Understanding Catalonia's madness for Bruce Springsteen
Passion of Catalan fans for New Jersey guitar hero dates back to first concert in 1981
Fanatics queued up for a week just to be the first to enter the venue where Bruce Springsteen played in Barcelona this year. Others buy tickets to see the same artist performing on consecutive nights, some of these die-hards have seen him play dozens of times. Catalonia's madness for the New Jersey guitar hero began in 1981 and continues strong to this day.
Bruce Springsteen played his first concert in Barcelona, and in Spain, on April 21, 1981. At the time, "he was not very well known," as Gay Mercader, the promoter who organized The Boss's first gig in the country, tells Catalan News.
Back then, the American rock star performed on a Tuesday after Easter Monday, and around 150 tickets went unsold in a 7,000-capacity venue.
In fact, he was so unknown that "the printing company printed his name on the concert poster as Bruce Espringsteen, with an E," Mercader recounts. Catalonia's passion for the singer after all these years is started with those first fans at the 1981 gig, who spoke about the show and spread the legend.
More than four decades on, tickets going unsold for a Springsteen concert in Barcelona is now unimaginable. In 2023, Springsteen sold out Barcelona's Olympic Stadium in a matter of minutes, with concert organizers adding a second date soon after which also sold out minutes after going on sale.
But how is it that a 73-year-old rock singer is so beloved in Catalonia after so many years?
Mercader had planned the first show in 1981 because it "interested" him. "My world is and has always been to offer the most interesting artists to the public, and at the time, Bruce Springsteen was essential," he says, pointing out that he could see the singer had a "lot of potential."
Among the 3,500 concerts Mercader has organized, Springsteen stands among names such as The Rolling Stones, Bob Marley, and Queen, to name but a few. Nearly all European tours have stopped in the Catalan capital after Mercader organized that first gig.
Springsteen's passion for Catalonia
But the love doesn't only go one way: the artist "has always chosen the city for his most touching moments," Jordi Bianciotto, music journalist at Spanish newspaper El Periódico, explained to this media outlet.
In fact, when "he returned in 1988, seven years after the first gig, the phenomenon was a huge success," he adds.
In 1992, when The Boss split with the E Street Band and tried out a new group, "he chose six European cities to test the experience and Barcelona was one of them," Bianciotto point out.
"In 1999, when he returned with the E Street Band and did the first world tour, it started with two concerts in Barcelona's Palau Sant Jordi."
The comparison between Barcelona and the Spanish capital, Madrid, is even quite noticeable as the singer has come to the Catalan capital over 20 times and to Madrid only on 11 occasions, so "there is no argument," Bianciotto says.
The artist once said that "he really enjoyed the lack of cynicism from fans in Barcelona," the journalist adds.
'Not very common'
The welcome Bruce has received in Barcelona through the years could be another reason he has chosen the city to start his European tour in 2023.
When artists start a tour, "they are always nervous," Mercader says, but for this reason, "if you start in a country where people are already excited about the concert, even before starting to sing, you are already starting well."
And if the singer performs well, the audience becomes more invested. "What Springsteen does is not very common, not a lot of people can play for three hours straight with the same energy, but he manages to do it," Mercader says.
When The Boss first came to the Catalan capital in 1981, he arrived as a rock star, but in his 1988 return, he was a "superstar." "At the time, Bruce, Madonna, and Michael Jackson were the three figures of the era," Bianciotto says.
Recalling the memories of the first gig in 1981, Mercader says the spectacle "was unimaginable, people could not believe what they were seeing, and as they were more and more surprised, he gave more and more, making it the perfect storm. I think that’s why Barcelona really likes him and why he has always liked Barcelona."