Sedona Film Festival: Bruce Hornsby

From The Way It Is to scoring films for Spike Lee to making his acting debut alongside Robin Williams, Bruce Hornsby talks shop ahead of his Sedona performance. INTERVIEW BY ERIKA AYN FINCH. PHOTO BY MEGAN HOLMES.

When you think of Bruce Hornsby, you probably automatically think of his 1986 hit, The Way It is, which earned him a Grammy for Best New Artist in 1987. What you may not know is that Hornsby has actually won three Grammys. He has collaborated with everyone from Bob Dylan to Elton John to Chaka Khan to Brandon Flowers of The Killers. His songs have been recorded by Willie Nelson and Tupac Shakur. He appeared in a Robin Williams flick. He has recorded and performed with The Grateful Dead including the band’s 50th Anniversary Fare Thee Well concerts in 2015. He even rocked the Bonnaroo Festival in 2011. Bruce Hornsby will play the Sedona Performing Arts Center on Feb 18 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $55, $65 and $100 (includes a backstage meet and greet with Hornsby). For more information, visit

Sedona Monthly: On your most recent album, Rehab Reunion, you forgo the piano and play the dulcimer. You call it your “punk moment.” Will you be playing songs from the new album when you perform in Sedona in February?

Bruce Hornsby: [Laughs] Well, I call it my punk moment in jest. The punk esthetic, as far as I have always understood it, is that you don’t have to be adept at your instrument to play rock or popular music. I’m not adept or proficient at the dulcimer, so that’s why I call it my punk moment. I say the same thing when I play the accordion. I’m terrible at these instruments, but that doesn’t stop me. That’s about as punk as it gets, for me [laughs]. More accurately, it’s philosophically punk. The Sedona show is a one-off – we’re going out and playing one concert and going back home. I think we will take at least one of the dulcimers and play a few of the songs. It’s all about the logistical aspect and whether we can take it on the planes.

In Rolling Stone magazine’s 2016 Hot List, which was released in November, you were dubbed “Hot Surprise Influence.” The article says you’ve been an inspiration to indie acts such as Bon Iver and Ryan Adams. What are your thoughts on that?

It’s very flattering and rewarding to find out that you’ve had a positive effect on younger artists and been an inspiration to them. Luckily for me, I’m fans of what they do. I’m really impressed on many levels with the people who have cited me [as an influence]. Brandon Flowers of The Killers – I played on his solo record last year. Phil Cook who’s with Megafaun cited me rather intensely as the reason he got into playing. I’ve been getting this for the past few years, and it’s a very nice feeling.

Are there any artists you’re particularly excited about these days?

I’ve been really listening to the latest Bon Iver album. I think it’s really fantastic. It’s called 22, A Million, and it’s just very creative but simple at the same time. There are some complex moments – I can’t totally generalize – but it’s very creative. No one sounds like Justin in any way. I’ve been really impressed by his new record.

As someone who’s had an influence on indie artists, it’s only fitting that you would be playing the Sedona International Film Festival, which has always featured independent films. Are you a fan of indie films?

Absolutely – that’s about all I can watch now. The major studios aren’t making movies for me.  I’m not so interested in those.  I’m not their target audience.  I actually acted as myself in a great indie film in 2009, so I’ve actually been in the game. I was so bad at it I never got another call – I was bad at playing myself. But I’m so proud of the movie. It’s a total indie film by the great Bobcat Goldthwait. He wrote and directed it. His dear friend from the old comedy-circuit days, Robin Williams, starred in it. They needed a musician for [Williams’] character to be a fan of, and they picked me. So I had two lines, and I was 0 for 2. My family got to be in the film as extras. There was a lot of my music throughout the film. There was a great scene where two goth girls fight over my CD in the halls of their high school. It’s darkly comedic but very soulful. I’m a big Todd Solondz fan, Jim Jarmusch, Noah Baumbach – The Squid and the Whale is a fantastic movie. There’s Sling Blade with Billy Bob Thornton – one of the greatest movies ever made. And just last year, Brooklyn and Straight Outta Compton were really great. I’m really a fan.

The movie you’re referring to with Robin Williams was World’s Greatest Dad. Did you ever consider transitioning from music to a film career?

Well, I’m saying in a lighthearted fashion that I wasn’t good at playing myself. I was hilariously mediocre. But I was not auditioning for the job [laughs]. I have no aspirations or ambitions in that arena. It was just a thrill for me, but don’t mistake my comments for being self-flogging. I don’t care – my lack of skill set is funny to me.

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