The "Light of Day" concert series in Asbury Park has always drawn that "is Bruce gonna show?" buzz. The shows, which began in 1998 to raise money for Parkinson's research, is the brainchild of artist manager and music insider Bob Benjamin, who has the degenerative neuro-muscular disorder.
The concerts, which began 14 years ago as a one-night show, is now a four-day festival held all over Asbury Park, in Canada and around the world, but it has always been a vehicle to support a great cause and celebrate the "Jersey music mafia" — Jon Bon Jovi, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Jesse Malin, Pete Yorn, Nicole Atkins, Garland Jeffries, and Pittsburgh rockers Joe Grushecky & the Houserockers, the adopted sons who often serve as the house band. Every year, hopeful music fans hold out hope that Springsteen will strap on his guitar and take over the show. He's regularly obliged, coming in for a few songs. But on Jan. 14, he joined Grushecky on the Paramount stage and thrilled crowds with a midnight-to-2:15 a.m. blast from his storied past.
Springsteen is back in the news — and will be for some time, with his 17th studio album, Wrecking Ball, due in stores on March 6. iTunes has been taking pre-release orders for the last week. He and the E Street Band will be playing about 20 Spring dates at indoor arenas in the U.S. before heading for a European tour and likely back for as-yet-unannounced stadium dates back home in the late summer. He wrote the title song to honor the old Giants Stadium, where Springsteen was the last to perform before it was torn down.
The five local shows — April 3 and 4 at Izod Center on, April 6 and 9 at Madison Square Garden and May 2 for the band's first show at the Prudential Center in Newark.
The contents of the CD have been closely guarded, but the first single, "We Take Care of Our Own," provides an insistent, wall-of-sound about strength and support, or the lack thereof, that is drawing comparisons to Springsteen's politically charged "Born In The U.S.A.," an anti-war anthem that was famously misconstrued in a flag-waving manner by then president Ronald Reagan.
Original E Street guitarist Steven Van Zandt, former star of the Sopranos, took a "this thing of ours" pledge recently during an interview while he appeared on Q104.3 DJ Ken Dashow's "Breakfast with the Beatles" show.
"Omerta," Van Zandt said, invoking the code of silence. "But I really have no idea. We have people who tell my wife where I am supposed to go. I get on the plane and the bus and then they tell me what's next.
"I can't say exactly what the album is like," he added, "but I can tell you this. Bruce has some spirit he's had since we were 15. And I am amazed by him every day."
One thing that the band will have to overcome, however, is the death of Clarence Clemons. Simply known as the "big man," he was wailing sax solos and towering presence has been an integral element of the band for decades. He is the second E Street member to have passed away; keyboardist Danny Federici succumbed to cancer in 2008. No sax player has been listed to replace Clemons on the tour.
"We haven't really got a plan," Van Zandt, pausing and seemingly lost for words. "We have to figure it out. It wasn't easy to go on without Danny, but I guess it's the age we're at. Their spirit will always be there and we have to honor their contributions by going out and performing for them — and our fans. The music must be carried on."
As they prepare for the tour, Van Zandt said Springsteen and the rest of the band are uncertain what they're going to do and are aware of the reputation the band has for putting on rollicking shows.
"We're quite aware that we now go to shows with two or three generations of fans in the crowd," Van Zandt said. "We all understand that there may be people in the crowd for the first time and that they've likely had their fathers or grandfather tell them about these epic shows. If we don't deliver, these kids are gonna be like, 'Dad, that was it? Really? What were you smokin'? '"
Tickets for the local shows go on sale Here's the first leg of the tour:
March 18 - Atlanta, GA - Philips Arena (on sale Feb 4)
March 19 - Greensboro, NC - Greensboro Coliseum (on sale Feb 3)
March 23 - Tampa, FL - Tampa Bay Times Forum (on sale Jan 28)
March 26 - Boston, MA - TD Garden (on sale Jan 28)
March 28 - Philadelphia, PA - Wells Fargo Center (on sale Jan 28)
March 29 - Philadelphia, PA - Wells Fargo Center (on sale Jan 28)
April 1 - Washington, DC - Verizon Center (on sale Jan 28)
April 3 - East Rutherford, NJ - Izod Center (on sale Friday)
April 4 - East Rutherford, NJ - Izod Center (on sale Friday)
April 6 - New York, NY - Madison Square Garden (on sale Friday)
April 9 - New York, NY - Madison Square Garden (on sale Friday)
April 12 - Detroit, MI - The Palace of Auburn Hills (on sale Jan 28)
April 13 - Buffalo, NY - First Niagara Center (on sale Jan 28)
April 16 - Albany, NY - Times Union Center (on sale Jan 28)
April 17 - Cleveland, OH - Quicken Loans Arena (on sale Jan 28)
April 24 - San Jose, CA - HP Pavilion (on sale Feb 3)
April 26 - Los Angeles, CA - Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena (on sale Feb 3)
April 29 - New Orleans, LA - New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (on sale now)
May 2 - Newark, NJ - Prudential Center (on sale Friday)