- Saturday, January 19, 1974, Bruce Springsteen and the (as-yet-unnamed) E Street Band in The Student Center Ballroom.
One of the great rock and roll Kent stories that I'd heard since I was a kid was that sometime back in the mid-1970s Bruce Springsteen had played in the Kent State University Student Center Ballroom as the opening act for southern rock band Black Oak Arkansas. There was even a purported bootleg recording made of this performance that had been widely circulating among Springsteen collectors for years. Click here, here and here to see the CD covers of those circulating recordings.
On the night Springsteen played at Kent State he was not yet a superstar, however the real music connoisseurs of the day knew all about him. Bruce himself wouldn't get his first dose of major stardom for more than a year when he released his breakout album Born To Run in August of 1975. On the night Bruce played the Student Center Ballroom he was out supporting only his second major label album The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle. It's a great album. Some say it's one of the greatest albums in the history of rock & roll.
I had the great pleasure recently to talk with Michael Solomon, who was the All Campus Programming Board (ACPB) Concert Committee Chairman from 1972-1974 and was the chief promoter on this concert. Michael was only 21 years old on the night of January 19, 1974, and this is what he told me about putting the show together:
An agent at William Morris who I developed a good relationship with over the phone named Sam McKeith said "I’m gonna send you an album and I want you to listen to it" and it was by a brand new artist named Bruce Springsteen. Over that Christmas break at the end of 1972 I was at home in Columbus and saw Springsteen open for Sha-Na-Na and I was blown away.
I thought “this guy is fabulous” and then later I listened to The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle album more times than I can remember. I got ahold of the agent and said "let’s create a show where I can get him in here in the Student Center Ballroom." He said “book this band Black Oak Arkansas for January 19, (1974) they did this song 'Jim Dandy to the Rescue,' you’ll fill a couple thousand seats and we can bring in Springsteen to open for them and we'll charge you $750."
Black Oak Arkansas may have cost a couple thousand dollars — maybe $5000, but Springsteen was $750. And that included Springsteen having to pay for his own transportation. They drove in from Jersey! So the Black Oak guys told me before the show, “we don’t know who this guy is who is opening up for us, but he gets 45 minutes and not a minute longer. If his show goes more than 45 minutes then we are not performing.” They were total pricks. And I was like, wait a minute, this guy came all the way here, I’m all upset and I explained this to Springsteen and the band and Bruce said “don’t worry about it.” They were all together, backstage in the Student Center. There wasn’t much backstage. It was a pretty small area. We found a different area for the Black Oak guys.
During the opening set, one of the Black Oak guys was standing next to me and looked over and said, “who is that guy?” they were stunned at Springsteen’s performance, as was everybody that heard him. He was spectacular, amazing and so then later that night, as was typically the case, we had a party at this house I lived in. We had lots of people over, and Springsteen is there sitting on the floor in a torn leather jacket, boots with a hole in em, saying to a friend of mine “man we’ve been at this a long time, I just hope we can keep the band together a little while longer, I think we are getting close.” Those were his exact words. I lived in a little house on North Depeyster Street. It was 403, corner of Brady Street. Bruce was sitting on the floor in that place talking to people. I remember Clarence Clemons was there, I don’t remember who else. It was just lots of people in and out. I had a lot of friends and friends-of-friends who always would know that there would be something going on back at the house after concerts. That is a night etched in my memory. A couple of years later when he was on the cover of Time and Newsweek the same week (October 27, 1975) lots of people called me to remind me of that concert and that night. These are the best of memories.
A few other thoughts on this show...
Check out Rolling Stone Magazine's review of Springsteen's The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle published 11 days after his appearance in the Student Center Ballroom. Also check out the review from the Kent Stater that was provided for this story. The reviewer seems to have been traumatized by the entire experience.
Oh, and remember that purported rare Springsteen recording from Kent State I mentioned earlier? According to Brucebase the actual recording on those CDs is from 10 days later in Nashville, TN and had long been mislabeled before some detective work revealed it's true identity. Although you can click here to give it a listen. It's actually really great and the band is totally smokin'. Even on Youtube it's mislabeled as being from Kent State but this one track from that recording is likely what the Kent State show sounded like. This live track is accompanied by a slideshow of images and photos that looks to be from around the same period as the show. Brucebase also includes one more image from this show, though I don't know it's origins.
A little over 4 months later Springsteen came back to Kent State and headlined a multi-band concert in the Memorial Gym on June 1, 1974. We'll talk about what happened on that night at a later date. In the meantime, I'll leave you with a classic track off of The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle.