I’ve repeatedly asked myself over the past few days, “How in the hell did THAT happen!?” I still don’t know. Maybe it really was divine intervention, as my husband believes. Maybe chasing that “runaway American dream” finally paid off, because the other night in Washington DC, I found myself on stage, dancing in the arms of Bruce Springsteen. A longtime dream come true for a lifelong fan like me.
Why do I keep questioning HOW it happened? Well, first of all, we didn’t have tickets for the concert. For the first time in all my years of going to Springsteen shows, we’d been shut out from our hometown show on ticket sale day.
That shocking blow was only slightly cushioned by the good fortune we had in obtaining tickets for shows in other cities. Of course I was grateful for those tickets, but still, there was no way Bruce was going to perform in DC without me there. NO WAY.
But first, let me back up and talk about my Springsteen passion for a minute, just in case you’re unfamiliar. Fandom (is that a word?), or whatever you want to call it is all relative, right? Compared to some folks, my level of fandom might be viewed as full blown nutcase. Compared to others, however, it is purely amateur. Trust me on this. Some of you might choke when I tell you I’ve seen Springsteen in concert 56 times as of February 4 in Boston, soon to be 57 in Cleveland, 58 in St Paul, 59 in New York City, and 60 in Baltimore, and yes I keep a list. And my ticket stubs. Yet, I know fans my age who have seen him in concert 250 times. Fans who joke about letting their spouses raise their kids while they’re in the pit. I have a family friend in New Jersey with whom I was texting the other night while we watched a livestream of the show in Philly from our respective couches because neither of us had tickets. We heard there was a last minute ticket drop, and he was so bummed about not being there live and in person for what was quickly becoming an epic show, he left his house a half hour into the concert, drove the hour to Philly, scored a great single at the box office, and walked into the show 90 minutes late. It’s a 3 and a half hour show, remember, so there was plenty of good stuff still to come. I bow down to his fandom, truly. Yes, I’ve been lucky enough to see Bruce at Wembley, and yet, I know fans who have traveled the globe multiple times over the years to see him in places like Johannesburg, Brisbane, Barcelona, Milan, Gothenburg. One of the biggest regrets of my life is that I didn’t start traveling to see Springsteen in concert until I turned 40. Playing it safe and responsible, blahblahblah has always been my MO. Plus, we didn’t have the money anyway.
I’d last seen Bruce and the band in 2014 as the High Hopes tour was wrapping up, in Columbus and then Pittsburgh. As 2015 was came to a close, I knew deep down in my bones it was time for them to hit the road again because I was feeling itchy, needy. I found myself earnestly hoping and praying for a sign that he’d be back soon. Rumors had been swirling for awhile about one thing or another, a box set, a new album, maybe even a tour. Anticipation was high, and then finally, it happened. Springsteen announced his new tour in early December. Just when I needed him, just like always. It would be a short tour, only 24 shows (now expanded to include more US dates and Europe), to promote The River anniversary box set, released on December 4. He announced they’d be performing the entire River album at each show, from front to back, plus outtakes that didn’t make it onto the original double album, as well as fan favorites. Not what anyone expected.
The River came out in October 1980, during my senior year of high school. That’s 35 years ago, folks. That album became part of the soundtrack to my life that year, and it’s held up in all the years since because it’s a record about growing up. I was lucky enough to be at Madison Square Garden in November 2009 when the band played The River album in full, and it was a joyfully surreal experience. I was thrown back in time while simultaneously assimilating each song and its meaning into my present life. It was a little head trippy because it felt like I was being reunited with a childhood friend, and picking up where we left off as middle-aged adults. I never thought I’d hear it that way again because Bruce said he’d never do it again. And now here we are.
Ok, so back to the DC show ticket search. For nearly 6 weeks, I spent a little bit of time each day scrolling through the fan forums, hoping to find a pair of tickets for DC. I posted several ISO requests of my own. I reached out directly to fellow fan friends. I was feeling desperate enough to check out a few of the ticket broker sites, but was quickly disgusted, so I carried on my search for face value tickets in the confines of true Fandom. I signed up for a Ticket Drop service I’d heard about during previous tours, but had never used myself. This guy who advertises his services on Backstreets, the widely renowned fan site, charges a fee of about $15 per sold out show to monitor ticket drops, and to notify fans when the drops happen. When he’s made aware that tickets are being released for a particular show, he sends out automated messages instructing fans to go get their tickets. RIGHT NOW. In mid-January, I was at work one afternoon when I received the TICKET DROP call. I jumped up from my chair, dropped the project I was working on, and I ran like hell out of the office, out the front door, down 3 steps, and over to my house about 25 yards away (yeah, I know, the commute is a bitch) to find my purse, which I’d left in my kitchen, as I frantically dialed Ticketmaster.
I’ll stop for a second and let you visualize that.
Ok to go on now? Good.
I switched over to speakerphone, got Ticketmaster up in my browser on my laptop so I could try for tickets both ways while I grabbed my wallet just in case TM screwed up my saved account info, its happened before. I was sweating bullets as I searched for a pair of tickets, but had no luck in my first couple of attempts. I went back into system to try for a single and I immediately got one! A great one, a side stage lower. Phew. A few seconds later, I got another one over the phone, nearly as good as the first. Husband and I would be in the house on January 29 in DC, not together, but we would both be there, in good enough seats. We’d have a nice dinner together, say “so long” for the show and then meet back up after. It was all good. I washed my face, got myself together, and went back to work. No one said a word, it was as if they didn’t know I’d been gone. As if I’d blinked my eyes like a genie, did my thing to get my tickets, and then blinked again. Poof. Like it never happened.
About 2 days before the DC show, I got a text from a fellow fan, a woman I’d met at the #InYourLivingRoom show Jake Clemons performed at our house last May (unfortunately, I never finished my blog post about that night, but I hope I get back to it at some point because it was a beautifully unforgettable evening for all of us). She had a friend who wouldn’t be able to make the DC show and had 2 GA’s to sell at face value. YES. I wanted them. SOLD. I said YES.
There was a minor complication in that the DC/Baltimore area had been hit hard by a blizzard the weekend before and while the kids were still out of school, we didn’t know the school’s status yet for Friday, the day of the show. We have a 10 year old – our youngest, aka THE MOTHER OF ALL MIDLIFE SURPRISES – and in order to use the GA tickets for a chance at the pit lottery, we needed to have him squared away at my folks’ house – about 30 minutes north of us, or about an hour+ north of where we needed to end up – in time to get to the Verizon Center for wristband distribution. And we both had to work until at least noon on show day too. So, we held the singles and the GA’s until the night before the show, trying to decide what to do. I KNOW…all of those snow days must have gone to my head or something because Helloooooo! I have GA’s! I know my kid has been out sick a lot, but he’s gonna be absent again tomorrow because I have to take him to my parents house early in the day so I can try to make the pit for the DC Springsteen show. Let’s just call it a mental health day, ok, because I’m just a prisoner of Rock and Roll! Yo! Anyway, when we got word Thursday night that school was indeed snowed out again the next day, I sold one of the singles on Backstreets to a huge fan who’d also been shut out on ticket sale day. Poor guy, I not only required his name and his contact information, I actually put him through an interview and made him prove he was a legit fan because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t selling my ticket to a scalper. We swapped stories and another Bruce fan friendship was born. Turns out he’s a music writer and plays in a local band. Anyway, Husband and I decided to hold onto the other single in case we missed the lottery – so at least one of us could be in a seat closer to stage if we ended up way far back on the general admission floor – or in case one of us started to feel our aging backs. AS IF you can sit at a Springsteen show, even if you have crippling back pain. Ha.
Later that night, I started tossing around ideas in my head for a sign, just in case we landed in the pit, just in case Bruce felt like dancing with me. Shortly before I fell asleep, I came up with a great idea – a perfect fit for The River show – and I scribbled it on a small piece of paper and stuck it in my purse. Dance W/Me Bruce Because I’m Not Getting Any Younger! The River album is about growing up, about realizing time is limited. I knew the message wouldn’t be lost on him in the context of this performance…if I could get close enough for him to see it.
For a variety of reasons, we got out of the house much later than I wanted to on show day and I was a little bitchy about it. And THEN I realized I’d forgotten to make my sign too. A little bitchy turned into A LOT. At least I remembered to wear my new SPRING-NUTS tshirt, maybe it would be my lucky charm. Spring-Nuts is a FB fan group that is unlike any other I’ve ever participated in before, a really passionate group of folks with no petty, mean bullshit allowed. Music, friendship, fun, and good works. Nobody wins unless everybody wins, as it should be.
Anyway, we deposited our son at my folk’s house for the night and made our way downtown to DC. We hit some traffic, but snagged a great parking spot after Husband impersonated a VIP in the Verizon garage, and we arrived at the wristband distribution area at around 3:45 pm. Afterwards, we ran across the street to Rosa Mexicano for a pre-show drink and snack since we didn’t need to be back for the actual lottery until 5pm. There were lots of fans there, and we grabbed a small table in the bar next to a couple who had flown up for the show from Florida. We had some fun Bruce-related conversation, but my thoughts kept drifting back to the sign I’d forgotten to make. What if we made it into the pit and I didn’t have my sign? And I’d come up with such a good idea too, but with no paper or marker readily available, I didn’t know how to remedy that in the 15 minutes we had before we needed to be back for the lottery. I wandered over to the manager to ask if I could have a copy of one of the dinner menus tucked away behind the desk, it was small, but I’d noticed it was printed on heavy card stock and it was blank on one side. He asked what I needed it for, and I told him. He paused for a second and said, “Sure, go ahead, free advertising, right?” I asked around for a pen, but what I really needed was a marker. I searched my purse one last time and in a stroke of good luck, I found a purple sharpie hiding in a dusty, crumb-filled crevice. At first I thought it had probably been in there since the last tour. LOL. But then I remembered my Dad had handed it to me as we raced out of the house. High five, Dad! The Floridians and a couple of guys at the bar watched as I quickly printed my sign and they wished me good luck, as Springsteen fans always do. We crossed back over to the other side of the street and I met up with my ticket buyer, the guy to whom I’d sold the single, on the corner of 6th and F. We made the exchange, chatted briefly, we wished each other a great show, and he promised to watch for us in the pit.
Truthfully, the lottery process that night quickly became a blur because it was not routine. Springsteen’s master of the lottery wasn’t there and so the venue’s security took over. What initially appeared to be a fair process turned into a total mess, ending with us just missing the pit. We were, however, first in line for the back of general admission floor, at the rail that divides the pit from everyone else. Not a bad spot to be in at all, we were together and really thankful to be relatively close to stage because we knew we were in for a great night. Bruce wasn’t going to see my sign from there, that was for sure, but there would be other shows. I contemplated passing off my sign to another middle-aged lady with a closer spot in the pit, but Husband wouldn’t let me. Just then, our GA ticket friend walked by after a beer run and invited me forward, much closer to stage. She’d been given one too many Friends and Family pit wristbands and offered the extra one to me. I hesitated because I didn’t want to disrupt the integrity of the Springsteen pit. I protested further – really, I did – because part of the reason we’d taken the GA’s was so Husband and I could be together for the show. Again, maybe all of those snow days went to my head, but Husband would have none of my crazy talk. I was going up closer to the front thanks to a whole lot of help from my friend – with my little Mexican restaurant menu sign in hand – and he’d stay behind, or better yet, he decided to take the single we’d set aside, right next to stage. I felt uncomfortable trying to join my friend’s group at center stage – I hadn’t earned the spot, you know? And I didn’t want to upset anyone who had – so I wandered far right, in front of Patti, where I ended up on my own, in a little pocket of space 2 or 3 heads back from stage. Great proximity to Husband’s side stage seat too.
We had a little bit of a wait before show time, and at one point Husband ran down to the pit to grab my coat so it wouldn’t get the ‘Vous treatment (go Terps). And then the lights finally went down. There’s nothing like the moment when Bruce and the band take the stage. Nothing. I feel especially fortunate to be around for this remarkable tour and I swear I would go every single night if I could. I wouldn’t get bored either. I’d go broke and I’d be crippled and I’d miss my family, but I wouldn’t be bored. One of the most prolific songwriters in music history is performing a formative work from start to finish. The River was recorded when artists like Springsteen immersed themselves in storytelling, when song placement on an album mattered. It blows me away to think about how important this entire album still is 35 years later. And Bruce and the band killed it. They live up to their promise to give it all they’ve got every single night, just as they always have. I’m not going to review the entire show here, but I will say they executed the performance of the album and the bonus songs with an energy and passion that is truly unbelievable, especially given that everyone in the band – except Jake – is in their 60’s. As I experienced in 2009 at MSG, we all went down to that River again, and together we were cleansing our souls, navigating the highs and lows, the ebbs and flows, and the mysteries of life. Its an album full of so much emotion, about transitioning into the adult world and all of the consequences inherent in that process. The show was both a polaroid and a livestream, an artifact and still powerfully relevant. I saw my first Springsteen show during the Darkness on the Edge of Town tour, in 1978. Born To Run, released 3 years earlier and the greatest rock and roll album of all time, is the album that made me FULL ON love Bruce. But if I had to be stranded on a deserted island with only one album, it would probably be The River.
I was so happy during the opening lines of The Ties That Bind, I thought my heart would explode all over the arena. The reverence of Independence Day. The simple joy of Out in the Street. The hopelessness of The River. The haunting tone of Point Blank. The kick ass, blistering, fun of Ramrod. The raw, desperate love of Drive All Night. The reflection on mortality of Wreck on the Highway. The respect with which they treated these songs felt almost sacred. I can’t wait to hear it all again. The memories these songs evoke, their current meaning in my life, Bruce holding us in the palm of his hands all night as we sang like we’ve never sung before was life-giving. His music and these shows never, ever fail to lift me up. That matters to me more than ever in a world “so foul and confused”. Being at a Springsteen show is one of my happiest places on earth because his music is good for my soul. As so many fans say, it’s kind of like being in church, without the hypocrisy. Not because we deify Springsteen, but because these live shows – experienced in community – are spiritually nourishing. His music saved me. That’s why I do it, that’s why I go to as many shows as I can. I heeded the advice of my best Bruce bud in life and crime, and I kept my phone in my purse for most of the show so I could be present with the performance of this album. In fact, I was so present I almost forgot about my sign, but thankfully, Husband was sitting in the section right next to stage and we could see each other. We had a lot of fun singing to each other throughout the night – along with the couple of college boys he ended up hanging out with – and then he texted me as The River set was ending and said, “Don’t forget to hold up your sign!”
I know, he’s the best (except when he’s not). After all these years (and yes, it did take quite awhile) he seems to more fully understand what the whole thing means to me. He knows it isn’t a crush or whatever dopey thing people still say to me sometimes. He knows it’s a deep love I feel for Bruce and the band. He gets it enough (except when he doesn’t, which is usually indicative of some sort of unrelated interpersonal bullshit we need to address) to have written this in response to a couple of silly comments made recently:
“Here’s the thing, Kristi and I have an agreement, she is allowed to kiss Bruce and I am allowed to kiss, well, nobody, but that’s really besides the point. How do I use words to describe the indescribable as it pertains to what Springsteen and his music mean to Kristi? I might say clumsily that Springsteen and his music provided Kristi with light and hope when it was not so readily forthcoming. The song Drift Away (which Springsteen has covered, btw) may sum it up best. There’s a part that goes “…And when I am feeling blue, the guitars come through to soothe me, thanks for the joy you’ve given me, I want you to know I believe in your song, rhythm, and rhyme and harmony, you helped me along, you’re making me strong….””
Anyway, during The Promised Land, Bruce came to our side of the stage for a good long time and I took the opportunity to hold up my sign.
There’s no doubt he read it, because then he looked down at my face and made eye contact with me. In that moment, I swear I watched him process the deeper meaning of what I was asking, he didn’t just read the words. It was the message woven throughout The River. Our time is limited. My time is limited and I asked for what I wanted. The connection with his audience, the conversation, the relationship…THAT is what is at the heart of these shows. We were knee-deep in that River, together. I’d put my dream out there, and whatever happened, well, it was all good. I put the sign away, and continued to sing with my wide open heart, along with everyone else. Then, a few songs later, Dancing in the Dark started. I looked up at Husband and he was again encouraging me to pull out my sign. I asked a couple of women in front of me if they’d mind if I leaned in a little to hold up my sign more prominently for a moment or two, and they were very cool about it. Turns out, though, I didn’t need to do that at all because just as I held it up, Bruce came looking for me, you guys. He remembered my sign and he came back for me, that’s what it felt like anyway. He reached down and took the sign from me.
I turned to look up at Husband and he was pointing, screaming, “What the hell are you doing?! Turn around! You’re going up!” Oh. Right. I’m going up. I’m going up?! OMG. Bruce was standing over me, extending his hand down to me while some dude in the pit gave me a leg up. He said, “Let’s go” and then I danced in his arms. I danced in Bruce Springsteen’s arms. I danced in Bruce Springsteen’s arms. Did I already say that? Yeah? Ok, good.
At the risk of embarrassing myself, I’ll share what happened during the sixty seconds – which sort of felt like forever, in a glorious way – I was up there with him. At first, I was simply stone cold stunned, you guys. I just didn’t know what to do. I kept looking at his face, into his eyes. And I’m not a big eye contact person either. I think I thanked him. Then he said something like, “You’re shaking” and I thought….um, well…hell yes, I’m shaking, do you have any freaking idea what this means to someone like me?? LOL. Anyway, you’ll be glad to know I did finally manage to say something of substance. Are you ready for this profundity? I told him he’s part of me, and that I’ve been going to his shows for 38 years. And then he said, “Oh, that’s nice”, and he kissed me on the cheek. Well, actually, it was more like my ear, but still. And then I kissed him back, well, actually, I pretty much lunged at him, and I hugged him really, really tight. I needed him to KNOW, since I couldn’t find the words in that moment to thank him for being one of the biggest sources of inspiration, fun, comfort, strength, and JOY in my life for all these years. This music, this journey, and our conversation mean the world to me, to so many of us. So I just willed him to KNOW it, to FEEL it, with that hug and I silently promised to keep trying to do something good, to never give up. I let go, I touched his chest, his heart, I thanked him again and he said, “Thanks, sweetheart” and that was it. Wait, what the hell am I saying? That wasn’t “it”, that was EVERYTHING.
Hey, how about that death grip I have on his vest?
This one is my favorite.
Somehow I got back down into the pit and I have no idea what happened after that. I was done. I needed to go lay down somewhere, seriously. I had to work really hard to get back into my body and try to be present for the last couple of songs. I wasn’t checked out emotionally, but I was in shock or something. Somehow Husband and I found each other when it was all over, and I know he was speaking to me but I can’t tell you what in the world he said. I felt how happy he was for me, though, and I was so grateful he was there with me for my once in a lifetime moment. It wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t been there, I know that. At some point on the way to our car, my ticket buyer and new Bruce friend texted me to ask, “OMG, WAS THAT YOU!?”, to which I responded with a long string of increasingly incoherent ALL CAPS as reality started to set in. Once Husband and I got home, I couldn’t sleep. I kept him awake for as long as I could, and then I was on my own until 3:30 or 4am when I finally passed out. I was up in my own head, reeling from what had happened and sifting through 38 years of memories of life on The River, of life with all its twists and turns.
When I woke up the next morning, Husband informed me the internet had exploded. This part of the story – in the context of my aversion to the spotlight, my introversion, and my whole not-great-with-living-things thing – is what makes what happened that night even more special or healing for me. Many, many fellow Bruce fans – some I’ve met, many I haven’t – in addition to my family and friends – flooded my phone and the internet with notes telling me how thrilled they were for me, and in the process, so many Bruce stories were shared. In a very real way, we’ve grown up together and shared the struggles and joys of life through the music. It’s hard to feel alone in that context. It was so freaking awesome – the joy, especially – and it continues to keep that night alive for me. Fans I didn’t know were sending me photos of my dance with Bruce, people were sharing about it on their own Facebook pages, still others were reaching out to me telling me they’d seen me making the sign at Rosa Mexicano – one of them a close friend of my ticket buyer/music writer new Bruce friend who wrote an awesome review after the show and a bunch of happy, cool stuff on FB about magic and our worlds colliding that night, and then there was the video – a great one – posted by another new Bruce friend, the one I referenced above who has seen Bruce 250 times. And then all hell broke loose in my little corner of the world because that video was viewed over 30k times on FB in a few days, before it was ever posted to YouTube. Ok, I probably watched it 20k times myself, but still. It was crazy. I’m so incredibly appreciative of all of this and I’m grateful for these connections, these treasures, every single one. It helped me remember that the interconnectedness of life is what makes it so beautiful.
Here’s the video:
See? I told you. He came looking for me.
I had to temporarily get a grip the next day because we were hosting my son’s 10th birthday party. True to form, it was my boy who made me plant my feet back on the ground by saying, “Mom, I’m so happy you got to dance with Bruce last night, but do you think you could transition for awhile, at least until my party is over?” The kid kills me. Yes, reach for your dreams AND stay present to LIVE your life.
Anyway, I’ve read about that night a million times, piecing together all the little notes I received and pouring over the show reviews, I’ve watched the video of our dance a million times more, I’ve let it soak in and still, I ask myself if it really happened. Of course I know it did because beyond the visible proof, I can FEEL it. I guess I’m still trying to process a couple of the miracles that lined up for me that night, and what it means to me. The best I’ve been able to come up with so far is that it felt like a long awaited homecoming. It really did. That might sound crazy to you, but I don’t care because it’s true. It finally feels like Bruce KNOWS what the music he’s given me over the last 38 years means to ME, Kristi. It’s a relief.
Still, I admit to having a few moments after the show when I second guessed what happened with Bruce up on that stage. I briefly wished I’d been able to be more fun or loose or entertaining or something. But after I saw the video, I realized it went down just as it should have, EXACTLY in the way I needed. I KNOW now that Bruce knows the role his music plays in my life, and in the lives of all his longtime fans. I know he knows because, as another fellow fan recently said, he’s Bruce AND he’s us. That simple truth is what drives this community and the ongoing conversation between Springsteen and his fans. After watching the video, I trust he knows I was simply overcome with the emotion of what this journey has meant to me, and still means to me. So yeah, I’ll bullshit with him next time. LOL.
And that, my friends, is how – against all odds – I was lucky enough to be at the DC show, with GA’s, with my little Mexican restaurant menu sign, in the pit, close to the stage, taking a chance to try to make my dream real. It paid off and thanks to Bruce’s generous heart, I ended up dancing in his arms that night, FINALLY able to thank him – in the best way I could – for all these years of SO MUCH. I’ll never forget it.