Monday, May 19, 2008

"Springsteen," New York January 2006

I had just bought my new digital SLR after the New Year and was itching to use it. The cold, gray winter days didn't provide much inspiration, but I did stop at a park overlooking the Hudson River during my lunch break on one sunny day. I took pictures of the George Washington Bridge, the New York skyline, Yonkers, and even leaves on the ground and cracks in the sidewalk -- anything to try out the camera.

But then I saw that the New York Guitar Festival was going to open with a tribute to Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska, a bare-bones solo acoustic album he put out in 1982 but recorded on a four-track recorder in his bedroom in 1981 (thus the "25th anniversary" arc for the festival's staging of the songs). They brought together a collection of artists to interpret each track as they wished, so we decided to go, for free, to hear a great album played live. And I figured I'd get to really try out my new camera.

I also had a slight suspicion that Springsteen himself might drop in.

At one point, I left my wife standing off to the side where it was less crowded and there was a wall to lean on or sit against and moved into the crowd to get a clearer shot of the artist on stage, Laura Cantrell, who was signing "Used Cars." As I lowered my camera after taking this picture, my cell phone rings. I see it's Casey, who is no more than 50 feet away. I'm already heading back to her, so I don't answer it.

"He's here!" she says to me. I turn around to see that I'd just passed him. I retreat and approach him, brushing him on the arm to get his attention. (It may have been a bit of a "grab," but I don't think it was that extreme.) He stops and turns, we shake hands and I simply say I love what he does and thank him for doing it. He responds, though I have no idea what he says. It may have been along the lines of, "Thank you. I appreciate it," as his wife, Patti, smiles and says hello.

I then leave them alone and take a few pictures of their silhouettes in the darkness of the Winter Garden at the World Financial Center in Lower Manhattan. Though he was recognized, maybe only one or two other people approach him. Had I not reached him while he was still walking in, I doubt I would have, either, choosing instead to let them enjoy watching other artists interpret his work from nearly a generation ago.

As the album nears its end -- the artists came out to perform them in the order they appear on the album -- Bruce and Patti make their way to the side of the stage, where he goes over some lyrics with the festival's founder. Then he gets on stage to sing Woody Guthrie's "Oklahoma Hills" with the full roster of musicians.

It put the perfect cap on a magical musical night.

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