Earle faces. Steve has day to day custody of his son John Henry during the school year, then takes his band The Dukes out on tour during the summer months.

While there may be some similarities between shepherding a touring band on the road, and parenting a child with disabilities, each person facing these challenges has enormous responsibilities. Because of the incredible need of the severely autistic, The Keswell School student to teacher ratio is one to one. That’s expensive. To help, Steve began gathering his friends seven years ago to play an annual benefit show to raise money for the school. This year they raised more than $100,000.

The John Henry’s Friends benefit returned in person this year, after playing out across the internet last year. As always, the event was supported by City Winery and Michael Dorf who carried a large share of the heavy lifting by acting as promoter for the event. City Winery hosted several events around the evening including the VIP party which followed the concert.


As for the concert itself returning to a live performance  at New York’s Town Hall after a year in which everything was virtual, the show returned in the biggest way possible. As Steve repeated several times during the evening, Bruce Springsteen was playing and really raised the bar for future John Henry’s Friends events. 

There is no question this crowd was filled with rabid Springsteen fans. Town Hall is a small room, seating 1,495 people. Springsteen is usually seen in arenas and stadiums. For the faithful, this was a call to Mecca. The crowd was predominantly male, mostly older, and ready to go. Nobody knew what Bruce would do, and no one could have predicted he would come out after four years away from playing electric shows with an all-banger selection of songs: Darkness on the Edge of Town, Promised Land, Glory Days and Pink Cadillac. Excitement grew as it was Bruce’s turn to play and there on state were all The Dukes, ready to back him.

To the screams of “Bruuuuuuce,” Springsteen came on stage, strapped on his Stratocaster, and blew down the doors. This crowd was so ready to party that when Springsteen started to play his third song, Glory Days, the crowd carried the vocal for him through the entire first verse. Steve Earle came onstage for the fourth song, and traded verses of Pink Cadillac with Bruce before a rapturous crowd. I’m a fan, having seen Springsteen at least 100 times over the past 40 years. There are certain shows I’ll never forget, and this 4-song event is firmly on that list. It’s stunning to see what happens when love, talent and hunger combine in a small space. This was no longer a benefit concert. It was a redemption of the losses from Covid, and a celebratory communal healing of the soul.

In addition to Springsteen and Steve Earle, the concert featured also sets from Roseanne Cash, Willie Nile, The Mastersons, and Matt Savage. Each of these artists deserve to be celebrated for their contributions. The evening flew by on the magic generated by these wonderfully talented people. Matt Savage, himself autistic, played a wonderful jazz set on a stunning Steinway model D concert grand piano. Willie Nile, “the Mayor of Greenwich Village” blew the doors off the house with a set which peaked with New York is Rockin’. Roseanne Cash, accompanied only by John Leventhal on acoustic guitar quieted the house with her wonderful singing and The Mastersons played throughout the night both solo and as part of The Dukes. They were versatile and entertaining throughout the evening.

If you want more information about The Keswell School, their contact information is here:


Steve Earle is a fascinating man. I can’t imagine a harder path through life, from touring musician with drug issues who then lost a child to a drug overdose to parenting a child with a severe lifelong disability. Steve’s succession plan centers around his other son Ian who eventually will help John Henry.

The path Steve has taken is illustrative of what is possible. He supports the causes he in which he believes and plays with his friends when they too try to help right the world. In return, they help him. Hardship eventually finds us all. What differentiates us is how we manage. That, in part is what fascinated me about talking to Steve, and our conversation reflects Steve’s ethic and his journey.

Here, in both video and audio podcast format is the entire conversation between me and Steve Earle.

Life offers everybody the chance to select a path, but no guarantee they’ll reach their intended destination. I subscribe to the idea that your purpose may be to make the world a better place while you try to master the intricacies of life. I also think that at the exact moment when you finally achieve complete and total comprehension of the universe is when you go lights out. If that’s so, then life is about the journey and not the destination. Whenever I see what people like Steve Earle have faced, and yet continue to accomplish, my faith in humanity is elevated. John Henry made new friends on December 13th and I am proud to be one of them.

The Tycoon Herald