Guest Columnist Frank Matturri|
Went 2,000 Miles to Fargo to See The Boss
<! -- Column for 11/21/99 -- >
NJ To Fargo for a Springsteen Concert? I'm There.
Posted on November 21, 1999 @ 11:00AM GMT
I obtained a 13th row floor ticket for the Fargo Dome for 11/6/99, on the Ticketmaster website. I waited until the last minute possible to commit to a frequent flyer ticket, and went ahead and did it. So I got a $503 ticket for free, using up most of what I had in miles. I was encouraged to do it by plans I saw being made on RMAS . It seemed as though it was going to be the place to be for the aficionados, in part because it had an appeal just because it was so crazy and bizarre. Deb posted that she had responses from about 50 people to be at The Great Northern at 2PM and then leave for the show from there. Then she posted a roster of who was staying where and I made contact with 2 of the guys staying at the Holiday Inn where I would be.
So I fly in to Minneapolis/St Paul after leaving Newark on a 3:45pm flight, earlier than I had wanted. I am wandering around looking for a snack, and I spot a tall figure with long straight blond hair and a leather jacket. He starts talking with another guy and the 2 of them are talking about flights and one says he was upgraded to 1st class. I figure they are salesmen and they walk off and I go on my way. I make my way to my gate and I see a new Subaru Outback Sedan displayed and make a mental note to check it out. Then I hear voices around seats in the gate area and see the 2 guys standing, talking with a few other guys, some seated, some standing, and I hear references to "Clarence" and "Danny," "Fender" and "amp" and my ears naturally perk up. I then see a guy sitting there with long pointed sideburns and I actually think of Brady Anderson, an outfielder for the Orioles who I saw in Detroit. Then I realize it is Nils Lofgren. I had to really look because this guy looked too young and good looking to be him and he was not dressed in his usual stage regalia, but just jeans and a casual shirt. The other guys move away and there is just one guy, obviously a crew member, sitting 2 seats away. I start looking through my backpack for something meaningful for him to sign since I am against autographs on scraps of paper, and usually against them generally. I sicken at the realization that I have packed the "18 Tracks" cd liner in a zip lock bag just for this purpose but have it in my checked bag. I do fish out a Ticketmaster receipt for the show and approach him with a pen, which I have also taken since I figured a place like Fargo would have potential for meeting people. I sit down next to him ( I left one empty seat between him so as not to alarm him and say, "Nils, I wonder if I could ask you to sign my ticket receipt for tomorrow's show, I'm coming in from New Jersey to see you guys." He says he'd be happy to do it, takes my pen and says "what's your name?" He then signs "2 Frank, 'Believe!', Nils Lofgren 99" and puts a peace sign in the opening of the 1st nine. I then sit there talking with him for 5 or 10 minutes with only the one roadie looking on. I said I saw you guys opening and closing nights in Jersey and a few in between. He looks pensive and says "Yeah, that was a real fun run, a real fun stand. It seems like it was a year ago." I said yeah, I remember first getting tickets in May and it seemed so far away, now it's gone. I said I was 10 rows behind the stage closing night and I remember the way you stood there trying to memorize everyone's face and drink in the whole scene. He says nothing and I wonder what he is thinking. I then say, we have people coming from all over and a bunch of us are meeting at a restaurant and I really mangle the name since at that moment I just can't think of it. I say, getting tickets has really changed with the internet since people from all over can get them from anywhere and come in, unlike the old days. He just looks at me, politely and I again wonder if he just doesn't know what I'm talking about, thinks I'm crazy, or just takes what I'm saying for granted. I kind of jokingly say that I don't tell people at home that I'm traveling to this concert since it seems so crazy. He gives a look like it seems perfectly logical to travel so far for one show and how could you even doubt it and says "It's gonna be a good show!" All the while he is looking right into my eyes and listening to anything I say with undivided attention. Great thing about it is, this is not a bunch of us crowded around him in some bar. I am sitting there having a private conversation with him with only the one crewmember looking on. I also tell him I am in the 13th row and we agree that should be pretty good. Around here I tell myself not to overstay my welcome and I say "Well, Nils, I'll let you get back to what you have to do, so have a good trip and I'll see you tomorrow." I start to stand up and he sticks out his hand and shakes and says enjoy the show.
I walk away and get a cup of coffee and a scone at Starbuck's, come back and who is standing there now is Danny Federici. I don't want to go up with Nils there and have him think I am the local stalker. So I sit there drinking my coffee and wait for Danny to move away. When he does I approach him and say Danny could you sign my ticket receipt for the show which Nils already did. He says he'd be happy to and signs his name followed by "E Street Band 99." He then hangs onto my paper, starts to hand me his ticket and the pen, then reverses the 2 documents and laughs and says "Be a heck of a thing if I handed you my ticket." I tell him as he's signing it that I'm coming in from NJ. Then a few moments later I see a huge figure, from behind, in a dark long coat and dreadlocks and say to myself, that's either going to be a really scary looking woman or Clarence. Of course it is Clarence and I pick an opportune time to approach and say Clarence, I wonder if I could bother you to sign this ticket receipt for the show like Danny and Nils did. He says he'd be happy to, but signs just looking at it, even when I tell him "I'm in from Jersey for the show, we're comin' from all over the place." They then move over to board for 1st class and all this time, not a soul in the area has any recognition of who they are, even Clarence. I just can't stand not telling anyone, so as a guy around 30 moves near my I say, how are you doin' and say to him, do you know that's Clarence Clemons? His eyes show recognition of what I've said, but he looks at Clarence with astonishment, like he can't believe it's him. I look forward to moving through first class after they have gotten seated.
Sure enough, as I move through, Nils is in the last 1st Class seat on the left aisle and as I move past he happens to look up. It would have been easy, and maybe natural for a famous person to just ignore me, but he looks up and me and gives me a nod like he really knows me! I nod back and say "Hi'ya Nils." By now we are old friends, we are like this, this is pretty cool. Then, where is my seat? How about the first row in coach, on the aisle, row 8, right behind Nils' seat? And Clarence is right across the aisle from him, which means Clarence, is 4 feet catty corner from me, and the curtain stays open nearly the entire hour long flight to Fargo. Clarence is with his girlfriend and sits reading a book some of the time and drinks a glass of red wine. He slowly winds a white gauze bandage around his right thumb. The bookmark he is using is a laminated card which has a color sketch of him and Bruce in silhouette like on the Born to Run album cover, says "Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band" and below that says "Promoter." This is apparently a backstage pass.. Nils' guitar tech comes back to him and says congratulations, I can't hear about what and I seem to hear him say "Did you hurt it skiing?" Maybe this makes no sense unless maybe last season he hurt something skiing. I kick myself for not telling him I recall exactly where I was when I first heard "Keith don't go" which must have been 20 years ago, or wishing him good luck on his solo career after the tour ends.
We land uneventfully and stand up, and me and Nils have our stuff in the same overhead compartment. I go to open it but worry that I could hit his head since he has his back to me. I hesitate to say "excuse me Nils" because I don't want him to see me as a guy who is beginning to turn up everywhere. I realize he is just short enough to allow me to open it up carefully and it will pass safely over his head. He gathers up his guitar which is not in a case but mummy-wrapped in brown paper and brown tape! Clarence is taking 2 big bags out of his overhead, obviously he has not felt bound by the little chrome thing they use to determine if it's a carry on. We are standing in the aisle and he is waiting for the line ahead to move, he moves back to allow Nils, I think, to get something out and he very slightly brushes up against me. He puts his coat on and as he puts his arms through it I think "I'm close to getting whacked in the head by Clarence's elbow!" Several times during the flight I looked over at how close Clarence was sitting and just shook my head. I had to tell somebody so I told my seatmate, a real nice guy around 60 who owns some land around Fargo but lives in Idaho. He had heard of Bruce but had no idea who the rest of them were. In coach there were around 8 or 9 roadies plus a couple in first class. It crosses my mind to ask one of them for a real good ticket. Turns out later a girl posts that she and friends ran into 2 roadies at dinner Friday and they wound up upgrading 4 friends of hers to 2nd row! Hell, I traveled with half the band and crew and got zilch!
We then walk down the jetway, along the terminal and down the escalator. Incredibly, although I'm not trying, Clarence stays just ahead of me and I'm going up the escalator on the step behind Clarence. I move back a few steps to give him some space. He has only carry-on and shoots right for the limo. Danny and Nils wait by the carousel like anyone else. They are there for the talking to but I am not going to approach them again. Nils is loading his bags on a rental luggage cart. I then get my rental car and the guy just ahead of me is Nils' seat mate. I assume he must have been speaking to him and say "so you got the celebrity seat." He looks at me and says "I have no idea who those people were." I said, in front of the young car rental girl, that was Nils Lofgren, one of Bruce's guitarists and one of the better known rock guitarists in the world, and a recording artist on his own. The girl is impressed by the fact that Clarence was also on the plane.
So I move on down to where the rental cars are, and by the limo is a distinguished guy with close cropped gray hair and a close cropped gray beard. He looks familiar and bears a certain resemblance to Roy Bittan, but he has too much hair and is too tall. He just has bade farewell to 2 people and calls after them "It'll be worth the trip!" I say to him, are you with the show, and he says yeah. I tell him where I am from and I am going, and he gets a kick out of it. Since he's not going to tell me I say "so what do you do." I wonder if I have said the right thing as he kind of stammers and finally says, I'm Bruce's record producer, sticks out his hand and says "Chuck." I fairly yell "Plotkin!, I know you!" and he asks me my name and I introduce myself. I told him I met the guys but had my tracks album insert packed away, by now Nils is approaching with his cart. I said, you produced that also, right. He says yeah, I think it worked out very well, don't you, and I say, oh yeah it's great. Then I correct myself and say I have "18 Tracks" with me not "Tracks" but I hasten to add "but I bought 'Tracks' too."
Anyway, I meet up with a number of people, carpool to the restaurant, we have dinner with a group of like 8, there were 50 or so at the restaurant but most I did not know. What amazed me is how this hard-core underground knows each other. It's kind of like mob meetings, "there's Louie from Detroit, and Ralphie from Philly." I resolve to watch my mouth since you can really prove your ignorance around people this knowledgeable. I accept the fact that I'm like a graduate assistant with a master's surrounded by Phd's. Of course, they are not all at that level, there are plenty at my level. Four of us carpool to the show, and it is cool to finally have a "will-call" seat and have to show your id, get a wristband and parade in on the floor like a big shot. The fun thing is that all the hard core, and there are far more than the 50 or so from the restaurant, are on the floor and we get to mill around together and. Just about all of them have better seats than us and Kevin McClave has front row center.
Well, landed at Newark at 12:35pm, after an hour to get one bag, back home. I did not hear any of the aficionados who were disappointed but we had no expectations of a real offbeat or unusual show. Pretty mainstream but in my opinion very energetic and intense. Seemed to me Bruce was trying extra hard to whip up the crowd where in a place like Philly feels he does not need to. Seemed to be more pointing at the wings to tell them to get up, more antics like the crazy legs dance, summersault and 3 trips up and down the front riser during Ramrod slapping hands. Crowd was cool at first but responded well I feel and were respectful (to rip off Ken's line). My personal opinion I would much rather see Ind Day or Point Blank in there instead of Hometown which has never done anything for me, but a nice version w/out the mid-80's long synth ending (unless my memory is shot). Seemed the instrumental of Prove It extended a bit and this whipped up the crowd, Ramrod, which I never have been overly partial to, was better than I ever remember it and a long intense, manic, antic-filled version complete w/Bruce collapsing backward on an amp, lying there playing guitar for quite a while, and as indicated above, summersault. I held my breath as I saw this approaching, you never know what could happen during that. Maybe funniest part for me was when he unplugged the black guitar during Workin', threw it to a guy in the front row, and Bruce frantically kept motioning to him to turn it around and the monitor shows the guy playing it backwards, not only strumming the neck, but since he doesn't have the strap on, he is supporting it with his hand under it. The guy then got the guitar right, strummed it for a while and Bruce have him a big sign of approval, then he threw it back. All in all, a very enjoyable weekend. Just not the kind of weekend you can tell anyone about. You can't just tell a stranger or business acquaintance that you flew 2,000 miles to Fargo, ND to see a concert.