Born to travel - to see Springsteen

The Post's Howard Blas traveled from New York to Tampa to see the opening show of Bruce Springsteen's Boss's world tour.

 BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN performs in Tampa on Wednesday night (photo credit: HOWARD BLAS)
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN performs in Tampa on Wednesday night
(photo credit: HOWARD BLAS)

TAMPA – When the house lights went down at exactly 8 p.m. Wednesday night at the Amelie Arena in Tampa, Florida, and Bruce Springsteen and the E. Street Band took the stage for the first time together in some six years, I knew I had made the right decision.

After deliberating for weeks, I bought a ticket and flew from New York to join thousands of other Springsteen fans to celebrate his return to stage at age 73 for the opening night of a six-month tour that will see him traverse the United States and Europe, but not Israel.

I have seen Springsteen over the years in arenas and stadiums from St. Louis to Philadelphia to Bridgeport, Connecticut and in such famed venues as Madison Square Garden and the old Meadowland “somewhere in the swamps of Jersey.” I have enjoyed shows with my kids, my wife and my father-in-law.

I was eager to get tickets to a show somewhere in the northeast on this tour. While I knew competition for tickets would be fierce, I was hopeful. When tickets were announced, I followed proper procedures and submitted names of three or four arenas within a couple of hours of my home that I would consider attending. I received the presale code for the venue closest to my home and I was pleased.

When the sale went live at 10 a.m. on the given day, I eagerly watched my I got closer in the queue. I waited and waited. Prices reached $600 (NIS 2,055) before running out entirely. I, like other fans, felt betrayed and disappointed. Loyal fans who view Bruce as the champion of the working person had their first introduction to Ticketmaster’s dynamic pricing model. The real cost of the ticket was nowhere to be found as prices were automatically adjusted. The cost of the tickets was adjusted based on supply and demand in real-time. And some tickets quickly reached $5,000 (NIS 17,144).

 BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN performs in Tampa on Wednesday night (credit: HOWARD BLAS) BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN performs in Tampa on Wednesday night (credit: HOWARD BLAS)

I tried to put the shows out of my mind until the tour start date neared. I secretly checked Ticketmaster and Stub Hub every day, multiple times a day. Prices varied so widely. From $600 (NIS 2,055) in Connecticut to an almost affordable $250 (NIS 857) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Columbus, Ohio. Admittedly, those seats were very high up in the $300 (NIS 1,028) or $400 (NIS 1,371) section. Nonetheless, I started working on my wife to agree that both or one of us would catch the March 5 and 7th shows.

Then, I got an even crazier idea: go to Opening Night. The know it all on the plane told me he hadn’t missed an opening night since 1990. I came to learn that he is not unique.

While continuing to monitor Tampa Bruce ticket prices, I also checked airfare, hotel prices and affordable options for airport parking at LaGuardia Airport. Airfare was not bad and to my surprise, ticket prices seemed to keep coming down. Slowly, slowly. I watched. I dreamed. When I travel, I am a very efficient planner. I plan routes for road trips, hotels and attractions, and I pack way ahead of time.

Waiting until the last minute would not usually be an option. In this case, it might work in my favor.

My children and wife would mostly be out of the country, I could theoretically go to the show. More importantly, my family gave the green light and I was off and running.

Delta Airlines flies from NYC to Tampa and the price for parking at the airport was reasonable. Now to figure out lodging, given those hotels close to the venue were outrageously expensive: not worth $400 (NIS 1,371) or $500 (NIS 1,714) a night for 2 or 3 nights.

THEN A lightbulb went off: Chabad is everywhere. They have helped me in Saint Thomas and Copenhagen and Beijing so why not Tampa? The website for Chadad in the lovely Hyde Park neighborhood listed three hotels nearby. Then, in small letters, it mentioned a room in the Chabad House for rent over Shabbat and holidays. I called Rabbi Rifkin, explained my predicament and asked if the Shabbat rooms might be available on weekdays as well. I am writing my review from the 2nd floor of the Chabad House in the residential Hyde Park neighborhood of Tampa – a 40-minute walk from the Amelie Arena and around the corner from a large Winn Dixie supermarket which has a very nice kosher selection.

All I needed was a ticket to the show. Could I actually bring myself to come to town empty-handed and gamble that prices would continue to plummet? Maybe Five days before the show, I was connected to some nice people from Spring Nuts, a Springsteen superfan group that meets in person at shows and on social media. Members of the 10,000-plus member group discuss possible show openers and share wisdom on what shoes or sandals and shirts (short or long sleeve) to wear given the anticipated amount of standing and the 80-degree temperatures. They also share wisdom about tickets.

With three days to go, a fan texted me that more tickets had dropped and were available for $199 (NIS 682). They were in the $100s, right behind the stage. I was nervous about sitting behind the band but the group was encouraging: the sound quality is excellent, you are very close and Bruce faces you a few times during the show. With that, I took the plunge and got a single ticket. Some fans posted on Facebook that they had paid $550 (NIS 1,885) for those same seats when they first went on sale.

The Opening Night concert

Despite morning snow in New York resulting in a two-hour departure delay once we had already boarded the plane (so the plane could be de-iced twice), we made it to Tampa with plenty of time to spare. I even got to meet up and tailgate with fellow fans at Sparkman Wharf.

There was a large crowd waiting to enter the arena at 7 p.m. for a 7:30 p.m. show but everyone – mostly in their late 50s to 70s – was patient and in good spirits.

When I found my way to section 124, Row R, I smiled. I was in the third row behind the stage and the sight lines were amazing.

Bruce and his animated sergeants at arms – Steve Van Zandt on guitar and Jake Clemons (the nephew of the late E Street sax legend Clarence Clemons) – did indeed turn to our section many times and we had amazing views of the 18 backup singers and brass and percussion players who joined the ban for this tour.

Bruce looked relaxed, fit and handsome in his new short haircut. He was all smiles and high energy as he directed the band through 28 songs in 2 hours and 43 minutes, introduced seven new songs and didn’t disappointed with such fan favorites as “Born to Run,” “Rosalita,” “Glory Days” and “the Rising.”

My personal favorites were real seminal tunes “E Street Shuffle” and “Kitty's Back,” which were both long and full-spirited.

The highlight for me was sitting close enough to watch Bruce direct each band member and change guitars after every single song. I felt a strong connection to Mighty Max Weinberg, the drummer. In addition to being a proud member of the tribe, he is such a talented drummer. From up close, you can see just how integral he is to the band and how Bruce relies on him to keep the beat. I left Tampa with a smile on my face and a desire to grab affordable tickets for me and my family members for later in the tour. I now know that sometimes, good things do come for those who wait.