Springsteen's Homecoming

Ten nights, 550,000 fans — Bruce returns to Jersey

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Debra L Rothenberg/FilmMagic
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
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It wasn't Asbury Park, but for ten nights starting on July 15th, fans who showed up early for Bruce Springsteen's historic Giants Stadium run could do a pretty good job pretending. The parking lot at this East Rutherford, New Jersey, venue was transformed into a mock beach boardwalk, with a Ferris wheel, Volleyball courts and even a Springsteen karaoke stage. About 55,000 tickets were sold for each show, bringing in well over a half million people, breaking box-office records and making for one hell of a tailgate party.

"There's eighty of us altogether," said forty-six-year-old Paul Lawrence, who, along with seventy-nine other members of the Badlands Fan Club, came from Wales to catch six of the shows. For the July 17th concert, Lawrence started drinking at 3:30 P. M. "Bruce means everything to me — more than my wife! That's why I'm over here without her."

A bit farther down from pole 16E was Rich Baumer, an advertising executive from Westchester County, New York, who not only has seen Springsteen more than 200 times but, wearing a sleeveless black button-down shirt and jeans, could easily double for him in his "I'm on Fire" days. "Bruce is a way of life," he said. "It's a religion, actually."

For the July 27th show, members of the state Republican Committee auctioned off tickets for $1,000 a seat as a fund-raising effort for their campaign. The day before, Democratic supporters of Howard Dean hosted a potluck dinner in the venue parking lot.

Over ten nights, ticket sales will bring in an estimated $38 million, generating $2 million in sales tax alone. Concessions and parking fees will yield $4.25 million, with a percentage of merchandise sales as an added bonus to the bottom line.

But money was the last thing on any fan's mind, particularly since tickets were reasonably priced at an average of seventy dollars, with some of the key floor seats held back until the day of show to deter scalpers.

It's a far cry from sleepless nights spent waiting in line outside the local record store, recalled Meg Walton, of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. "I was nine months pregnant and about to have the baby any day, when my husband, James, told me he was going to wait overnight for Bruce tickets," she said. "I couldn't believe he was going, but I understood it was a major show." More than a decade later, their two children, Conor, now thirteen, and Emma, eleven, are already on their second Bruce concert while fifteen-year-old cousin Patrick Callahan was a first-timer. "I'm expecting an amazing performance," he said, while seated atop the car trunk strumming "Thunder Road" on an acoustic guitar to the delight of every adult who passed by.

Other, less-talented fans could try their luck on the karaoke stage, programmed with twenty-nine different Springsteen tunes. "The closer we get to showtime, the drunker people get," said Maria Milito, a DJ on New York radio station Q104.3, which sponsored the singalong, adding, "and the worse they sound." Still, spectators came out by the hundreds to watch, and it's estimated that half of the evening's attendees arrived in the parking lot at least four hours before the show. Even Eddie Vedder acknowledged the scope of the shows. Playing the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, New Jersey, on July 14th, the last night of Pearl Jam's summer U.S. tour, he told the crowd, "I heard that [Springsteen] was supposed to play this very venue, but apparently they didn't have 167 open nights in a row."

This story is from the August 21st, 2003 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 929: August 21, 2003