Notes From A Bruce Springsteen Obama Rally

There’s a reason why I’m not a photographer

Here’s a nice thing to have happen in your town: A free acoustic Bruce Springsteen show, in the middle of a sunny day, with enough of a crowd that the “Thunder Road” singalong resonates loudly but not so much of a crowd that you can’t breathe. Springsteen played a couple of Obama rallys in Ohio and Iowa last week, making the now-traditional Democratic-candidate political loop that he’s been doing since Kerry eight years ago. But today’s show in Charlottesville, Virginia seemed more casual and last-minute: He was playing a show in a swing state anyway, so why not add another quick fire-up-the-troops show to the itinerary?

I got my free tickets to the show last night, but they were still giving them away as the show started, and there was plenty of room in the Charlottesville Pavilion — a smallish outdoor shed venue in the middle of town that people like Jack White, Wilco, Death Cab, and Girl Talk already headlined (for non-free shows) earlier this year. I saw neighbors and friends all over the place. I brought my kids, and so did plenty of others. And even though this was ostensibly a political event, it was a pretty subdued lunch-break crowd. And the fact that motherfucking Bruce Springsteen just played for a lunch-break crowd is ridiculous.

Springsteen’s in town for a full E Street Band marathon show tonight (and I’m going to that, too), but this was just a quick acoustic affair: Six songs, including a goofy, possibly-improvised fake campaign song for Obama. (Sample lyrics: “First debate really freaked me out, then Romney got schooled twice by Obama / Smilin’ Joe Biden brought the drama / Fox News must be smokin’ marijuana.” Real goofy-uncle stuff.) Springsteen’s openers were all political speakers, including Virginia Senate candidate Tim Kaine, but he kept his own speechifying relatively short. (He also kept strumming his guitar while he was doing it, which was smart.) As he came out, he said something about how he’s spent his entire career gauging the distance between “the American Dream and the American reality,” and that that’s why he’s supporting Obama. Best line: “I’m thankful that GM is still making cars. What would I write about? I’d be out of business!” (This from a guy who has so many songs about factories closing.) He also trotted out an Obama impression, which is like everyone else’s Obama impression mixed with everyone else’s Springsteen impression, a weird thing to wrap your head around.

Musically, everything was loose and casual, even if the quick set was remarkably hit-heavy: “No Surrender,” “Promised Land,” “The River,” the inevitable “We Take Care Of Our Own,” the rousing “Thunder Road.” I don’t know if he convinced anyone to change their vote, or even to vote if they weren’t already, but I’ll sure as hell take a free Springsteen show as a fringe benefit of living in a swing state.