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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Just Another Taxpayer June 05, 2012 at 01:31 PM
Born in the USA Tour, Worcester MA, 1984
Jack June 05, 2012 at 01:38 PM
Same for me Taxpayer... the Worcester show!
John Walsh June 05, 2012 at 01:45 PM
I caught the Darkness tour in Providence on August 26, 1978 and then trekked up to Cornell in Utica for a second show on November 14th. A legendary tour and, for me, the best Bruce concerts. The "Prove It All Night" clip in my post is from Phoenix on July 8, 1978 – three days after you saw him in L.A. Bruce has played this long version of the song a couple of times on his current tour.
SHS June 05, 2012 at 03:27 PM
Palace Theater, Waterbury CT 1976 (?)
Riverside Mom June 05, 2012 at 04:39 PM
Mine will be at Gillette Stadium August 18th! But have listened to him forever and still do ~ gotta love Sirius Radio
John Walsh June 05, 2012 at 06:42 PM
Great that you will now get to see him live – enjoy!
gladys_kravitz June 06, 2012 at 12:22 AM
Great story, John! Bruce was my first "real" concert as well - The River tour, MSG, 1980. He played for 4 hours and I danced for 4 hours. His energy and appeal has not waned.
John Walsh June 06, 2012 at 01:14 AM
Must have been a great show in NYC -- that's the tour I missed. Got "The River" from a friend in Dublin and wished I was back in Providence when the tour rolled through. Thanks for reading the post!
John Walsh June 06, 2012 at 12:25 PM
Here's a list of all Bruce shows from 1974–1977: http://tinyurl.com/87mwbeg Local note: the Born To Run tour kicked off in Providence on July 20, 1975 at the Palace Theatre, which is now the Providence Performing Arts Center. Anyone see that one?
04Avenger June 06, 2012 at 03:31 PM
Love Bruce but have never seen him live...was something on my bucket list. Get to check that one off when he comes to Fenway. Cant wait
John Walsh June 06, 2012 at 04:08 PM
Congrats – should be great, and Fenway is an added treat.
Gregg Amore June 06, 2012 at 04:34 PM
Dec. 1980 in Providence- The River tour.....the review of the most recent Boston show and that 1980 show which I actually identify as 1981 in the review is attached...this appeared on EastBayRI.com and in the Townie school newspaper. http://www.thetownie.net/2012/03/faculty-blog-gregg-amore-30-years-later-the-boss-still-delivers/.
John Walsh June 06, 2012 at 05:05 PM
Thanks for the link to your post, Gregg – outstanding meditation on why Springsteen's words and music ring so true for us. Glad you and "the cute blonde" are still catching the shows and magic.
Gregg Amore June 06, 2012 at 09:03 PM
John, Thanks for your post...I really enjoyed it.
Joe Botelho June 06, 2012 at 11:02 PM
My first Springsteen experience was in February of 1988. Saw him on the Tunnel of Love Tour at the Worcestor Centrum on a bitterly cold night. Probably the best concert I have ever seen. Have seen him several times since and will be going to Gillette this August to see him. Wished I had seen him live with the Seeger Sessions band.
John Walsh June 07, 2012 at 12:23 AM
Tunnel of Love is an underappreciated masterpiece -- wish I had seen that tour. Thanks for joining in, Joe.
David Marble June 07, 2012 at 11:08 AM
John...great memories! I was at the Civic Center Born to Run concert back when we went to so many there.....saw him again many years later at Gillette. The Boss was always big for me and my wife. We were also big Clarence fans (RIP) and saw Clarence's band many years ago on the lawn at the Spring House in Block Island....
John Walsh June 07, 2012 at 12:43 PM
The Civic Center show during the Darkness tour (August 26, 1978) was the high point for me. Had 10th row seats on the floor. Bruce opened with "Summertime Blues," with Clarence taking the "I'd like to help you, son, but you're too young to vote" line. Amazing show. Thanks for reading and commenting.
John June 07, 2012 at 07:49 PM
Nobody speaks for the working man like the Boss!! Saw him with a buddy who had tickets for the 78 tour at the civic center and have been hooked to this day!
john john June 08, 2012 at 01:06 AM
I had tickets 1988 for the centrum but broke leg in car accident. Thats how I met mywife. Give tickets to best friend.When his was there Fell and broke his nose.
Robert Trager June 08, 2012 at 02:45 PM
I saw him give an interview once, where he said that he had never worked a day in his life (outside of music). It's funny that he has that working man image.
John Walsh June 08, 2012 at 03:39 PM
Robert: Thanks for joining the conversation. Bruce certainly doesn't have to work another day in his life. But his father was a bus driver, rug mill worker, and jail guard, and his mother was a secretary, so he had good insight into the working life and it informed his music, especially the early albums. Because of his talent, Bruce was able to make rock 'n' roll his work – lucky him!
Kathy Caron June 08, 2012 at 05:34 PM
John....so enjoyed your article! I drove 4 hours to and from the July 23, 1975 concert in Lenox, MA. Music Inn does not ring a bell. I thought it was at Tanglewood. We sat on the lawn. Mrs. Meyer (Cole principal), her sister Sophia, and I drove in the Lazarides' pontiac convertible. Great memory. Thanks for bringing it back to me. Kathy C.
John Walsh June 08, 2012 at 06:21 PM
Wow, Kathy – you discovered him before he was discovered! Bruce would have loved that you drove to the show in a Pontiac convertible. Thanks for reading and commenting.
Diane Nelson June 11, 2012 at 11:29 AM
My first show was January 1985 - Born in the USA tour in Providence. The ticket was a Christmas present from my sister and to this date, it was the best Christmas ever! Since then I've seen him locally in Providence and Boston and went to Philly, NY and NJ for shows (planes, trains and automobiles). Saw the TD show earlier this year and can't wait for August for three shows in one week. Just cannot get enough of this man and his music!
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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