When Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson took the stage at last December's Kennedy Center Honors event to perform one of the most iconic songs in rock history, they had no idea their version of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" would captivate a worldwide audience.
Backed by an orchestra, gospel choir and late Zeppelin drummer John Bonham's son, Jason Bonham, on drums, Heart's version of "Stairway" had a visible emotional impact on surviving Led Zeppelin members Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones. In the days that followed, a staggering 5 million people watched the video on YouTube or downloaded the performance on iTunes.
"I'm such a Zeppelin purist, and it was totally respectful to the song," says Ann Wilson from her home in Seattle. "I was really inside the moment of what we were doing."
The success of that night has led to Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience opening for Heart on this summer's Heartbreaker tour, which hits Blossom Music Center July 22.
Heart is riding high with the band's recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a new album, Fanatic, a box set and a book titled Kicking & Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul and Rock & Roll.
Since releasing Dreamboat Annie in 1976, Heart has sold more than 35 million albums, and the Wilson sisters have continued to play concerts to a loyal fan base known as Heart Mongers.
"When they see us playing on stage, [the fans] get to live it too," says Wilson. "The reason we keep doing it is that it fulfills something inside of us that can't be fulfilled any other way."
While Wilson's soaring vocals and sister Nancy's virtuoso guitar work produced classic rock staples such as "Magic Man" and "Barracuda," the Heart box set, Strange Euphoria, contains lesser known material. "The hits weren't really the point," she says. "We didn't want to just do a compilation. We had so many miles of tape from the old days that we wanted to show a wide spectrum."
After being eligible for more than a decade, Heart's induction into the Rock Hall was the ultimate honor, Wilson says.
"It was pretty stressful because everyone gushes and is so thrilled to be around you," she says. "I'm not real smooth at Hollywood events, but when I got up to speak I was strangely calm. It's a total honor, and we stand on the shoulders of all the roadies and people behind the scenes."
Performing not only Heart material but also Zeppelin music has Wilson enthused about the new tour. "We're doing this with the blessing of the three guys themselves," she says. "Can you imagine having the license to go out and play Zeppelin every night? I have my wish list [for songs] and Nancy and Jason have their wish lists. This will be for the deep Zeppelin fans. It's going to be a real trip deciding what we're going to play."