Recently, a few members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum board drove to Pittsburgh with me for what is now near the top of my list of rock and roll experiences. Local legends Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers hosted a special benefit show for the Greater Pittsburg Community Food Bank with special guest Bruce Springsteen. The concert was held in the 2,000-seat Soldiers and Sailors Hall near the Pitt campus. The venue is more than 100 years old and houses a museum with remarkable collection of artifacts from the Civil War to the present. The hall is stunning, with a balcony on three sides, a very low stage and the entire text of the Gettysburg Address – with 12-inch letters – etched in a formidable block of stone above the stage.
Springsteen took the stage first, noting that he was going to “warm up for Joe.” He led off solo acoustic with an early classic from Greetings, "I Came for You,”which sent a jolt of excitement coursing through the mixed-age crowd. He stayed solo for a few more numbers, including “Land of Hope and Dreams” and an incredibly tender version of “I’ll Work for Your Love.”
Grushecky and the Houserockers then joined Springsteen, who switched to electric guitar. Together, they tore through “Atlantic City,” and for the next few hours, took the crowd on a wild ride from Asbury Park to Homestead and points beyond, including their Grammy Award–winning collaboration “Code of Silence,” and Springsteen classics from all eras, such as “Promised Land,” “Because the Night,” “Glory Days,” and “Johnny 99.” The crowd reached fever pitch when Springsteen, Grushecky and the Houserockers launched into “Waiting on a Sunny Day” from Rising. It was one of my favorite tracks all summer long and from the sound of the crowd, many others felt the same way. Crowd enthusiasm was such that at times Springsteen simply held the microphone to the crowd and let the audience fill in the chorus. He closed the night with the house lights brightly lit. After playing two encore songs with the band, he returned one more time, delivering a stirring solo acoustic version of “ Thunder Road.”
As a New Jersey native of a certain age, weaned on FM radio, driving big American cars, able to rattle off every Jersey shore town along Route 9 from Red Bank to Cape May, my view is a bit slanted when it comes to The Boss. However, the world needs to know that Grushecky and the Houserockers may be the best band in the land that also have day jobs. If they are in your town, go see them, and track down their CDs. They nailed the tender spots and raised the roof on the rockers. Springsteen and the band reminded us of the power of rock and roll to inspire and unite. As the house lights came up, it was clear that these 2,000 people understood this, and that all believed there was indeed magic in the night – all for a good cause.