ANN WILSON Looks Back On HEART's Emotional 'Stairway To Heaven' Performance At KENNEDY CENTER HONORS
December 17, 2020
Back in December 2012, HEART's Ann and Nancy Wilson delivered a moving rendition of "Stairway To Heaven", LED ZEPPELIN's signature song, at the Kennedy Center Honors. They were joined by Jason Bonham, son of original drummer John and the drummer for LED ZEPPELIN's 2007 reunion show. Their version of the track gradually grew to include a string section, a horde of backup singers and the Joyce Garrett Youth Choir. Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones sat watching from the balcony and were visibly moved, particularly Plant, who had tears welling up in his eyes.
Ann reflected on the experience of performing for ZEPPELIN members in a new interview with Vulture. She said: "There was a possibility that both [Nancy and I] could've dissolved into nerves, so we turned and looked at each other right before we walked out and said, 'We're not going to think about this right now and we're going to keep our eyes on the ball.' I had been learning and studying meditation at that point, and I told her to do the thing … you have a bowl of water and you're holding it and you don't want to spill any, so you just concentrate on the bowl of water. The bowl of water in this case was the song. [Laughs] And then we'd freak out afterwards. And we did!"
Asked if she felt that she and her bandmates achieved something spectacular, Ann said: "I actually felt every second of it as a real, not to overstate it, but pretty damn close to orgasmic in terms of bliss. I felt wide awake and alive, and I felt the emotional content of the song all the way down to the ground. It was really authentic. The emotions involved in performing that were wide awake and in the moment."
She added: "'Stairway To Heaven' represents a whole universe of LED ZEPPELIN and so many people love that song. Everyone thinks that they know what it means and have their own little idea about how to interpret it, but there's something about the poetry of that song that's really hopeful and upbeat. Something about unity. Hey, there's a better day coming. That message is ancient and pure and universal. That's what I felt performing it. That's why I almost teared up singing it — it's so beautiful."
Regarding LED ZEPPELIN's reactions to HEART's rendition of "Stairway To Heaven", Ann said: "When you check out their reactions while the song is being performed, you can see how different they are. Jimmy is smiley and twinkly. Robert is emotional. John Paul is both. I think Robert looked down and saw Jason, who was just a child when LED ZEPPELIN was together … he was probably running around during their band rehearsals as a little tyke. For Robert to look down and see him on drums at the Kennedy Center, this big production of their most beautiful song, must have been very emotional. It probably brought back a lot of nice memories."
Two months ago, Ann dropped the official lyric video for "The Revolution Starts Now", her first release in two years. The song was originally recorded by Steve Earle and first appeared as the title track of his Grammy-nominated 2004 album "The Revolution Starts Now".
Ann's 2018 solo album, "Immortal", contained cover versions of classic songs by artists who have passed away.
In the fall of 2019, Ann and Nancy hinted that new music could be coming soon from the reunited HEART.
"Because the tour was so fulfilling, as well as quite successful, it's fun to start imagining what the next step could be," Nancy said. "A new song or two would be a beautiful thing."
A new album from HEART would be the band's first since 2016's "Beautiful Broken", which was a mix of new songs and re-imagined versions of HEART's classic cuts.