September 2, 2023
EDITOR'S NOTE: All of the "then" photos seen in this photo-essay were shot by legendary photographer Barry Schneier at Harvard Square Theatre in Cambridge, MA on May 9, 1974, the night that Jon Landau saw Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band in concert at that now-closed venue and went home to write, "...I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen..." All of the "now" photos were taken by Barry during Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band's August 26, 2023 concert at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA.
Barry's beautiful book Bruce Springsteen: Rock and Roll Future remains essential reading (and viewing) for Springsteen fans. If you haven't done so already, we strongly recommend that you get a copy of the book, which remains available for purchase from our friends at Backstreet Records. Click here to purchase a signed copy and click here to purchase a signed copy bundled with a signed, limited 8x10 print.
Barry, we can't thank you enough for writing this special essay for Letters To You, and giving us permission to include your stunning photos from both the past and the present. Readers, if you click on any of the photos here, you'll be able to see them in all of their full-size, slide-show-style glory. Enjoy, everyone!
On a cool late summer night in Foxborough, Massachusetts, I stood in the photographer’s pit at Gillette Stadium and waited for the band to hit the stage and my camera to catch them. Taking a moment to gaze around the mass of people in attendance, I couldn’t help but reflect on my first encounter with Bruce and the band, almost fifty years ago. That night in 1974 there were under 100 people in a small bar in Cambridge. This night…closer to 60,000.
Over the last five decades, my life, my work, and my sense of purpose have evolved. Though Bruce and I orbit in much different circles today, I like to believe there are some similarities. We are the same age, we have never lost our love for rock and roll, we believe in family and honoring those who have left us. We believe the only path to success is hard work and the creative process is not only one that must continue to evolve, but also can be the most powerful life force within us. Sometimes the process works and sometimes it doesn’t, but we persevere.
Like Bruce, I moved to California believing that is where I needed to be. Then later, when it became time to raise a family, I moved back east to where I grew up. We recognized the importance of raising children around members of our extended family. And we encouraged our kids to seek their own paths and we were there when they succeeded, and we comforted them when they struggled. And I believe that just as Patti is for Bruce, my wife was, and still is, my rock and will always remind me, in a most loving way, that I need to get back on course when I stray.
When I first saw Bruce and the band at Charlie's Place in Cambridge in the early spring of 1974, I remember being struck by the fact so many had turned out for a relatively unknown act. A stranger, sitting across from me in this small wooden both we were all squeezed into, commented on how he had been following Bruce up and down the east coast that year and told me to be “prepared to be blown away”. My first encounter with a Bruce evangelist proved to be right. The audience that night was a passionate and committed group. And I left that night a convert, saying to myself that I had never seen music like that before and I had to see them again. My Bruce evangelism had begun, and I quickly called the music promoters I had been photographing for and “demanded” that they book Bruce and the E Streeters for a show. I just needed to see them again. They got that booking, and a couple of months later, Bruce would open for Bonnie Raitt at The Harvard Square Theatre. The rest, some would say, is history. And I was there to photograph it.
Bruce, in my opinion, is a performer first. Matured through countless bar band shows, he knew his path to success would come from building an audience through live performances. With album sales being underwhelming in his early years, he remained on the road honing his show skills. Even in his earliest years, using a hat as a prop or a microphone stand as a staging tool, he knew that night after night he had to deliver like it was his last show ever. As his following grew and the venues got bigger, he expanded his presence and performance on stage to make the largest arenas still feel intimate. I heard him say once that at every show he’s done, there’s someone there who is seeing him for the first time and someone there who is seeing him for their last time. For each of them, he wants it to be a show they will never forget.
There has been static that this latest tour doesn’t have the spontaneity and urgency that past tours had. Well, maybe its not that type of tour. Maybe this is a different style, one he is trying out. One that will give the audience the best and right show he can night after night. If you look back at Bruce’s tour history, every tour is different, and even sometimes the configuration of his band different. This is the same artist who gave us the E Street Band, the Sessions Band, a Broadway show, a radio show, an autobiography, and Nebraska. Not to mention a beautiful album of orchestrated, classic Southern California 1970s sounds and an album of soul covers.
But as I watched him on this recent summer night in Foxborough, I could see that much of what inspired me in 1974 remained the same. A man in charge of his band while honoring and respecting their presence, a deep connection with his audience, a mission to entertain and please them and still, a deep love for rock and roll that screams from his guitar, the one he learned how to make talk.