My mind was wandering the other day, as it is sometimes apt to do, and I suddenly found myself thinking back several years to the first time I was ever in “The Pit” at a Springsteen show. It was, simply put, one of the most amazing, exhausting and exhilarating experiences I’ve ever had. And I liked it so much I’ve done it again. And again. And again.
I should start by explaining for the non-fanatical and uninitiated that The Pit at a Springsteen concert is an area in front of the stage where they allow a certain number of fanatical fans to rock and roll for, well…about five hours, including the time before the show. (It is actually a lot more complicated than this, involving a lottery system to get into the pit and numbered wristbands and hoping and praying that you get in.) I’ve been lucky most times. The rest of the time you might be relegated to an area behind the “front pit”…further away from the stage. With the lost and lonely and vanquished. But if you make it to the front, it is pure heaven on earth. Trust me.
It can get complicated and competitive and, even sometimes nasty, but it was a very simple system for my first time in The Pit in Mansfield, Mass. Fortunately every single person who purchased general admission tickets was allowed into The Pit. No lottery or numbered wristbands involved. Very simple. The line-up into The Pit was based on a first come-first in basis, a system run by Springsteen fans that seemed to work well this particular night.
I was flying solo, going to the show by myself and perhaps meeting up with friends once there, so I got moving nice and early (I thought) and arrived around 10:30 a.m., for an 8:00 p.m. concert, only to discover to some dismay there were quite a few others even more determined than me to get a good spot in The Pit. There was a group of about 35 others who had already been assigned a place in line. So I introduced myself, had the number 35 written on my hand and settled in for the long wait. This all may seem a bit extreme to some, but remember that we’re talking about Bruce Springsteen here, the single greatest performer in the world. If you don’t believe me, you haven’t been to one of his concerts.
So there I was, 9 and a half hours before showtime, sitting on the concrete ground outside, staying hydrated and just making friends, something that I’ve missed since the days of waiting in line to buy tickets. But on this day, I recall meeting several college kids who had stayed up all night and arrived around 3 in the morning to be first in line. I also met a woman who was, in addition to being a Springsteen fanatic, also a U2 fanatic. She told me of a time at a U2 show when she was invited onstage to sing with Bono. Quite a thrill, indeed. I met a woman and man who had literally been to hundreds of Springsteen shows (quite a few more than me…I’m still trying to hit the 100 mark.) Anyway, they seemed to be able to remember details from every single one, not necessarily an uncommon ability. Since they had far more stories than I did, I mostly listened while they talked. And guess what? It was a ton of fun!
At times the hours dragged, but finally the security folks were telling us to line up in a numbered order from one to around 400. After standing in that line for what seemed like an eternity they finally opened the gates. It’s a strange and peculiar sight to see a group of seemingly reasonably sane men and women, mostly in the middle years, walk, hobble, and even trot to make their way down a long walkway and toward The Pit right in front of the stage. Now the ultimate goal of all who attempt to get into The Pit is to be up so close that you can have “elbows on stage.” Unfortunately, I didn’t get that close. But I did get a spot pretty close to the very center of the stage, about three people back. And then, like a giant behemoth, the huge group of people having found their “spot” in The Pit all, sort of, sat down at once. One the cold, hard ground. Ah, at last.
Most experienced people who get into The Pit at Springsteen shows will tell you that it’s necessary to sit down for a little while to conserve energy, while at the same time ruining a perfectly good pair of pants. All for the love of music. And this brings me to the essence of what the entire experience of The Pit is all about. It is about loving the music so much and wanting to be close enough so that you can feel the maelstrom of what might be called a kinetic exchange of energy between performers and crowd. It’s difficult to put into words, but from the time Bruce and his big band took the stage to the very end, it was pure, unadulterated energy and joy in The Pit. It was wild, crazy, jumping and jostling and trying to give back to Springsteen and his band the same energy they were delivering to us.
And that’s really what this was all about. It was a sacred, communal, nearly bacchanal-like celebration of life. All I can tell you is that what I experienced and felt to my very core was pure joy. And if our goal is to find the joy in our lives, then I guess sitting on concrete and standing in line and then sitting on the cold dirt isn’t such a bad deal.
After the show I was still in a state of euphoria and as I wandered toward the exit I spied a friend who had a look of total bliss on her face. And as we came together we shared a good, long hug.
And I felt the warmth of happiness and joy and love tingle from my head to my toes. It’s no wonder I keep going back.