Story 2000-06-22 Madison Square Garden, New York City, NY

FROM BROOKLINE TO BROOKLYN

Memories of Summer 2000

Greetings Facebonkers. Today is a very special anniversary for me and the many friends I was with 20 years ago tonight at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It was the final night of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's 10-show run at the Garden, the last date of their 15-month Reunion Tour, and for me and Dave, the culmination of the mother of all trips of a lifetime in Boston and Manhattan. July 1, 2000 was a very emotional night, for the band and for us. The next day, we went home to resume normal life until we could afford to do it all again. Those two weeks in New York City were a dizzying blur of meetings and get-togethers with friends old and new in a variety of restaurants, bars, hotels, diners and fast food joints, which all led up to that final evening at the Garden.

Dave and I flew into Boston on June 17, checked into the Beacon Plaza in Brookline and spent two days on a walking tour of the city with our friend David, a local resident. While there, we saw JFK's birthplace and museum, drank in Cheers, saw the Holocaust Memorial, ate seafood on the waterfront and went across the Charles river to Cambridge, where we found the old Harvard Square Theatre, site of the 1974 Bruce Springsteen gig that inspired Jon Landau's famous "rock and roll future" quote. We also saw the old Boston Music Hall, where Bruce had a legendary four-night stand in 1977. It was a great introduction to a new city for us. We wished we could have stayed longer but the sights and sounds of the Big Apple were calling.

On June 20, we caught the train down the coast to New York's Penn Station, a five hour journey past idyllic bays and tranquil towns into the heart of Manhattan. Having checked into the Pennsylvania Hotel opposite the Garden, we came straight out and took the subway to Fulton Street and the South Street Seaport, to see Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes playing on the early and late sailings of the Blues Cruise. It was cramped on board and we had to lean on Jeff Kazee's piano as we circled around Manhattan harbour, first in daylight, then in darkness. The boat made regular twists and turns, and band members often had to grab hold of the wooden slats above them to maintain their balance. Joey Stann took us backstage to save us going ashore between sets. I took a lot of pictures with the new camera I'd just bought for the trip and the results were great.

Before and after the Jukes gigs, we had a pint or two of Boddingtons in the nearby North Star pub, where we met wild and wacky barman Stuffy Shmitt. The three of us hit it off immediately. We returned to the bar several times during our trip, bringing friends along and often having ice cubes thrown at us. Stuffy said that, like every other barman in the city, he was really a musician. He'd even made a CD called "Nothing Is Real". We ended up taking copies home. We really didn't expect much, but discovered that it was a gem. He's made a few others since and we've got them all. When we came back to New York in 2005, we finally saw him play at Southpaw in Brooklyn.

After a few days in town, we met up with our friend Keith and shared a room at the Hotel Walcott on West 31st (where we had a choice of very noisy air conditioning or an open window with traffic noise from the street below) and then the more upmarket Marriott World Trade Center. Fulton Street, Pier 17 at the Seaport (with its spectacular view of the Brooklyn Bridge) and the plaza between the twin towers were our special places on that trip and evoke powerful memories as I write this. We often came back after a few drinks, laid on our backs on benches and stared at the towers disappearing up into the night sky. 15 months later, both towers and the Marriott hotel were destroyed on 9/11.

Our primary reason for being in the city was to see Bruce's last six shows at the Garden, so we settled into a routine of sightseeing by day, seeing Bruce on alternate nights and enjoying some unforgettable evenings with friends on his days off, in pubs like the Old Town Bar on East 18th, the Tavern On Jane on 8th and Jane and McSorleys on East 7th, where we took Phil Jump and the Badlands group one night, in exchange for free beer all evening, as you do. As the days passed, more friends from the UK arrived. Dan and Ruth, Linda and Helen, John and Rob, Harry and Gill and many others.

When not eating and drinking, which wasn't often, we could be found checking out, in no particular order of preference, Central Park, the Strawberry Fields John Lennon memorial, the Dakota Building, most of Greenwich Village, the Bottom Line, Washington Square Park, Little Italy and Chinatown, the Empire Diner, Chelsea Hotel and Minetta Street, where the front cover shot of the second Asbury Jukes album, "This Time It's For Real" was taken. In Little Italy, we found that Umberto's Clam House had moved. That was the place where mobster Joe Gallo was shot in 1972, an incident that Bob Dylan wrote about in his song "Joey" and that Martin Scorsese recently re-enacted in "The Irishman". Umberto's is also where the Jukes are pictured sitting outside on the back cover of their "Hearts Of Stone" album. We also found the time to take the round-Manhattan boat cruise (which Keith slept through), visit the Statue of Liberty, take the fast elevator to the rooftop observation deck of the south tower, ride the Staten Island Ferry to our new friend Ray's restaurant and, in my case at least, walk over the Brooklyn Bridge and back in 95-degree heat (it had to be done) while the others went to a baseball game at Shea Stadium. I'd just got back, had a shower and was anticipating a siesta when Dave called to say they were waiting for me at McSorley's and it would be rude not to go.

As if seeing six Bruce gigs and two Southside Johnny shows wasn't enough, we also saw La Bamba's Big Band at The Cutting Room (straightj after one of Bruce's gigs) went to a taping of the Conan O'Brien show at NBC Studios so we could see the Max Weinberg Seven in action, caught a free set by Shawn Colvin in Battery Park and went along to Little Steven's personal appearance at Tower Records. I really don't know how we did all that and managed to sleep as well. We probably took "the city that never sleeps" literally. We were younger then, we're 20 years older than that now.

And if all that wasn't too much fun, we also got to see Bruce Springsteen play six concerts, with a wide range of material from various positions (which ranged from upstairs at the back to behind and beside the stage) in arguably the most famous arena in the world. We all have our favourites, but for me, the highlights and notable set list choices of the first five shows that we saw (gigs 5 to 9 in the sequence) were as follows:

June 22
A rare "Secret Garden"; one of my fave outtakes, "Don't Look Back"; "Youngstown" and "The Ghost Of Tom Joad" with Soozie Tyrell on violin and an unexpected encore of "Incident On 57th Street".
June 23
"Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street?"; Human Touch" (a rare example of the E Street Band playing 1992 material); "Dead Man Walking"; "Sandy" and the combination of "Meeting Across The River" and "Jungleland", never more effective than when played in New York City.
June 26
"For You" and "Racing In The Street".
June 27
"Trapped", "Loose Ends", "Mary Queen Of Arkansas" and "Blinded By The Light".
June 29
"The Promise" (yes, THE PROMISE) and "Growin' Up".

Which brings me nicely back to that legendary final show on July 1, which started at 8.45, ended 20 minutes after midnight and included "The E Street Shuffle", "The Promise" (AGAIN), "Lost In The Flood" and "Blood Brothers" with its emotional new final verse. Tickets for this gig had been impossible or very expensive on the black market, but Dan managed to source ours from Clarence Clemons' office. Highlights from this concert were released on the "Live In New York City" album and DVD in 2001 and the entire show is now available from Nugs.net as part of Bruce's ongoing live archive series.

Afterwards, as we had two or three times before, we went down to Walkers bar on North Moore and Varick, to toast the end of the run into the small hours. Each time we'd gone there, there had been more of us and they'd opened another room to accommodate us all. This final night saw Walkers invaded by Springsteen fans from all corners of the globe. Speeches were made, drinks were drunk, friendships were forged or reinforced, contact details were taken and photos were snapped. It's very hard to describe the atmosphere that night. It was a wonderful few hours spent in the company of like-minded fans. We stayed until the bar closed and then lingered for another hour. Nobody wanted to go home.
We finally spilled out onto the sidewalk around 5am and took yet more group photos before heading off to our hotels and local residencies, wondering what we were going to do with our lives until the next tour. An off-duty limousine driver gave us a lift. Only in New York. It had been a long tour. Many of us had been there at the start in Barcelona in April 1999 and now we'd made it to the end. Dave and I started our trip as a duo, but ended up as part of a huge international community. It was a struggle to head for Newark airport on July 2 and take a plane back to reality, but you have to come home so you can go away again.

I'm dedicating this post to our American Blood Brothers, who helped enormously with spare tickets and showed us great warmth and hospitality over those wonderful two weeks. Any attempt to produce a comprehensive list of names from memory 20 years after the fact would be doomed to failure. Suffice to say that you know who you are and we love you all. Special mentions are due to Christy, Holly, Richard, Lori, Jon Pont, Chris Phillips and last but certainly not least Bernie, who Josh hilariously dubbed "the next president of Ticketmaster" at Walkers on our final night in Manhattan.

Saunders over and out.

By Mike Saunders via Facebook.com.
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