Story 1985-06-01 Slane Castle, Slane, Ireland

Born in the U.S.A. rolls into Europe

Greetings Facebonkers. I really couldn't let today pass without acknowledging that 35 years ago, I was one of 15 intrepid Springsteen fans who headed west for an adventure that we remember fondly, even though we were effectively risking our lives. I speak, of course, about Slane. If you don't know what that is, you obviously weren't there. It's hard to say "you had to be there" because those of us who actually were there are still recovering from the

country lane hikin'
health and safety challengin'
physically exhaustin'

megagig played by Bruce Springsteen on 1st June 1985 in the picturesque grounds of Slane Castle, 30 miles north of Dublin, for a crowd estimated to be in the region of 100,000. It was the opening show of his European tour, supporting the multi-million-selling "Born In The USA" album, his first gig in Ireland and his first massive, outdoor, festival-style, million dollar bash, which celebrated his ascension to the pantheon of rock and roll megastars. Not something that those who'd followed his career for several years already were necessarily happy with. We'd wanted him to reach a wider audience so others could be aware of his talents, but a price had been paid for that success. In 1981 we'd felt that Wembley Arena and Birmingham NEC were as big as it was going to get, but we were proved spectacularly wrong when BITUSA started selling by the bucketload and spawned seven hit singles.

The gig took place in a field that sloped down to the river Boyne, with the castle in the background. An idyllic setting for a picnic, but fill that field with thousands of tanked-up fans (many had been drinking all night in Slane village) and fail to install barriers on the hill or a pit in front of the stage and you're asking for trouble. Come showtime, the pressure from behind was enormous and a constant stream of limp bodies were being pulled over the front barrier and dragged to the first aid tent, suffering from sunstroke and alcohol poisoning, basic exhaustion and other such ailments. The area in front of the stage was a heaving sea of rolling-eyed drunks, swaying dangerously from side to side. Enjoying the show became less important than maintaining your balance and attempting to avoid being swept into the melee. We were protected from the worst of it because we stood in front of the mixing desk tower, but it was still a massive struggle.

With hindsight, it would have been safer to be further up the hill, watching from a distance.

During the show, Jon Landau stood at the side of the stage looking concerned, a feeling that was obviously shared by Bruce. In his autobiography, he later admitted, "I thought somebody was going to get killed and it'd be my fault" and described his feelings as "pure rage and simmering panic". In the mid-show break, he was "seething" and apparently had a "highly-charged debate" with Landau about cancelling the entire tour. It didn't happen of course. From his point of view, the crowd settled in the second half, their exuberance waning as they drifted into an alcoholic haze and evening set in. From our perspective however, the day had become more about basic survival than rock 'n' roll. Bruce said that he never forgot his experience at Slane. "When a crowd of that size gathers, danger is always in the air. It's simply a matter of the math. An unexpected mishap, a little hysteria, and the day can shift very quickly." He wasn't wrong. Slane was a very good example of how not to organise a big outdoor gig. It was later reported that many people got in without tickets, thus increasing the crush. The combination of alcohol, heat and the lack of crowd control could easily have been lethal. Luckily, we had a reasonably good time and got out alive. Despite the hardship, I'm still glad that I was there. I shared the experience with a bunch of people I'd only known for a few months or had met on the way to Ireland and we remain close friends. At the end, we all felt like we'd survived the second battle of the Boyne. We'd arrived at Slane around 6am to begin queueing and didn't escape from the field where we'd left our minibus until early the next morning, so it was an extremely long day. The other shows on the tour took place in stadiums, where crowd numbers were restricted and much easier to control. The final gig at Leeds Roundhay Park was also a big outdoor event but without the sloping hillside and hordes of drunks, it passed uneventfully.

The reason that we remember Slane so fondly has a lot more to do with the initial planning, the journey to Ireland, the fun we had in Dublin (and driving down the east coast) and the sunny atmosphere at the site (until an hour before Bruce hit the stage) than the gig itself, which was hard to focus on in the circumstances. Bruce's set was a typical one for that era, its distinguishing feature being his solo encore of the Beach Boys' "When I Grow Up To Be A Man," which he's not played since. Slane was the first time we'd seen Bruce performing in daylight, which took a while to get used to. It was a very long way from the darkness of the arenas and smaller halls back in 1981. The next time Bruce played indoors in Europe with the E Street Band was on the Reunion tour 14 years later. We were there too, but that's another story.

Saunders over and out.

By Mike Saunders via
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