“Let the spirit shoot through you,” 2011 College graduate Grace Ambrose said of American singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen’s music. “It’s the only way.”
To Ambrose, Springsteen’s songs conjure memories of driving in the dark to new cities, standing in line, singing along in the car and the Springsteen shows her family attends together.
She was one of the 10 speakers at Springsteen Fest, the second-ever song symposium hosted by Kelly Writers House Director Al Filreis. Last year, Director of the Creative Writing Program Greg Djanikian, lecturer Anthony DeCurtis and Filreis organized the inaugural symposium, a tribute to Bob Dylan.
Nicknamed “The Boss,” Springsteen is well known for his 1984 album “Born in the U.S.A.” and for his brand of American rock and poetic lyrics. He is the recipient of 20 Grammy Awards, two Golden Globes and an Academy Award. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him as the 23rd greatest artist of all time.
Thursday evening, Springsteen Fest was held at the Kelly Writers House on Locust Walk in an intimate setting where Filreis, Djanikian and DeCurtis, along with students, alumni and guests, paid a personal tribute to “The Boss” with creativity and enthusiasm.
College senior and songwriter Matt Chylak — who performed an acoustic rendition of Springsteen’s “Backstreets” to rousing applause — thought it was an honor to be featured at Springsteen Fest.
“There are so many impressive people here,” he said. “You have Ivy League professors, you have people from the newspapers — Anthony DeCurtis from Rolling Stone spoke before me and these are people who have been listening to Springsteen for decades.”
For his tribute, Djanikian narrated the weekend road trip to Poconos in the fall of 1984 where he and his wife surrendered themselves to the pleasures of Springsteen’s songs as they drove northward, “with the narrow and constrained urban streets opening out into fields and rural greenery.”
After listening to Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” the second time, Djanikian said, “this was a cry of the heart that could not be nuanced, that would continue to blare until both singer and listener had emptied themselves out, nerve-racked and exhausted, and ready then to take in all that would come after.”
Springsteen Fest came to a bittersweet end with Filreis showing a video clip of Springsteen performing live in Barcelona in 2002.
“Al realized that the best spokesperson for Springsteen was Springsteen himself,” said New York Times music critic and 1997 College graduate Nate Chinen, who spoke at the event . “To have the E Street Band play the rousing anthem was an appropriate and natural end to the evening.”
“I can’t hear you, come on,” Filreis said with elaborate hand gestures, beckoning the entire audience to sing along to the last song.
Another featured Springsteen fan and presenter Zoe Strauss broke the ice in the warmly lit room by standing up and jumping up and down to the music’s rhythm. Gradually, the audience started belting along to the chorus of “Land of Hope and Dreams” together with Springsteen.
Long after the last song ended, Springsteen’s gritty voice and heartland tunes were still echoing down Locust Walk, into the quiet, cool, mid-November night.