Spirit In The Night: My First Bruce Concert

When $7.50 bought a second row seat to see the Boss.


Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are playing Gillette Stadium in August and tickets are going for as much as $1,101 at TicketsReview. That made me think of the first time I saw Bruce. I scored a second row seat for his Alumni Hall show at Providence College on March 20, 1977. The ticket cost me $7.50.

I had been listening to Bruce since 1973, when a cousin gave my brother The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle. “You have to hear this guy,” he told us with a zealot’s enthusiasm. I wasn’t crazy about the album, but my father was, and I trusted his aesthetic sensibilities. Driving in the car, he’d sing a favorite lyric from 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy): “The cops finally busted Madame Marie/For telling fortunes better than they do/This boardwalk life for me is through, baby/You ought to quit this scene, too.” The more I listened to Innocent, the more I liked it.

And then Born To Run thundered onto the music scene. With its anthemic songs and romantic escapism, the album resonated with me like nothing I had heard before. Perhaps it was the iconic imagery – screen doors slamming and dresses waving and Roy Orbison singing for the lonely. Perhaps it was the common ground I had with Bruce: we were both Roman Catholic, half Italian, and raised in the urban Northeast, with the beach (or shore, in his case) right down the road. Or perhaps it was only rock ‘n’ roll – and I liked it, liked it, yes I did.

Still, everyone said you had to see Springsteen to really get it – his concerts were legendary. As I sat in the second row in Alumni Hall, my anticipation was palpable. I declined the left-handed cigarette offered by the girl sitting next to me. I didn’t want to miss a thing.

The show kicked off with Night, a frenetic ode to nine-to-five survival. Springsteen’s hand, curled to a chord around the neck of his guitar, dripped with sweat. I had never seen a band work so hard – and this was just the opening number! These weren’t some rock stars down at the Civic Center, aloof and distant from the crowd; hell, by Spirit In The Night, Springsteen was in the crowd. And then I got it: Bruce was one of us.

As I walked home down River Avenue following the marathon show (see review), I reclassified every concert I had seen. There was Grand Funk, Three Dog Night, Alice Cooper, and Chicago. And then there was Bruce. It wasn’t even close.

When I went to college, I met a guy who loved Billy Joel. I told George I thought the Piano Man was good, but the Boss was better – he should give a listen. I’m glad he did. Two years later, as a rising star at WBRU, George got a backstage pass for a Springsteen concert in Providence. I missed the show – I was studying abroad in Dublin. When George met Bruce backstage, in an act of supreme generosity, he mentioned that I was the one who had turned him on to Springsteen’s music.

There is a four-by-six index card tucked away in a safe deposit box at the Bank of America on Main Street in East Greenwich. The scrawl on it reads:

To John: Sorry I missed ya! Thanks for spreadin' the faith! – Bruce Springsteen

Bruce could always turn a phrase.

With thanks to Tori Phipps for the concert poster and George Bradt for the backstage ask of a lifetime.

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John Walsh June 11, 2012 at 01:28 PM
Great present! I've made Bruce treks to Ithaca and Albany and Fort Lauderdale, but never down to NJ or Philly, where the shows are legendary. And I've never come close to three concerts in a week. Enjoy, and thanks for joining in here!
Paul Alexander June 11, 2012 at 05:20 PM
Great story.
DownTheHiller June 12, 2012 at 12:47 PM
Born in USA tour - Prov, early 80's. A couple more times since at Civic Center, once with E Street and once solo (Devils and Dust tour). His current set lists and reviews are available on Backstreets.com, he just played 3.5 hrs in Milan and then again the next night in Florence - in the pouring rain. I want my kids first concert to be the Boss so that they can gauge everyone else on him and when they see a show that's close to or better than the Boss then they will truly witness the 2nd coming. Here's what we missed in the late 70's: Passaic '78 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWos8TS9yaE
John Walsh June 12, 2012 at 12:57 PM
Listened to the Passaic show from my dorm room in college freshman year – it was broadcast live and then became a popular bootleg. Thanks for the link – great long version of "Prove It All Night" which has made a return on the current tour. Hope you get your kids to a Bruce show soon!
John Walsh June 12, 2012 at 12:58 PM
Thanks, Paul.


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