Springsteen packs them in for Jazz Fest

April 29, 2012 7:01:42 PM PDT
With the audience packed shoulder to shoulder and stretched well past the edges of the field that normally holds the crowd, Bruce Springsteen delivered a high-powered, energetic 2½-hour show Sunday to close out the first weekend of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

The crowd began staking out spots when the grounds opened at 11 a.m. rushing from the entrance gates to spread blankets and set up chairs as close to the stage as possible. By the time Springsteen stepped on stage fans stretched around the track at the Fair Grounds, where the event is held, some relegated to standing 10 to 12 people deep.

Baca Reynolds said Springsteen was what finally made her decide to make the trip from New York City to New Orleans. She was one of many from around the country making what seemed like a pilgrimage to see "The Boss."

"I'm very, very happy to stay right where we are," Reynolds, 36, said as she completed a beer run, loading up before the crowd got too thick to allow her to make her way back to her front-row seats. "We didn't leave all day, just sent people out for food and drinks."

Springsteen last played Jazz Fest in 2006, and fans said no trip to New Orleans or even within driving distance should be missed.

John Hoolihan, 66, of Metairie, La., said he's been following Springsteen since 1975.

"I love everything about him," he said. "His musicality, his spirit, his humanity and his humor."

Hoolihan said he traveled to Atlanta in March to catch Springsteen in action. "It was worth every penny."

"I've been a fan since 'Born to Run.' I know it sounds corny, but it's a spiritual thing."

At one point New Orleans legend Dr. John took the stage with Springsteen for a number. Springsteen, who opened with "Badlands" and ran through a long list of songs from crowd-pleasers such as "Born to Run" and "Dancing in the Dark" to his new CD's cover tune "Wrecking Ball," also sang with audience members and ran through the crowd.

"He's just an every man's man, who seems real down to earth and everyone can connect to him," said Ellen Rocco of Isliph, N.Y., who stood on the hitch of a trailer on the race track to get a better view.

But if Springsteen was the biggest draw of the day, he was far from the only one.

Soul singer Al Green closed out the day on the Congo Square stage, drawing his faithful.

"Al Green is my all-time favorite performer," said Renata Pearson, of San Francisco. "When I was 13 years old, my girlfriend taught me how to dance to Al Green. His voice is a spiritual experience for me."

Debbie and Mike Gavis, of Houston, who were attending the festival for the first time, were among the early-birds who camped out in front of the Congo Square stage to hear Green.

"He's awesome," Debbie Gavis said. "I'm a big Tom Petty fan and we got to hear him yesterday. Getting Al Green today is pretty great too."

Jazz great Pete Fountain, the clarinetist who's still going strong at 85, packed the Economy Hall tent, while pianist Ellis Marsalis was at the Jazz Tent, and R&B star Janelle Monae was opposite Springsteen as a closing act on the Gentilly Stage.

The festival, presented by Shell, continues next weekend.


Associated Press writer Chevel Johnson contributed to this story.

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