Friday, May 22, 2009

Behind the Scenes with Bruce Springsteen at the 2009 Superbowl

This post was written by Patty From Toronto for the E Street Canada mailing list, describing her once-in-a-lifetime adventure volunteering as a member of the stage crew for Bruce Springsteen's Superbowl Half Time performance. Many thanks to Patty for granting her permission to reprint her excellent "Superbowl Journal".

Patty's SuperBowl Journal

Day 1

It’s January 18th and I’ve just arrived at the Tampa airport. I still really can’t believe that I’m here and I’m doing this! I don’t know what to expect and I don’t know any of the other "Half-time Show Stage Crew Volunteers". What I do know is that I’ll be seeing Springsteen at something very different on February 1st: the half-time show at the Super Bowl.

As I leave the airport I hear "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" playing on the airport speakers. I grin.

Day 2

First rehearsal for the half-time show stage crew volunteers. I find my way over to Raymond James Stadium and park at the designated lot. I see some other cars and folks in the parking lot and I figure that they’re there for the rehearsal. Uhmmm…. no. They don’t know anything about the rehearsal; they’re only there for the football game. I cross the street and find the sign up tent for the volunteers; a purple wristband is put on my right wrist, and I’m directed to the boxed dinners and asked to find a place on the bleachers. Soon, more and more folks arrive and we start introducing ourselves. Finally, Holly Seiber, one of the coordinators, introduces herself; she welcomes us and turns the microphone over to Marcus – the head stage technician, and "Cap" – the head honcho. We hear about rules: "Safety First!"; we hear about expectations, we hear that we’re going to have to be patient as there’s going to be a lot of "standing around" (I know how to do that!), and we hear about confidentiality: "Anyone caught with a camera is automatically gone". We also hear that all the pieces on the field are part of Bruce Springsteen’s stage and that we’re going to learn how to put it together in less than 5 minutes. Cap said that he wouldn’t want Clarence or Bruce falling off the stage during the Super Bowl performance. A nervous laughter is heard throughout the crowd of 200 volunteers. It’s just what we wanted to hear, that if we screw up, Bruce or Clarence may fall off the stage. Great. Just great.

We are put into teams and are instructed to get to know our team members and to get a feel for our piece of equipment. I am placed on one of the "Jib" teams. What’s a Jib? I guess I’ll soon find out. More introductions, and our team leader, Michael, tells us a little bit about the Jib. It’s a long camera pole that has a screen on one end and a rotating camera on the other. It will be one of the cameras used for the show and an experienced camera operator will be controlling it. It will be our team’s job to push this Jib out onto the football field for the half time show. Okay. But, where’s the Jib? Well, it seems that our Jib will not be available until next week, so in the meantime, we’re going to pretend carting out this Jib according to a specific route. Okay again. We practice a couple of times on the field, and then Cap calls us all to order around where he’s standing on one of the stage pieces. He talks about stage directions and where the various members of the band will be standing. He points to Nils’ spot and says that Patti will be standing there. I shout out that Patti stands on the on the other side of the stage. A laugh goes up and Cap acknowledges his error. He then talks about the "talent" and that we, the stage crew, are in show business. We can’t stand around and gawk as we’ve got a job to do and that we’re going to need all of our concentration to get everything in place on the field in less than 5 minutes. "Forget about Bruce", Cap tells us, "he’s just another guy". In my head, I begged to differ.

A few more instructions, and the group is released for the evening. Walking towards the parking lot, one volunteer said that she’d heard a few folks as "Who’s Clarence?". Well. Obviously not everyone was there for Springsteen and the band.

Day 4

Second rehearsal this evening. Tonight’s choice of wristband colour is turquoise. It’s only 53 degrees outside and one of the volunteers is wearing her fur coat. We practice with our equipment some more – my team continues to ‘pretend’ to have a Jib to roll out – and Cap lets us know that Bruce and the band will be rehearsing next Tuesday and Wednesday over at "that" tent (pointing to a tent situated behind our practice field) by the field where the Super Bowl will be played. Many of us could be seen smiling and grinning, and more ‘Bruce conversation’ amongst the various teams occurs. Tonight, Cap tells us a story about a mule, a plow and keeping an eye on the prize. Our ‘prize’ is getting the stage safely on the field and correctly in place in less than 5 minutes. Cap then asks for a volunteer that isexactly 5’ 10 1/2'" tall. Cap doesn’t say why someone of that exact height is needed, but a fellow does come
forward. He’s asked to climb the front piece of the stage and to stand there – some measurements have to take place from where Bruce will be standing at his mic to where the back video operator will be. Bruce’s stage designer has requested exact measurements. Puzzle solved – Bruce is exactly 5’ 10 ½" tall. A few of us ask our Bruce fill-in if we could have a ‘bum shot’. No dice.

Before leaving for the evening, a small group of us are centered out to attend two more rehearsals. Fifty of us have been chosen to be part of the pre and post game shows as well. Very cool! We’re going to be bringing out the stage for the presentation of the Lombardi trophy to the winning team, and we’ll be right on the field during all the celebrations. Very, very cool! I said that of course I’d do it.

Day 5

Third rehearsal this evening and tonight’s wristband colour is orangy-red. The halftime stage crew volunteers were given an opportunity to walk right across Bruce’s stage and to stand at his mic. There was a great deal of laughter and posing at the mic. In our minds, just for a second, each one of us was Bruce Springsteen. Cap’s story tonight was about an infiltration by the Americans into North Vietnam during the Nixon presidency. The moral was that we must look out for those around us. I’m starting to figure out that Cap has a story for every occasion and is also very good at telling stories. We were all also told tonight that a higher level of security was now in place and FBI agents were situated around the whole Raymond James Stadium complex. Eeeks!

The stage crew was introduced to "JK" – she’s in charge of the 2,000 screaming "fans" (also volunteers) that are going to come running onto the field as the performance begins. There are questions about these fans running in front of the stage crew volunteers during Bruce’s performance. The questions are answered as we are placed in various spots along the front of the stage. I don’t have to worry because as a Jib person, I’m right there anyways. Wahooo!!!!

On a personal note, the various team members are starting to gel. Names are remembered, stories are shared and e-mail addresses are starting to be exchanged. I even met another Canadian: Paul from Toronto.

Day 6

First day of pre and post game rehearsals. Our wristband colour is lime green. Twenty of us were placed to work with the ‘spaceship’. This is where the players and coaches come to accept the Lombardi trophy, give speeches, etc. We have to bring this ‘spaceship’ – really, it’s in the shape of a football – onto the field and position it directly on top of the NFL insignia that is exactly at centre field. Greater security also abounds as we now have to have any bags checked before entering the compound.

One of the volunteers comes up to me and asks me if I’m ‘the Canadian’ who had seen Bruce so many times. I said yes that I was Canadian, but there were other fellow countrypersons who’d seen Bruce way more than I had.

Day 8

Fourth rehearsal for the halftime show stage crew volunteers. Tonight’s wristband colour is yellow and Cap’s story is about learning how to play a banjo: "slow is steady and steady is fast". We even had a demonstration of banjo playing. Of course, it all has to do with getting the stage onto the field safely, properly, and under 5 minutes. Our team still doesn’t have their Jib, so we continue to ‘pretend’. We’re starting to get a lot of ribbing from other team members and are, jokingly, accused of being slackers.

Tonight we had a number of treats:
· We were taken right into the actual field of Raymond James Stadium to rehearse (we were, under no circumstances, to walk on the sidelines where the Steelers and the Cardinals’ insignias were painted onto the grass. We couldn’t take any grass either – if caught, goodbye!)
· The producer of the Super Bowl, Don Krisher – he did the Pre-Inauguration concert in Washington DC as well – spoke to us
· Bruce Rogers, who did the stage design for Springsteen, was there too. He was asked about the process and how involved the ‘real’ Bruce was. It was funny as he tried to prevaricate, saying that they all worked as a team, etc, etc. But, you could tell that he wanted to spit out that Springsteen was totally involved in every step of the way.
· A second story from Cap: this time about Sir Paul McCartney and how he told Cap that he was so very nervous about his halftime performance.
· We got to see the lights being tested in the stadium
· We got to see the testing of the screens, situated at the back of the stage, going up and being turned on and off. "10th Avenue Freeze-out" kept scrolling across the stage
· Hearing from all parties concerned that Bruce was so very excited about the Super Bowl halftime show and that he’d been told of all the rehearsals going on and how 200 dedicated folks were giving up two weeks of their time (and money) to participate in all of this. A great cheer went up amongst all of us!

Day 10

Rehearsal number 5. Lemon yellow wristbands tonight, and more turkey, ham and vegetarian sandwiches. And cookies and potato chips. I arrived at the practice field earlier tonight since this was going to be the first day that Bruce and the band were going to be rehearsing, and they may not have left for the day. Upon arrival at the field, and very close to a gated off practice tent, I could hear the strains of "Glory Days". And then some silence, and then….10th Avenue with the glorious horns, followed by BTR, WOAD, and Glory Days once again. And then they played all four songs again. Bruce and the band had started at 2:00 pm that day and continued to rehearse until about 6:15 pm that evening. They were not so much rehearsing the songs, but more so the timing of the songs. Bruce had only 12 minutes and he had to get the show done in 12 minutes.

No Jib for us yet; but, we continued to ‘pretend practice’ and Michael, our Jib leader, had cardboard signs with the word ‘JIB’ spray painted across each made for us. Lots of laughter and hilarity with this. Tonight we got to see the pyrotechnics that were going to go off behind the stage during the actual halftime show. Also tonight, some of the instruments – Max’s drums, Charlie’s organ, Roy’s piano – were on the correct stage pieces and the instrument technicians, including Kevin Buell, were also there to rehearse with us. We were told that the techs were a bit skeptical about our ability to get the work done in less than 5 minutes.

Tonight there was also some tension and Cap asked all of us to do an attitude check. As we were rehearsing getting to the stage, once our stage pieces were locked in place, one of the crew volunteers was pushed over and she fell. She was injured and Cap was not happy. Not at all. He was very direct and very upset with us. Disappointed in us. He reminded us of our jobs – to put a stage together for a TV performance. Although he knew that many of us were there primarily for Springsteen, he said that being a fan was not our primary job. We were to forget about Bruce being Bruce, he’s just another "talent" and he’ll do his "Bruce-ing" and we were to do our stage "crew-ing". I did realize the severity of the situation, as someone could have gotten very badly injured; but, in my head, I once again begged to differ: Bruce is not just another talent.

The stage crew also heard this evening that a 20 year camera vetran of the Super Bowl was caught taping Bruce’s rehearsal that afternoon. He was promptly escorted off the property and his credentials were taken away. Fired, just like that. We were warned about this.

Day 11

Second to last rehearsal; tomorrow is dress rehearsal day with Bruce, the E-Street band, and the other 2,000 "screaming fans"!!! Tonight’s wristband is once again turquoise. I came down to the venue early again and sat outside listening to Bruce and the band rehearse and play the same four songs over and over again. You could faintly hear discussions; but not enough to make clear what exactly was being discussed. I’m starting to develop an aversion to turkey and ham sandwiches.

Tonight we practiced putting the stage together and taking it apart in the necessary time frames. We did this three times, and of course, still no jib. Tomorrow, we were promised, tomorrow. Cap did apologize to us for his outburst last night but he was very concerned about everyone’s safety. He reminded us of Marcus’ main rule "Safety First". We were also reminded to bring picture ID with us from now on as security was going to be turned up many notches and we would need our ID in order to enter the Raymond James Stadium. No picture ID, no entrance. Can you imagine forgetting your ID and not being allowed into the stadium for rehearsal – particularly if Springsteen was your main reason for volunteering to be halftime show stage crew?

At the end of the evening, it was a very excited and somewhat nervous group of halftime show stage volunteers that left the venue. Tomorrow we were going to not only see Bruce, but also rehearse with him and the band. "Mind blowing" just doesn’t describe it.

Day 12

Dress rehearsal day with Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band! It’s pouring rain, it’s cold and damp, but that doesn’t deter anyone’s spirits. At check-in, we were given rain ponchos, asked to see ID, and were wrist-banded with official bands saying ‘Halftime Rehearsal’. The bands are those thick plastic ones, yellow in colour.

And, finally, finally our Jib is here! Since our group is going to be the first coming out of the tunnel, we had a wonderful vantage point in seeing Bruce and the band come into the bowels of the stadium in their little golf carts. The signal was given and out we all came, all show business. We had less than 5 minutes to get that stage out onto the tarp and in the pouring rain and situated properly. All the instruments were now on the stage pieces as well. Kevin Buell was keeping an eagle eye on Bruce’s guitars. Done! We did it. The stage is in its place, the jibs are in their places and we’re all waiting in anticipation. Then out came the ‘screaming fans’, reminded to stand behind us. Looking a bit goofy, but so very cute, in his red cap – made him look like one of the seven dwarfs! – and wearing a great big grin, Bruce and the mighty E-Street Band and all the horns bounded up onto the stage. They refused umbrellas even though it was pouring rain. They just kept grinning and Bruce kept giggling. He was having belt troubles – a la Seeger Sessions Band – again. A bit of adjusting and more giggles. What an unbelievable, totally indescribable moment! I started giggling too. And then there he was in front of his mic: "Hello Volunteers!". He said that he thought it never rained in Florida; he thanked us for all of our hard work and dedication to the cause (or something like that), then he counted off….1,2,3,4….. Tenth Avenue Freeze-out! A stronghold on the mic stand, and the backwards arc…..but he couldn’t quite get himself back up. It took a few tries and more laughter! Bruce was grinning ear to ear. And the rest of the band was laughing right along with him, particularly Steve. Then into BTR, then WOAD, and then the revised version of Glory Days – with a referee and all! All I can keep repeating is ‘unbelievable’. The first time through the whole program was done, finished. We had to take the jibs off the field, the stage pieces off the field and back into the tunnel. Then we did it all over again. So did Bruce and the band. And then the final dress rehearsal: this time with only the 200 halftime stage crew volunteers. No offense to the 2,000 screaming fans; but, this was so incredibly cool for those of us that had been working damn hard for almost two weeks. We had to wait a while, though, to see if the rain let up and for Bruce and the band to get into clothes and make-up, just like it was going to be for Super Bowl Sunday. This final dress rehearsal was going to be recorded and videotaped ‘just in case’. Even the jibs had emergency backup equipment on them.

From the moment Bruce and the band came on stage for this final dress rehearsal, you could feel this was going to be a bit different: less hilarity, more structure, more serious. Bruce checked Roy’s piano, he had a couple of quick conferences with band members, he patted Clarence on the back, he gave Patti a big hug. Then into position: that wonderful silhouette of Bruce and Clarence standing back to back. Their instruments held out in front of them like the powerful weapons that they are. Seeing this for the first time gave me a punch in the solar plexus; it was that powerful. I watched Bruce draw all his resources into himself, waiting for the announcer to introduce the Bridgestone Halftime Show. Showtime: introduction, songs, the slide across the stage in the rain, and the referee, who fell down while warning Bruce and Steve that "Bosstime" was over. Bruce and Steve were laughing so hard they had a great deal of difficulty finishing
Glory Days. They had us laughing right along with them! Then, then, then…it was all over. Finished. Bruce said he was off to Disneyland; off the stage and into his golf cart he went. The next time we see him is Sunday, the big day.

I can’t quite describe my emotions at the end of this evening. I was in a bit of a fog trying to remember everything and to hold every moment close to me. Me – rehearsing with Mr. Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band (as our schedule labeled them). Me. Oh, wow!

Day 13

A gorgeous day outside, not even a hint of yesterday’s rain. Today is when we rehearse the pre-game show and the post-game show portions. We didn’t get a different wristband today; we used our same wristbands as yesterday and we had to show them – just like going into the Pit at a show – to all the security as we passed by them. Those of us at rehearsal couldn’t stop babbling about yesterday. We kept tripping over our words, trying to re-capture everything. We saw the boxes with all the paper confetti and we asked Kevin Buell, who happened to be there, if the choir that Bruce uses for WOAD is the same choir as the Pre-Inauguration Concert. It was. We also found out that Roy’s piano and Charlie’s organ were badly damaged in the rain yesterday, and new instruments were being flown in from New York City. Even some side stage speakers were wrecked and had to be replaced. Bruce would not hear of canceling the rehearsal yesterday.

Day 14

Game Day! Show Day! With a great deal of anticipation and excitement, I drove over to the University of Tampa where all the volunteers were congregating. Our wristbands today were stamped with ‘Halftime Show/February 1, 2009’. Those of us doing the post-game show (change of plans for the pre-game show) were also given a bright green paper wristband. There was lunch: turkey/ham/vegetarian sandwiches, cookies and potato chips – what else? - as well as plenty of water. Who could eat? I was too nervous. Would I be able to see? Would I be able to hear? I sat with all my other volunteers and there were many, many photo ops. Today, I kept my Blackberry with me; I was determined to take some pictures.

Soon it was time to head over to the Stadium and to our specific equipment. We were transported by special buses to the Stadium, we went through an amazing amount of security, and then we were escorted to our special areas in the tunnels of the stadium. We got into our particular teams and stood by our equipment. Since the jibs were the first out, we were right at the mouth of one of the tunnels so we could see what was happening on the field. Touchdown, Steelers, right as the second half came to a close. That was awesome to see from my vantage point. Then, the countdown and….Go! Onto the field we went. All of us scurrying and intent on doing the best job not only for the Super Bowl but also for Bruce. Since our jib was the first in place, my team mates and I could move toward the stage first as well. I got a prime spot right between Clarence and Nils. A loud roar was heard. We knew that Bruce and the band had entered the building. Then onto the stage they all came and took their positions; that wonderful iconic pose: Bruce and Clarence back to back. Brothers – in –arms. "Ladies and gentlemen, the Bridgestone halftime show presents….." Wow! What a feeling! And in twelve minutes, thirty seconds, the heart stopping, pants dropping, booty shaking, love making, history making, legendary Bruce Springsteen and his mighty E-Street Band knocked the socks off everyone. He packed a concert-full of energy and emotions into twelve minutes and thirty seconds: he was on top of Roy’s piano, he had the horns, he did his backward arc, he asked if we were alive, he had a bit of an introduction, he slid across the stage, he threw his guitar, he twirled his guitar around his body, he giggled, he laughed…….what more could anyone ask for? And then it was over. Finished. The crowd kept cheering and roaring as the network went to commercials. We had to get back to our jobs and get the equipment off the field. I couldn’t quite believe it was over.

For two weeks we all rehearsed for this moment: some of us because it was the Super Bowl, some of us because it was going to be the Steelers or the Cardinals, and some of us because it was going to be Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band in a very historic performance. Now what? Well, for me and forty-nine others, back to the tent and more sandwiches, and the wait for the post-game show and celebrations. Another unbelievable experience: there I was mingling with Pittsburgh Steelers, picking confetti off the field, taking pictures of players celebrating, and getting a championship t-shirt.

All in all, an experience of a lifetime.

Day 15

Tampa Airport. Return the rental car, haul the luggage and take the shuttle to the airport proper. As I enter the airport building, I hear the opening chords to Glory Days. Really.

Patty From Toronto

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