Bruce Springsteen may be an outspoken critic of President-elect Donald J. Trump, but his deep catalog of hits could be a part of the inauguration festivities.
The B Street Band, a Springsteen tribute band from New Jersey, is scheduled to headline the Garden State Presidential Inaugural Gala on Thursday in Washington. The governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, one of Mr. Trump’s top allies, is serving as an honorary chairman of the ball, which is not one of the three official ones tied to the inauguration.
The gala’s planning committee first invited the band to play in 2009 for the inauguration of President Obama, and then again in 2013 for Mr. Obama’s re-election. B Street was such a hit that the gala organizers signed a contract with the band to play in 2017 — before Mr. Trump even announced his bid for the presidency.
The band had no idea at the time that it would be playing at a Trump celebration, but that has not stopped Springsteen fans from voicing displeasure: They sent “several hundred” angry emails about the gig to B Street’s founder and keyboardist, Willie Forte, he said in an interview on Thursday.
“I never saw this coming — this part coming,” Mr. Forte said of the uproar. “Are you asking me if, you know, if I would’ve reconsidered if I could go back in the beginning and I knew this was going to happen? Sure.”
Mr. Forte said that he and his bandmates would cancel the performance if Mr. Springsteen asked them to but that they had not heard from his team, “thank God, so far.”
He said B Street was not “a political band,” but rather played out of a love for the Garden State and to pay tribute to Mr. Springsteen, a man some might call the king of New Jersey.
“I’ve gotten pushback from Springsteen fans that don’t know the reputation of our band or have never seen the band or talked to any of us,” Mr. Forte said.
Organizers of the gala staunchly defended the band’s participation.
“Springsteen music is magic to the ears of our New Jersey members and guests, regardless of party,” Nancy Blades Fatemi, executive director of the New Jersey State Society, which holds the gala, said in a statement. “It’s like, when you look at a Rembrandt or read Shakespeare, do you care what their politics were?
“You can’t have an inaugural ball with a Jersey Shore boardwalk theme and not have great Jersey music,” she said. “Either the band or the D.J. will be playing Springsteen, Four Seasons, Frank Sinatra, the music legends that make us proud as New Jerseyans.”
Ms. Fatemi also said of B Street, “We consider them the official band of the New Jersey State Society and would not consider any other group.”
The band formed in 1980 as Backstreets but changed its name to B Street after a lawsuit over the name in the late ’80s, Mr. Forte said. The band has performed Mr. Springsteen’s music thousands of times, according to Mr. Forte, including at Mr. Christie’s first inauguration as governor. Mr. Christie is an avowed Springsteen fan, even if he is on the opposite side of the political spectrum.
“We’re just a little satellite,” Mr. Forte said. “A bunch of working-class musicians, you know, around the big sun. You know, I mean we circle around the Springsteen sphere a little bit.”
Mr. Forte said that after Mr. Trump’s election victory, he considered pulling the band from the gala but reconsidered.
“I grew up with a family that taught me that when you give a commitment, when you make a promise, when you sign a contract, you go through it,” he said. “I mean, I understand circumstances around it. But I don’t know if I have that type of integrity to break a contract on somebody, you know, in good faith.”
An issue for the organizers of Mr. Trump’s inauguration is a lack of celebrity star power. At Mr. Obama’s first inauguration, Beyoncé sang Etta James’s “At Last” as he and Michelle Obama danced. This year, prominent artists such as Elton John and Andrea Bocelli have turned down the opportunity to perform. Mr. Forte said that was part of the reason B Street was suddenly being criticized.
“I think that a lot of the tension is because there’s no entertainment there,” said Mr. Forte, who declined to say whom he voted for. “Because everybody else is gone, we went way, way up on the top of the list and all of a sudden, we became the bullet, the target.”
Mr. Springsteen himself has ratcheted up criticism of the president-elect. Earlier this month, he told Marc Maron, the host of the popular podcast “WTF With Marc Maron,” that he was scared of a Trump presidency.
“How could you not be?” Mr. Springsteen said.
Here is a partial transcript from the Jan. 2 podcast, in which Mr. Springsteen discussed his new memoir, “Born to Run,” and questioned whether Mr. Trump had the basic competency to occupy the White House.
MARK MARON: Are you scared now?
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah. Yeah. Of course. How could you not be?
MARON: Right. Is this — have you felt this fear before?
SPRINGSTEEN: No. I’ve felt disgust before. But never — never the kind of fear that you feel now.
SPRINGSTEEN: It’s as simple as the fear of, is someone simply competent enough to do this particular job? Forget about where they are ideologically. Do they simply have the pure competence to be put in the, put in the position of such, you know, responsibility?
MARON: He’s so — when you’ve done the amount of self-work you’ve done and you’ve grown up the way you’ve grown up, and you know, you know people, it’s sort of like, they elected the most insecure, you know, needy, volatile dude. And like, to do this job, like that — that somehow or another, I don’t think it like — it — it embodies strength to a lot of people but it does embody [expletive] you.
MARON: It just — like, they just voted for — who you voting for? “The [expletive] you guy!”
SPRINGSTEEN: That happened.
MARON: Yeah, that happened.