Alums recall when Bruce Springsteen played on campus before he became famous
By Molly Bealin ’14
In February 1975, Bruce Springsteen’s career was picking up speed. His songs “Rosalita” and “Growing Up” earned him radio airplay, and he had just released his “Born to Run” album. With so much promise, this up-and-coming rock-and-roll star would find himself at a Jesuit university in Ohio – John Carroll.
JCU fraternity Pi Alpha Chi, better known as the University Club, was responsible for putting on concerts. The reputation of the U-Club was so strong they were sometimes hired by other universities, such as Kent State, to put on concerts. At this time, possibly JCU’s most prominent alumni, Tim Russert ’72, former NBC “Meet the Press” TV host, recently finished his time as U-Club president. Although Russert was a law student at Cleveland-Marshall, one of his U-Club brothers asked him to see if he could help bring The Boss to University Heights.
“Russert found when Springsteen was available and whether it was affordable to pay him and get his agent involved,” says Mike Messina ’75, Ph.D., a former U-Club member and currently professor of marketing and director of graduate programs at Gannon University in Erie, Pa. “There was enough money to be made, Russert realized Springsteen was going to be famous and that we had to get him to JCU then because he knew we’d never get him later.”
The concert took place in the gym, which normally fits 3,000 students, but at the time of the concert, capacity was reduced to 2,000 because the William H. Johnson Natatorium was under construction. Ticket prices were $4.00 in advance or $3.75 with a JCU fee card.
“In those days, Bruce’s concerts lasted more than three hours,” says Rick Rea ’75, former fraternity member of Alpha Kappa Psi and currently a line service technician at TAC Air – Spirit of St. Louis Airport. “This one lasted for more than 3.5 hours. Our gym was a great venue for all concerts.”
The U-Club was in charge of converting the gym into a concert venue.
“We built a stage in the gym, hung curtains, and put padding on the walls to keep the sound from bouncing off them,” says Dennis Lane ’77, former U-Club member, director of the stage, and currently senior vice president of Ryan Commercial Real Estate Services. “Russert chose to have the concert at JCU because he knew we could pull it off. We were very good at putting concerts together.”
Originally, the concert was scheduled to be on Thursday, Feb. 27, but was changed to Tuesday, Feb. 18 because Springsteen had a recording session at Record Plant Studios in Los Angeles on the 27th.
“We had to change all of the concert posters, but the ticket stubs still read Feb. 27,” says Bill Gagliano ’77, former U-Club member and currently an attorney with the law firm Ulmer & Berne LLP.
One student was charged with setting up Springsteen’s dressing room for the event. This duty involved converting a locker room into a dressing room and getting Springsteen whatever he needed. It also included meeting the man himself.
“My duty was his locker room,” Messina says. “He came in through the side entrance. It was my responsibility to get him what he wanted, which was Heineken beers and meatballs. I was able to share a Heineken with Bruce and Clarence [Clemons, the saxophonist for the band]. Russert was there, and he came back into the locker room and held the door open so Bruce and Clarence could hear the audience. They went back on stage and played ‘Thunder Road’ as the encore.”
“The concert was terrific,” Gagliano says.
Months after the concert, Springsteen appeared on the cover of Time and Newsweek magazines in the same week. Ironically, the cover story in Newsweek was written by Russert’s widow, journalist Maureen Orth, who he didn’t know at the time. Springsteen would progress to play in much larger venues all throughout the world, but he left his mark on John Carroll that night.
“For many of the 2,000 in attendance, it would’ve been their first time hearing, let alone seeing, Bruce Springsteen,” Gagliano says. “I’d expect that for all 2,000, it wasn’t the last time they saw Bruce live.” JCU