The annual free Memorial Park concert has a new look.
The event will go on this year with a new name, a new producer and a new kind of band fronting the show.
Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul will headline the 2019 concert, bringing a Hall of Fame rock and soul artist known for playing prestigious halls, theaters and festivals to a show that typically has booked legacy artists and classic rock hit-makers such as Kool & the Gang, The Village People and Foreigner.
And for the first time, the city will take the lead in organizing the newly renamed City of Omaha Celebrates America concert, an event that dates to 1987 and has been scheduled every year since 1993.
That streak was set to end until Monday’s news, which came less than two weeks after the 2019 event had been canceled.
The city’s involvement could deliver stability to an event that has faced some uncertainty the past couple of years. A longtime sponsor dropped out after the 2017 show, and the most recent sponsor indicated that it would not back this year’s event.
This summer’s show, once again free and capped with a fireworks display, will start at 6 p.m. June 28, the Friday before the Fourth of July. It will also serve as a flood relief fundraiser.
For the uninitiated, Little Steven is Steven Van Zandt, a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee and a founder of Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band.
Van Zandt’s band, the Disciples of Soul, features more than a dozen members and includes former E Street horn players, accomplished session musicians and hit-making songwriters.
Van Zandt, 68, has written with Springsteen and with bands including Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. He had solo hits with songs such as “Salvation,” “Forever” and “Trail of Broken Treaties.” Van Zandt played in Omaha in late 2018 in what The World-Herald deemed one of the year’s best concerts. He also has a new album, “Summer of Sorcery,” out next month, and has had recurring roles in popular television shows “The Sopranos” and “Lilyhammer.”
Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert said another major performer for this year’s show will be announced as soon as this week. Local cover band The Firm will open the show.
Earlier this month, the Omaha firm that had managed the Memorial Park concerts for years announced that the event would not be held this year because of the lack of a sponsor.
Soon after, Stothert and City Councilman Pete Festersen, whose district includes Memorial Park, began talking about reviving the event.
On Monday, Stothert said an anonymous private donor stepped forward to pay the concert’s entire cost and worked with the Mayor’s Office to reschedule the event. The donor wants to remain anonymous, the mayor said.
“Two weeks ago, I received an amazing phone call and an offer,” Stothert said. “It just answered everything that we were working on. It was a surprise to me that the one donor stepped forward. But I’m incredibly grateful.”
The city will also pursue more private donations, Stothert said.
In the past, the event has been organized by private groups. The city will take the lead in producing the 2019 show, but it’s not clear whether the city will fulfill that role going forward.
“It’s back, bigger and better than ever,” Festersen said. “I think it’s a positive step that it’s now with the City of Omaha. This celebration to me always has been and should be the City of Omaha’s.”
Parks and Recreation Department workers will provide the space, and the Parks Foundation will be used as a pass-through for donor funds.
City officials said organizers will begin planning next year’s show shortly after this year’s ends, though they don’t yet know where the money will come from. Stothert said that the city had not committed any ongoing funds to the concert but that it will work with organizers to attract private sponsors and donor support to make sure that the tradition continues.
Stothert said the anonymous donor for this summer’s event didn’t require an ongoing commitment from the city. But the city wants to ensure that the show is sustainable and will continue in the future, she said.
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The city will partner on flood relief with the Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation. Concertgoers will be able to donate during the event by using their phones, by visiting a Farm Bureau booth with a check or credit card or by visiting MemorialParkConcert.com.
“We’re going to dedicate this concert to the flood relief efforts that are going on throughout the state,” said Vic Gutman of Gutman & Associates, which is helping organize the concert.
All money raised will be distributed to those in need, said Steve Nelson, president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau.