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The Boss Supports The Local Scene
Bruce Springsteen
Be persistent, keep plugging away. It took me ten years to get a recording contract. Your stuff is good, so keep playing it out. - Bruce Springsteen (giving advice to local band The Wag)
by Josh Davidson
 [Chorus and Verse] Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen poses with The Wag at The Clearwater Festival

Bruce Springsteen has made local news since last summer, surprising fans with several appearances at area clubs, including Sea Bright’s Donovan’s Reef and the Tradewinds, the Clearwater Festival and Asbury’s Stone Pony. He now is making national news with recent reports that a new album with his E Street Band is in the works.

There has been speculation concerning rumors Bruce was recording in Atlanta with band members flying in to join him. Rumors, that is, until E Street guitarist Nils Lofgren confirmed these reports on an ESPN radio show. It is yet to be known whether or not these sessions will culminate in a new album. Brendan O’Brien, who has worked with Pearl Jam, Bob Dylan, Stone Temple Pilots and many others, is producing these sessions.

If O’Brien’s body of work is a forecast of what this studio time will produce, it is clear the Boss is heading in the direction of a raw, non-commercial sound. It’s always hard to predict what type of material Springsteen will release, but O’Brien is known as a “strip it to the bare essentials” music producer.

Springsteen’s itch for playing became apparent last August, when he appeared at Asbury’s Clearwater Festival. He came to town in support of the Clearwater Foundation and Asbury Park, where his musical chops were honed and developed. The event was sponsored by the Monmouth County Friends of Clearwater; a group whose press release states is “dedicated to environmental education, advocacy and action.”

The smile on his face made it clear he was back home: on stage in the place where he started. He really connected with the spirit of the event, singing his most uplifting songs, including “Land of Hopes and Dreams” and “My City of Ruins.” The latter deals with the unavoidable cynicism felt in Asbury due to its current dilapidated state and the hope for its possible revival. It would become the first song played on the September 21st "America: A Tribute to Heroes” telethon, which was aired around the country to collect money for the September 11 Fund.

At one point, the Boss called up any performers in attendance to join him. One of those was Brian Ostering, the bassist for the local band, The Wag, which was scheduled to play during Springsteen’s performance. After Springsteen left the stage, their keyboardist, Alicia Van Sant, gave him a CD and asked if he would stay for their set.

After perusing the festival and making friends with some of his fans, the Boss sat and bopped his head to The Wag’s performance. Afterwards, he went back stage to meet the band. “He gave us some advice that went like this,” said Ostering. “‘Be persistent, keep plugging away. It took me ten years to get a recording contract. Your stuff is good, so keep playing it out.’”

Springsteen scratched his itch to perform later that night, appearing at The Stone Pony. There he joined Nils Lofgren on the outdoor stage for the early show and John Eddie indoors for the nightcap. Weeks later, he appeared at Donovan’s Reef to jam on stage with his wife, Patti Scialfa, and local band Brian Kirk and the Jirks.

On October 2nd, Springsteen made yet another local appearance, this time at the Tradewinds. He was there to play at the Second Annual Light of Day Concert, which celebrated the birthday of local booking agent Bob Benjamin and raised money for the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (www.pdf.org).

Despite the pounding the New York Yankees took from the Diamondbacks in Game Six of baseball's World Series that same evening, it was one not to forget. Many newcomers and veterans of the Jersey Shore area appeared, including La Bamba and the Hubcaps, Boccigalupe and the Badboys, Highway 9, Joe D‘Urso and Stone Caravan, the Danny White Band, Joe Bonanno and the Godsons of Soul, and headliner Joe Grushecky and No Spring Chickens.

“While it was all under the rock and roll umbrella, there are still enough differences in everyone's sets to please all the fans who attend,” said D‘Urso of the evening’s line-up.

Eventually, Springsteen summoned every performer he could find back on stage for one last jam. The jam’s set list consisted of Grushecky’s “Talkin’ to the King”, then “Fire”, “Ramrod”, “Light of Day”, “Land of 1,000 Dances”, “Shake it up Baby” and “Lucille.”

Tony Amato, keyboardist of Boccigalupe and the Bad Boys, played with Springsteen since his early days and noticed the chemistry he feels every time the two reunite on stage. “After all these years of growing up and playing with him, you don’t even have to look at each other because you have that chemistry,” he said. “There’s certain things that you pick up over the years that sort of cue you as to what’s coming next.”

Bonanno seemed very impressed with the event’s growth since last year. “It’s huge,” he said of the event which packed the large club. “Every year it gets bigger and bigger. I’m sure if it was a bigger place, we could get more people.” When asked if the event will be larger next year, D’Urso responded, “I think it will be, as Bob will think of good ways to continue to grow the event and raise more money so we can speed up finding the cure for Parkinson's.”

Benjamin, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s four years ago, said the event raised about $40,000. “It felt great,” he said. “It’s the kind of music I love, the kind of music I work with. It was great to be together with old friends on your birthday.” Benjamin does not experience the shakes or tremors that some with the disease do, but it still causes him stiffness. All that aside, he still continues on with his life, working 50 hours a week. “It just slows you down a little bit,” he said. He hopes rock and roll can raise awareness for younger people, like Michael J. Fox has done with his public acknowledgement of having the disease.

White noticed the importance these benefits assumed after September 11 and took this into consideration when planning his set list. “I think everybody wants to support their fellow Americans any way they can,” he said.

Highway 9 guitarist Gordon Brown summed up the tragedy’s relation to the event saying, “I think all benefits are set up to help causes and people that are in need at all times. The benefits that may weigh more heavily to the general public at this particular time are the ones that are, of course, dealing with the families of the victims from the World Trade Center tragedy. Obviously because how desperate and how urgent that situation is. Here in Monmouth County we had the most people lost in the disaster. One-hundred-and-sixty-one lives were lost that day from our area alone. Everyone around here knows someone, or knows of someone, who is going through a lot of pain. Those victims were our friends, our neighbors, our families. As Jon Bon Jovi said one night from the Count Basie stage, ‘I've never been more proud to say I'm from New Jersey than right now.’"

Josh Davidson
Josh Davidson has written music feature articles for Jersey Style and served as the Jersey Shore rock columnist for Steppin' Out Magazine. Other music writing credits include Aquarian Weekly, Jersey Beat, Backstreets and njcoast.com. He has written free-lance for the Asbury Park Press' Community Sports section and has written featured articles for its news section, as well as covering campus news and sports weekly for the Signal, the College of New Jersey's (formerly Trenton State College) student newspaper. He has worked as a staff writer for The Independent, and his work for Greater Media Newspapers has also been published in the News Transcript. He is a former beat reporter for the Ocean County Observer who presently is a news writer for Symbolic Systems Inc. supporting the US Army's Knowledge Center. His music writing covers a vast range of topics, from the current cover band craze, highs and lows of the original scene, to the early days of the Jersey Shore rock scene in Asbury Park. He is also a musician, having written hundreds of songs as a singer/songwriter, and playing them out as a solo/acoustic artist. He has also played with cover bands, including It Doesn't Matter, and several original bands, including as the guitarist for the solo project of singer/songwriter Dave Eric. He continues to work on solo material and is presently the guitar player for Jersey Breeze.
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