Steve Earle Tells Us About This Weekend’s Ninth Annual Keswell School Benefit

Looking for a way to give back during the holiday season, experience some of the best singer-songwriters the world has to offer, and just enjoy a Sunday in December with a warm community of folks young and old? Steve Earle, The Keswell School, City Winery, and Town Hall NYC have something for you.

Steve Earle is affectionately known as one of the strongest, most gifted, and evocative singer-songwriters the music industry has ever seen. Since his breakthrough in the mid-1980s, the folk storyteller has traveled the world, inspired fellow musicians in and around the bluesy rock genre, and cultivated a fan base that is wonderfully in-tune with each other. One could look at them as a supportive family that leans on each other with a whole lot of love and even more melody than just regular ‘ol support. Fans have always been in his corner, clearly, but so have his friends and peers in the world of music that he is deserving part of. So, for the last nine years when Steve Earle has approached his creative pals and appreciative listeners to participate and attend in his annual John Henry’s Friends Benefit, people flocked without batting an eye. He fills the room with everyone from Bruce Springsteen to David Byrne to Jason Isbell. 

All in all, the night is always one that is uplifting and joyous as much as it is imperative to the work that The Keswell School does. (The Keswell School is a Big Apple educational institution that Earle has a personal connection to, adding to the thoughtfulness behind the donations made and performances held. They cater to children diagnosed with autism and their families.) This year’s benefit concert features John Mellencamp, David Bromberg, Amy Helm, and more. Truly a can’t-miss night, tickets and information can be found here. Please enjoy our quick chat with the superb talent and father that is Mr. Steve Earle.  

This is the 9th Annual Charity Show for The Keswell School. What do you hope people take away from it both this year, and every year?

That there’s a school in New York City that offers the most widely recognized program for kids with autism, that is 40 hours a week of therapy based on Applied Behavioral Analysis at a one-to-one student to teacher ratio, and it works.

With that said, has there been any planning for the big 1-0 – anything special for the 10thevent? Or are you and the team still wonderfully knee deep in getting this year’s set up?

Ha! We’ll start thinking about that December 4th.

How has music played a role in the life of your son, his fellow students, and the world around the school itself?

Most of the kids with autism I’ve met respond to music. John Henry still has no verbal vocabulary, but he knows and sings dozens of melodies. Sometimes he sings melodies back to me, so for us it’s a form of conversation.

If there is one thing about The Keswell School that you want people to know, what would that be and why?

That they’ve been doing this longer than any other school in the city and it shows.

This is a benefit concert at its core, but it’s also a heartwarming, musical spectacle that always comes at just the right end-of-year time. When these began, was this season of giving aspect a thought, or was it just the perfect time to bring people together on stage and off? What is the thought process there year-after-year? And why the Town Hall? It’s a tightknit operation there, and one we love because of that intimacy.

Mmm… actually, I may rethink the Christmas time thing next year. Truth is, it’s hard to book artists during the holidays. We have families, too.

As for Town Hall, the venue has a unique place in the city’s history when it comes to activism and good works. It’s always been special to me.

John Mellencamp is one of many beloved stars taking the stage with you this year. His storytelling is acclaimed and immaculate, so there a particular song of his that you hope he and the on-stage friends play live? Also, how do the songs get chosen for the setlist? Does each act make their own and it all gets slotted together? It’s always a positive, upbeat flow from start to finish, so how is that structured and produced?

Oh, I would never try to make up another artists set list. Never pays!