The Steve Miller Band
Campaign 800 Launch Concert
For Kids Rock Free Music Program

September 17, 2010
Fender Center
Corona, CA

Review by Shawn Perry
Photos by Ron Lyon

The Joker; the Space Cowboy; the Gangster of Love; and a major supporter of music education for future generations. Steve Miller has been behind the Kids Rock Free® music education program for a few years now, but during his 2010 summer tour, he invited a student from the school to tag along and jam onstage at over a dozen shows across the country.

Finalizing the tour before heading off to Europe, the Steve Miller Band stopped by the Fender Center in Corona, California, to play a one-night-only exclusive concert to benefit Kids Rock Free. The sold-out fundraiser was a rousing success from where this reporter was standing.

A VIP gala event to support the “CAMPAIGN 800” program, the evening included a silent auction of various rock and roll swag, a VIP five-star buffet dinner with “free-flowing adult beverages,” tours of the adjoining Fender museum (featuring an outstanding Johnny Cash exhibit), a set from the Fender Benders (a group of Kids Rock Free students), followed by the Steve Miller Band.

Speaking with Vintage Rock before taking the stage, Miller explained how he got involved with Kids Rock Free. “ John Page, who was with the group who bought Fender back from the CBS way back when, decided to retire. He called me up and said, ‘Listen Steve, we’re starting a museum and a school. I’m retiring and this is the last thing I’m doing and would you do me a personal favor and come down here and play?’ I said, ‘John, if it’s that important to you, I will.’”

A schedule conflict prevented Miller from making it, but the next year, he was available and ready to go. “When I got here, I looked around and saw what they were doing. I said, ‘I’ll do a free concert, but the students have to run the sound and they have to set up the lights and they have to run the stage. I want people working.’”

After that first show, Miller felt compelled to broaden his involvement. He kept coming back to playing more shows. “Every time I came back, I saw that there was nothing precious but the kids. They weren’t wasting a penny. So I said, ‘Put me on the board.’”

Miller is determined in helping to build more schools just like the Fender Center. ”I truly believe we can build 1,500 or 3,000 of these schools,” he said.

To achieve that goal, he decided to take it to his fans. “I’m like Johnny Appleseed. I go out and plant some seeds in every little town we play. I bring one of the students along with me and I put the bite on my audience. They get a little restless, ‘Hey what the hell, he’s going to ask us for money.’” And I do. But then I tell them I brought one of the students with me and they go crazy.”

The guitarist tells his audience about how important it is to keep music in the educational curriculum. And he stresses it can be done economically. “For around the cost of a McDonalds,” he said.

Of the 40 cities the band played over the course of their 2010 summer tour, Miller says people from 31 cities inquired into how to start music schools of their own. Built as non-profits and sustained by the generosity of musicians like Miller and Paul Rodgers, Kids Rock Free is designed to help children, ages 7 to 17, get six months of free lessons in piano, guitar, bass, drums, vocal performance and combo band.

Miller believes the people running the school and the methods they follow are key to the school’s success. “A good constitution and a good plan can carry you a long way. And this school seems to have it.”

KLOS DJs Cynthia Fox and Uncle Joe Benson worked the silent auction and helped unveil the venue's new name: The Steve Miller TLC Amphitheatre.

As for the Steve Miller Band’s set — let’s just say it was an endless cavalcade of hits, mixed in with a few blues numbers, mostly from the new album, Bingo. Within the intimacy of the Fender Center and a cyclone of guitars as their backdrop, Miller and his band — bassist Kenny Lee Lewis, drummer Gordy Knudtson, keyboardist Joseph Wooten and singer Sonny Charles (he used to sing for the Checkmates) — had the VIP diners, as well as the folks in the grand stands, on their feet.

From favorites (“Jet Airliner” and “Take The Money And Run”) to the blues (“Mercury Blues”) to even a slice of acoustical fare (“Wild Mountain Honey”), Miller took the audience on a musical journey. For the encore, the guitarist invited a few of the Fender Benders up to jam out on an 11-minute version of “Jungle Love.” Another giant leap for music education and a successful night to keep it going. The power of music rages on...Abracadabra.

Cynthia Fox, Joe Benson, Steve Miller and the Benson family


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