by Joshua Unikel '07
If there’s one concert that everyone remembers or wishes they remembered—it’s Springsteen. “My favorite musical memory was when Bruce Springsteen and his band, including Clarence, played in the Geneva Theatre (Smith Opera House),” says Janet Behrend Livingston ’74. “His fan club wouldn’t even fit in there now.” True, but before he became “The Boss,” Springsteen tore the roof off the 1500-capacity theater on Seneca Street in the fall of 1973. And even after making it big, Springsteen still came back to our beloved, lake-side city to play two more shows that were just as memorable as the first.
“We saw great concerts during the Seventies, including three shows by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band…for about $3-4 a ticket,” says Hal Whitehouse ’77.
Before Springsteen left for bigger tours and brighter lights, he left those who saw him play at that first Geneva Theatre (Smith Opera House) show with a night they’d never forget, a night that was especially unforgettable for Bruce Eaton ’74. “Three or four weeks before homecoming, everything was set for John Sebastian to play,” explains Eaton.
“Posters were up and all the plans were made. Then he cancelled. So I called this agent I’d been working with to book shows, Wayne Forté. He was booking for acts like Bowie at the time and told me about this guy, Springsteen, who Forté said was the best live act he’d ever seen.”
“Springsteen was $2000 as a headliner,” Eaton explains. “And Forté said that if I didn’t agree with him about Springsteen, he’d give me my money back. Although Springsteen had only released one album by then, ‘Greetings from Ashbury Park,’ there was a vibe there that told me that I had to book him—and I couldn’t lose; the agent said he’d give me my money back!”
But Eaton did have something to lose if his headliner didn’t show. “After the opening act, the James Montgomery Band, played their set and an encore, and their equipment came off the stage, Springsteen and his band were nowhere to be found,” says Eaton. “I was backstage with the roadies, who were even getting nervous, joking that Springsteen and his band were probably in a ditch somewhere.”
“Then—all of a sudden—a Sixties station wagon came barreling down the alley behind the theater with Bruce and the entire E Street Band inside,” Eaton says. “They all piled out, ran into the theater and tuned up. Just before they played, I was out in the alley talking to Clarence from the band, telling him about bands that I’d booked and how I wasn’t sure about the show.”
“He just looked at me before we headed inside and said, ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet, kid,’” Eaton says. “They opened their set with this really long ballad, New York City Serenade, and the crowd was getting really restless, having waited so long and hearing this really mellow tune. But by the fourth or fifth song, the entire place was going bonkers. I remember asking myself, ‘How come this guy isn’t the biggest thing in the world?’”
As Springsteen did become one of the most influential musicians in history, he still came back to grace the same Geneva Theatre (Smith Opera House) stage twice more.
“The HWS Concert Committee booked him to come back in December 1974,” Eaton says. “As he started to gain fame, Springsteen used small shows like the ones in Geneva to warm up during his big tours. Springsteen’s management booked him into the theatre for the second show of the Born to Run Tour in July 1975. HWS kids from across the Northeast came back in the middle of the summer for the show. How the building survived that night, I’ll never know. Talk about explosive – when he came out it was like bombs going off.”
In the years after his last Geneva stop, Springsteen’s stardom fizzed then exploded, making him “the Boss” that we all now know. Whether we remember or wish we recall those pivotal Springsteen shows on Seneca Street, one thing was for sure according to Eaton, “After the first show in ’73, HWS was Springsteen crazy.”
by Joshua Unikel '07
“Tim Yolen, class of ’72, told me about this band, Little Feat, that he loved,” says Bruce Eaton ’74. “I bought a promo copy of one of their albums for a dollar and wore it out all summer. The next year, Tim booked the original quartet of Little Feat at the Geneva Theatre (Smith Opera House) one winter for $750. It was an incredible event.”
But for Yolen, then a member of the HWS Concert Committee, the night of the show didn’t go exactly as planned. “Little Feat showed up in the worst snowstorm that winter,” he explains. “They were slated to take the stage at 8:00 but didn’t get through the snow and to the theater until 11:00.”
Little Feat put on a great show and the audience soon forgot about the band’s late arrival, but those who attended that night didn’t know what was going on with the band afterward.
“After the show, none of us could get them back to their hotel,” Yolen says. “We were all college students driving junkers! So we took them back to someone’s apartment on Pulteney Street where we all had a great time hanging out with the band. In the morning, we made batches and batches of French toast before taking them back to their hotel, where they ended up being snowed in.”