Springsteen and the Carolina Connection
“I say this every year, but the loudest, rowdiest crowd is always in the Carolinas. I don’t know why. Nobody knows why, but every year it’s true” – Steve Van Zandt, E Street Band Guitarist
“There’s always something about seeing Springsteen in Greensboro” – Anonymous fan outside of Charlotte’s Time Warner Cable Arena prior to a Bruce Springsteen concert, 4/27/08
Before anyone north of Delaware jumps on me, I was initially on your side. I know what you’re saying, as I was saying it too. As a former, yet still fiercely proud New Jerseyan living in the South, that kind of talk is drivel.
Rowdiest crowd is in the Carolinas? Please. Something about seeing Springsteen in Greensboro? Nonsense!
Every Springsteen fan knows there are two places to see The Boss: his home state of New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. New York? You just happen to be close by, but the Garden State and Philadelphia are forever entwined in Springsteen lore, the two places most instrumental in propelling him to where he is today. Those are the places to see this man and his band live, not south of the Mason/Dixon line. Insinuating there’s a place that’s even an equal to those two is merely a feeble attempt in laying claim to a rock legend. A false justification as to why the concerts in your state will be equally as good as the ones in his home state. Only we Jerseyans with our attitude flashing, chip on the collective shoulder wearing, knock the battery off daring, Sopranos speaking, beach loving, succeeding in SPITE of the other 49 states, ways can call him ours. Nice try, but no dice. He’s New Jersey’s own, we lay claim to him, and honestly, you can’t have him.
We’ll give you Bon Jovi if it’ll make you happy, but not Bruce Springsteen.
That particular concert in Charlotte where said fan was overheard spewing said nonsense was somewhat a curiosity. While still the 8th Wonder of the World, it was during a time when Springsteen and the band were grieving over the death of keyboardist “Phantom” Dan Federici. Those of us in attendance were part of that process and the show was more about moving forward than anything else. However, the concert in Greensboro a year later proved that fan to be correct. While the band was clearly running in second or third gear for the first part of the show, a great show by Springsteen standards but nothing over the top, the fans were more than willing to push him into overdrive.
“Hang On Sloopy,” a fan request, changed the entire course of the evening. That sing-along was one of the loudest I’d ever heard and everything that followed was just better, with the band matching the intensity of the fans. Bruce, to put it in one word, rocked. “Human Touch,” “Cadillac Ranch,” “Born to Run,” “Lonesome Day”. . .even “Waiting on a Sunny Day” sounded better, no small feat.
To quote Springsteen, “we don’t know what’s in the water here.”
It was like taking an already great cheeseburger and adding just enough barbecue sauce to turn it into a sort of working class filet mignon. The Carolina legend became reality to me that night. Point very well taken. These guys take Springsteen seriously!
But is this the whole story?
A recent statistic by Mayflower Transit LLC ranked New Jersey as being fourth in outmigration with only Maine, Nebraska and Michigan having more people leaving than coming, primarily due to the cost of living. Earlier, another report showed New Jersey ranking dead last in having a business friendly climate. The North Carolina population explosion, pre economic meltdown, saw thousands of us attitude flashing, chip on the shoulder wearin’ . . . .you get the idea . . . New Jerseyans taking up residence. There’s a lot of us living in this wonderful region of the country, by “us” I mean the New Jersey working class, the ones who were either squeezed out of New Jersey or the ones who simply wanted something better for themselves . . . the 8-5’ers, the third shifters, and yes . . . I’ll say it (Springsteen cliche warning). . . the gas station/car wash attendants and factory workers, that he would sing to and about night after night after night.
We represent every character in any Springsteen song that strove for something better. Whether that’s a good thing is very much up for debate, because the amount of hard luck that runs rampant through his songs is absolutely staggering. Life as a Springsteen character means never getting ahead, never driving a great car, never getting a cool job, never getting a beauty (“but hey you’re alright”) and having all your dreams left in tatters.
Suddenly, I’m starting to resent the notion that he’s singing about us at all. Charging 100 dollars a ticket with a bulk of his shows on work nights doesn’t do a lot to help his status as “Champion of the Working Man,” either. Springsteen is losing points here . . .
Down South, we have faced the reality that we don’t get the five in a row stadium shows like we’re used to. We don’t get 15 straight nights at the arena in July. If we’re lucky, we’ll get two shows in the same week, about an hour and a half away from each other. But that’s okay. Before we’re reminded that Interstate highways run north as well as south, let me just put forth that we’ll take it. All we really need is one night for the chance to revisit youth as well as home, even if it’s only for a little while. We’re a proud bunch to be living here, but also not at all afraid or ashamed to tell anyone where we came from. We’ll turn Time Warner Cable Arena, or any venue in the Carolinas, into the Meadowlands, just without the 25 dollar parking fee. Because we have one night to do it, we’ll make the most of it and do it as rowdy as a bunch of middle-and-up aged fans possibly can.
So it’s nothing in the water, nor is it anything having to do with a mysterious “something.” It’s just us. The relocated . . . the same people he played for back in New Jersey who are basking in the excitement of a piece of home coming to visit.
The same people who I’m sure–if they really thought about it– would find it easier to live life in a Van Halen song than a Bruce Springsteen song.
–Brian Hedden, Entertainment Editor
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