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This surprise worth singing about

I am fast approaching the seventh decade of my life and still I surprise myself. Which is a good thing, I guess, when you consider the alternatives.

I never, for example, expected to find myself tangling with a raccoon to save a chicken. Nor would I ever have expected to be a regular in a class called “boot camp,” that has everything to do with physical exertion and nothing to do with gorgeous boots. And certainly, I never ever would have expected to be at a Bruce Springsteen concert, one of 30,000 fans at Fenway Park on a sultry August night. And what was even more astonishing was that after three hours and 45 minutes of nonstop music (no exaggeration here), I was still standing. I was standing (on very sore feet) and chanting with the crowds, “More. More. Bruuuce ... Bruuuce.”

I have faithfully attended our own Green River Festival to enjoy the musical feast that lives in our backyard, but I had never been the sort to follow the Grateful Dead or wait in line to hear the Rolling Stones. I didn’t go to Woodstock in my youthful 20s, probably working that weekend. But, when a very generous family member, a dedicated Springsteen fan, offered the gift of two tickets, I hesitated for about 10 seconds, and then said to my husband, “Hey, we’re only young once.” He agreed to be young, too.

We arrived way early, of course, to ensure that we’d negotiate the distance from our hotel, find our seats (not so easy) and secure our over-priced Fenway hot dogs all in good time. We settled in to our perfect third base seats and observed the crowd, which came in all sizes and ages, groupings and summery outfits. Some were obviously newbies, like us, and some, like our neighbors were old hands. Our seat neighbors, for example, who had come from Boulder, Colorado for the show, actually for both nights at Fenway and then another night at Gillette Stadium, were beyond serious fans. Appearing at first ordinary and mature, they confided that they had chosen to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary following a Springsteen tour across the U.S. and Europe.

“Don’t you get tired of it?” I asked with innocent curiosity.

“It’s always different,” they said with confidence. “Each show has its own narrative,” they added, as if schooling a naïve child. I clearly had a thing or two to learn.

And learn I did. The concert began soon after the 6:30 ticket time. Within moments the crowd was corralled, tuned in and on their feet. The giant stage lit up, the E Street Band appeared, two huge screens magnified the stage and just that quick we were into “The Promised Land” and Bruce Springsteen had us in his pocket.

From then on it was a rock and roll party, and a revival meeting, or was it a camp sing-along with a rockin’ beat? Whatever it was, it was electrifying and infectious. The crowd knew all the songs and joined in with the vocals. The stories were topical and political; they were songs of protest and anger, of struggle and quest. They evoked Springsteen’s working class roots. “We’re here to put a whoop-ass session in the recession,” he announced. Throughout, there was a reverberating spiritual message, a call to “rise up,” and “find the promise from sea to shining sea.” In his prophetic, “We Take Care of Our Own,” he asked where’s the work, the eyes, the mercy “that will set our souls free.”

Bruce (by now we’re on a first name basis) evoked the ghosts of Fenway, lighting up the Pesky pole, and the ones “who are missing in the house tonight.” It was a continuous flow of impassioned vocals backed up with horns, violin, guitars, drum and a driving sax.

As the night continued, we all became a part of the show as Bruce mixed it up with his audience. At one point, he walked down into the midst and picked up (literally as in a sack of potatoes) a young boy and carried him up to the stage. They shared the mike, the boy not missing a beat, then taking over for a short solo, belting out the words in his own beautiful voice. Was it a set up, rehearsed ahead of time or just another instance of amazing rapport? Before I could wonder too long, Bruce had left the stage again and was on to dancing with a security guard.

Then after three hours, and 21 songs, without a single break, he raised his arms, turned and began to walk off stage. He was done, or was he? There was an instantaneous roar for more, and more turned into a 45-minute encore. In the end, he had performed 29 songs, set off fireworks, provided a visual tribute to his former partner, Clarence Clemons, and then whipped into the finale of “Twist and Shout.” Infused by a life force, I was dancing wildly in the aisle. My aisle partner asked me, “Are you having fun?” I nodded. “Coming back tomorrow?” I shook my head. It was a regretful shake because by then I was just another fan of The Boss yelling, “Bruuuce … Bruuuce.”

Ruth Charney is a Greenfield resident.

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