“No Brucing tonight, or I’ll come out and get medieval on your ass,” announced Bruce Springsteen at the beginning of Flood Aid 2004, a benefit concert at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Hall Thursday night.
He was referring, of course, to the ever-present chants of “Bruuuuuuuuce” that you find at the typical concert by Springsteen and the E Street Band. But trying to stop the “Brucing” was a little like trying to stop the rains that flooded Pittsburgh on September 17th, leaving hundreds of families without homes and causing millions of dollars in damage.
Flood Aid 2004 was the brainchild of Springsteen friend and occasional collaborator Joe Grushecky, a longtime fixture of the Pittsburgh music scene. For the concert, Grushecky assembled a wide-ranging cast of friends, like Donnie Iris, who had hits in the early 1980s with “Ah! Leah!” and “Love Is Like a Rock,” and Bill Deasy, a singer-songwriter who led the now-defunct Pittsburgh band the Gathering Field.
But it was the presence of Springsteen, Grushecky’s most prominent pal, that led all 2,600 tickets to sell out on November 23rd in just one hour.
For the first two hours of the concert, Springsteen yielded the stage to the lesser-known acts, appearing only at the beginning and later with New Jersey band Exit 105, with whom he played a set-closing cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.”
Around 10 p.m., Springsteen walked back onto the stage at Heinz Hall, the usual home of the Pittsburgh Symphony, for a three-song, career-spanning acoustic set consisting of 2001’s “Land of Hope and Dreams,” 1992’s “If I Should Fall Behind” and 1973’s “For You.” He then joined Grushecky and his band, the Houserockers, for a fifteen-song set that mixed selections from each of their catalogs, as well as collaborations like “Code of Silence.” The highlights included a hard-driving version of “Factory,” from Springsteen’s 1978 album Darkness at the Edge of Town, and Grushecky’s soulful “Everything’s Going to Work Out Right.”
The night concluded with all the musicians — including Grushecky’s sixteen-year-old son, Johnny — coming out for a loose rendition of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” which found the Boss wearing a red Santa cap.
The concert was expected to raise about $270,000 for victims of the flood, which was caused by remnants of Hurricane Ivan. Up to eight inches of rain fell on the region that day. Several communities surrounding Pittsburgh were particularly hard-hit, including one where Grushecky and his band store their equipment.
Grushecky, also a special education teacher in Pittsburgh, said that he and his wife had been fielding calls over the past few weeks from people desperate to get tickets to the show. He joked from the stage, “I’m changing my phone number.”