My journey, from Liverpool UK to Freehold NJ, and all points in between.
“My first year in retirement, little did I know what was about to happen!”
My journey started in April 1976 at age 23, when I first heard and fell in love with the music of Bruce Springsteen and from that day forward has been the soundtrack to my life and as each year passes his music gains another layer and sinks that bit deeper into my soul.
I had to wait until 1981 for my first Bruce Springsteen “Live” concert experience which took place at Wembley Arena in London on the original River Tour and since that all-encompassing evening I have attended a further 62 nights of pure joy and raw emotion at shows all around the world, where I was lost in the stars for that brief moment in time. I know this is certainly not as many shows as the hard core fans and perhaps some would even class me as a lightweight in comparison, but it is probably many more than the average fan. I would personally have loved to have been able to go to more but unfortunately I was restricted by time and money, but I am truly thankful and treasure every single moment of the ones I have been fortunate enough to be a part of, which are all now a memory etched in my mind forever and revisited many times over due to the magic of bootlegging and now the gift of official downloads – the wonder of modern technology!
Forty years later and I am now age 63 and I and my lovely wife Eileen are still on this journey together, I am extremely fortunate to have had her along on this wonderful ride, her passion and commitment has always been absolutely infinite, no questions asked! (Thanks Ei).
We both retired in October last year after a full life of committing to the daily rigours of getting out to work each day, but little did we know beyond our wildest dreams what was about to unfold in our first year of retirement and that our well-earned retirement fund was about to be considerably plundered…!
Our excitement started last December with the announcement of the American River 2016 tour dates which meant it was now a question of which shows fitted in with our already committed plans, the only two shows that worked for us were Washington DC and Newark, ticket sale day arrived with all our devices ready and primed, we got straight in and were lucky enough to get a couple of GA tickets for the Washington DC show but got totally shut out for Newark. This was disappointing, but ever the optimists, we always say things happen for a reason and we’ve now reached a point in our lives where for any concert, we need to be either in the pit or great seats first block next to the stage and will do what needs to be done to achieve this! So desperate measures for Newark were required, we decided to pony up and go for the Steve Van Zandt Rock and Roll Forever Foundation donation package, which meant a meet and greet with Steve before the show and great seats next to the stage.
We were now ready for lift off with our tickets firmly in hand and looking forward to and excited to see and hear the River in full once again, having previously been to Madison Square Garden in 2009 for both the wonderful WIESS and River shows.
Thankfully it all worked out very nicely for us, considering that a week before our shows the east coast of America had that mighty snow blizzard, sadly causing misery for many travelling fans due to the cancellation of the first MSG show.
The Washington show gave us our first indoor pit experience in North America, on all our previous 16 US shows up to this point we had always had seats. On the afternoon of the show we got our wristband numbers 40 and 41 and lucky us, number 10 was drawn in the lottery, we were in! It was awesome being so close to all the action on stage and being able to actually see the expressions on Bruce’s and the Bands faces close up made it such an intimately cool experience and what a show, the River in full in 2016 really has taken on a life of its own, it’s like being taken on a journey from the opening chords of The Ties That Bind to the final refrain of Wreck on the Highway where Bruce says “Well, the subtext of the river was time, time slippin away and how that once you entered adult life, the clock starts ticking and you realise you have a limited amount of time to do your work and raise your family and try and do something good” – so true and a fantastic night with so much more to follow!
Off to the Prudential Center in Newark next for a totally different experience, we got to meet Steve Van Zandt before the show and had a conversation about his music soundtrack for Lillehammer and his choice of coupling A Salty Dog by Procol Harum for Bruce’s scene in the final episode, “perfect”, he said he was very proud of this and had been trying 5 f**#*# years to get them in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he was so passionate about this. We then mentioned to him that it was about time Bruce and the Band finally played a live show in Liverpool, he agreed and said he would look into it! Watch this space.
Showtime, Meet me in the City and we’re off, a great show in Bruce’s home state no less and the crowd around us in the seats were fantastic, especially during all the songs where quiet is a must! You could have heard a pin drop and because of this Point Blank, Fade Away, Drive All Night and Wreck on the Highway became very special moments to cherish from the show, sometimes not always the case! and it was nice that Bruce, prior to singing The River, dedicated to and told the story about his sister Virginia and brother-in-law Mickey Shave who were both in attendance tonight, a heartfelt moment and he also got to dance with his Mom during Dancing In The Dark once again, wonderful. At shows end we looked at each other, smiled and walked out on a cloud while listening to the wonderful voice of Alison Krauss singing Let’s go down to the River and Pray, with the air filled with the excitement of what we had all just experienced and personally of what was yet still to come!
This trip was a fantastic way to start the year and we were now all waiting for a possible announcement of a European River 2016 Tour.
Lo and behold it happened with 4 of the shows scheduled for the UK, we decided on only 2 shows out of the 4 because we now find it so physically demanding these days, age just creeps up on you very slowly and we have to conserve our energy to enable a total and complete show experience. So it was GA for Manchester and Wembley, with roll call planned for both, we had to get in the pit!
Manchester was a tough day! We arrived at The Etihad at 7.30 am and were given numbers 178 and 179, so it will be a great spot in the pit. Roll calls at the usual intervals then lining up from 12 o’clock midday, sadly this is when the heavy rain started and was continuous pretty much until show’s end. There were transport issues for fans trying to get to the Etihad, causing many to miss the first few songs, meaning many empty seats at show time, however despite all this we were treated to a great set, with a fantastic trifecta start of Atlantic City, Murder Incorporated and Badlands. We got a pounding Darkness on the Edge of Town, into a five song River stretch, which included a fantastic I Wanna Marry You, The River and Point Blank and to open the encore my favourite of the night, a mesmerising Backstreets … Bruce once again took us to the edge of the universe and beyond! This was the toughest show, physically and mentally we have ever been to, by show’s end we had absolutely nothing left in the tank, so much so that we even found it difficult to talk about what had just happened in the last three hours, we had never felt like this coming out of a Bruce Springsteen show before, we had totally seized up and even found it difficult to just walk back to the hotel! It was a long day, but thankfully we had recovered by the next morning and soon forgot what we had put ourselves through the previous day and were then able to reflect on the sheer joy on what we had just experienced.
It was on to Wembley Stadium next, which we had planned as our final show of the tour … little did we know! We travelled down to Wembley the day before the show to once again join in roll call. We got numbers 229 and 230, so once again a great spot in the pit. We always enjoy meeting and talking with fellow fans during the whole roll call queuing process and Wembley was no exception. We met a fantastic couple called Jan and Graham Logan, who were in line next to us on show day and they told us they had also travelled the 230 miles south from Liverpool, it will turn out to be a happy coincidence for us all! We all had so much to say to each other and they were both as passionate and fanatical as ourselves, not just about the music of Bruce Springsteen but music and life in general, they also told us they had tickets for both Paris shows next month, I think the seed was planted! We exchanged emails and have since met up back in Liverpool on numerous occasions since.
Wembley ShowTime and first off we were treated to an unusual choice of a solo piano version of Does this Bus Stop at 82nd Street, Bruce needs to practice his whistling! Next up was an absolutely blistering Seeds with Bruce absolutely strangling the neck off his guitar during his guitar solo, we then all enjoyed the rarely played Be True which was followed by the always welcome double of Candy’s Room and She’s The One. It’s sign time again and Bruce pulls out one for I’ll work for your Love, he decides to go solo acoustic, but struggles finding the right key (much to the watching band’s amusement) … once found he absolutely nailed it. Further on into the set the mood changed when we got a very serious and heartfelt American Skin (41 Shots); it really did need a little quiet in here!
We were pleased to see Patti here tonight and we got a great version of Tougher than the Rest, then finishing the main set with a barnstorming Badlands, the encore opened with what is many a fans favourite, “Jungleland”, which is always a very special moment, then flying through the rest of the encore and finishing the show with a heartfelt solo acoustic Thunder Road. The end of another perfect day.
The next day on our train journey back home to Liverpool, I had one of those moments where you start to lose all sensible and logical thought process – you’ve all had them! (Probably best described as about to enter Planet Springsteen!) I was deep in thought about what our new friends Jan and Graham had said to us and got me wondering if Paris # 2 really was a starter for us, we already had front row tickets for Elvis Costello at The Liverpool Philharmonic which coincided with Paris # 1, so after arriving home, the decision had been made and 2 hours later I had flights, hotel and 2 pit tickets all bought and paid for – Paris here we come! This will definitely be our new final show of the tour! We were most definitely back on Planet Springsteen!
We arrived in Paris on the evening after the first show and had arranged to meet Jan and Graham and their friend Simon for a drink and to get their thoughts on Paris # 1, we ended up closing the bar at 2 o’clock in the morning! A wonderful evening.
Paris # 2 ShowTime, we got a great spot near the front of the pit and there was great anticipation in the air for Bruce to finally play the River in full for the first time ever in Europe, he didn’t disappoint after what for me was the perfect opening double of The Iceman and Lucky Town, this was only the 4th time The Iceman had ever been performed live and Bruce’s guitar solo in Lucky Town was out of this world, then with a few words in French from Bruce we all knew it was the River start to finish in what for us was to be our 4th time and just as enjoyable as all the others. The Paris crowd were fantastic, so respectful and quiet when needed and then full power and enthusiasm at just the right times. A truly wonderful Parisienne night and after the show we closed the bar again with Jan, Graham and Simon at 2 o’clock in the morning!
As far as we were concerned this really was our last show of the tour … until we met Jan and Graham again for a coffee in Liverpool. They told us that it was Grahams 60th birthday on the 28th August which coincided with the Chicago show and guess what; they said “we got a deal through Expedia and managed to get two great seat tickets for the show”. We were so pleased for them. We were interested and started asking them about the deal they got and during our return journey home Eileen and I started talking about another possible trip (That Planet Springsteen moment yet again!) no we just can’t do another show or can we!
Coincidentally, the previous week I had received a couple of emails from the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation with information on pit tickets and great seats for the remaining American shows on the tour.
On arriving home Eileen and I continued to briefly discuss the possibility of doing yet another final show of the tour! It really was a no brainer, the retirement fund was about to take another unexpected hit, but we have been saying for years, you only live once and if you can, just do it!
I emailed the Foundation and secured a couple of pit tickets then found a great 4 nights hotel and flights deal on Expedia, Chicago here we come … who knew!
Chicago ShowTime, on this final American leg of the tour Bruce had been digging deep into his back catalogue of songs and providing the fans with some special surprises, he was starting the shows with New York City Serenade with the strings and playing songs from his first two albums, Greetings from Asbury Park and The Wild, The Innocent and throwing in for good measure Jack of All Trades also with the strings, which really added another dimension to this song.
For the Chicago show he kind of changed it round quite a bit from the planned set list by taking in quite a few signs and mixing it up, which for us was a good thing. On a personal note we got to hear the rarely played None But The Brave for the first time and were blown away by hearing New York City Serenade (with strings), Racing in the Street, Jack of All Trades (with Strings) and reflecting the current issues in the news the double of American Skin (41 shots) straight into Murder Incorporated and once again we got a fantastic version of Backstreets to open the encore with a fun Rosalita and surprisingly finishing the show with a heartfelt Bobby Jean, perhaps not a hard core fans favourite, but for us it was a question of, this was really our last show of the tour, Good Luck, Good Bye………….
And we closed yet another bar after the show with Jan and Graham at 4.00 am in the morning in Chicago.
And on to Jersey!
We usually take our late summer vacation to America around the last two weeks in September, which includes the date of our wedding anniversary 23rd Sept – just a happy coincidence, honest!
In August 2015 we had booked an 18 night trip to incorporate a 6 night visit to New York City, a visit to the Museum at Bethel in the Woods which is the original site of the Woodstock festival of 1969 and a 10 night trip around New Jersey, staying in Edgewater, Newton, Flemington, (we visited Danny Federici’s grave to pay our respects), Eatontown, Freehold, Asbury Park, Ocean Grove and East Rutherford and little did we know at the time what was going to happen on this trip!
In June 2016 it was announced that Bruce Springsteen had written his autobiography to be titled Born to Run and would be published and made available worldwide on 27th Sept 2016, amazingly we had already booked and planned to stay at the Freehold Radisson on that night! Would Bruce do a book signing, especially in his hometown, these were the questions. Was it meant to be, all our friends were convinced it would happen, we could only hope!
Anyway on Monday 12th September I awoke early and checked the iPad for any news and lo and behold, the night before a test page announcing a Bruce Springsteen book tour had been leaked on the internet and was about to take place in various venues around America and the first one was to be at the Freehold Barnes and Noble on the 27th Sept. Could this really be happening, with the five hour time difference between England and the American east coast I had time to keep checking all possible websites for any information and at 9.00 am eastern time the announcement became official, which meant it was 2.00 pm in England. I immediately tried to access the Barnes and Noble website for ticket information but was unable to find anything listed, so I phoned the Freehold Barnes and Noble at 9.15 am ET to be told the tickets were free and now available on the Eventbrite website, I immediately logged in and quickly got 2 tickets (at this time it was showing as 1700 tickets still available) amazingly we were in, we couldn’t quite believe it, it was obviously meant to be. We were on cloud 9 for weeks! We were finally going to meet Bruce in person, all year we had been saying, does it get any better than this and it just did!
Anyway the day finally arrived and we parked up at 10.00 am in the Freehold Raceway car park and walked over to Barnes and Noble, their car park was all set up for the event and so well organised. We took our place in the line, Bruce turned up at 10.30 which meant proceedings could start early. We were taken into the store where we were given a wristband and paid for our books, which we would receive after we had met Bruce, we then went back into the car park and lined up again to wait for our turn to enter the store, we were then taken into the store at about 11.00 am and wound our way around the aisles and finally getting to meet Bruce at about 12.00 midday. We stepped onto the podium, shook Bruce’s hand and told him we had travelled in from Liverpool, he acknowledged this and I then said to him “You’ve never played a live show in Liverpool, don’t you think it’s about time you did” and he responded with “Well, we’ll have to see what we can do about that”. The seed was sown! We got our photos and then it was on to the next in line. A brief moment in time perhaps, but a brief one we’ll never forget! Bruce certainly didn’t have to do this book tour, but I think it is fantastic the way he has made such an effort and given some of his most ardent fans that rare opportunity to spend this moment with him. I have never seen so many happy, smiling faces in one place before. It was a great day we met some great people, had great conversation and the Barnes and Noble staff were fantastic and later that afternoon we went to Jersey Freeze for a peanut butter single scoop!
Next we moved on to Asbury Park and I arranged for a visit to the Bruce Springsteen Collection at Monmouth University. I contacted Eileen Chapman, who is the current custodian of the collection and arranged a time for the visit. We wanted to see and read the original Bruce Springsteen Time and Newsweek cover issues from 1975, which we did and had a fantastic visit with Eileen who had many stories to tell and we had much conversation covering our hometown of Liverpool, The Beatles, The Cavern, The Stone Pony, Asbury Park and of course Bruce Springsteen, it was a good day.
On arriving back home in Liverpool we thought time to take a step back and reflect on what a fantastic trip we had just had and wonder where we were off to next? But it turned out we weren’t finished yet! On Monday 17th Oct Bruce appeared at Waterstones Piccadilly in London for another stop on his book tour, and then on Wednesday 19th October Bruce was interviewed on the BBC by Simon Mayo, who had asked fans to submit a question via the BBC website. I wrote in and asked “When are you going to play a show in Liverpool” and it turned out I was not the only one – it was the second most asked question. Bruce responded favourably and said he had also been asked this question by a couple of guys at the book signing in London the previous Monday, Bruce said “We’ll have to see”. This was now starting to gain momentum and I decided to contact the Liverpool Echo with my Freehold story to see if we could move this on any further, they phoned me back for an interview and the rest is history. (See link for the story)
There may just be more of this story still to come … to be continued perhaps!
An amazing first year in retirement no less!
Does it get any better than this, I think it does!
And one last final thought, we should always remember … it all starts with the Music, without which we have nothing.
Phil Beard, Liverpool UK