With Bruce Springsteen and E Street Band playing at the Greensboro Coliseum on Saturday night, there are bound to be tales told about the night The Boss played at The Rhinoceros Club in downtown Greensboro.
A host of people of a certain age claim to have been in that small club in 1985 when Springsteen took the stage. Most of them weren’t, but I was and remember it pretty well.
John Rudy, the owner of the Rhino Club, had booked the Del Fuegos for that Thursday night, and at the time they were a hot, up-and-coming band. Bruce Springsteen and his band were playing to a sold-out crowd at the 20,000 seat Greensboro Coliseum the next night.
As one would expect, the E Street Band are into bands, but what might not be expected is that they are also an unpretentious and polite group. They wanted to see the Del Fuegos but had been told that the Rhino was a private club, and members of the band called several times during the afternoon to make sure they could get in.
I was working the door that night and had been told that the E Street Band said they were coming, but there was no mention of Bruce Springsteen. I was looking out for a limousine or a tour bus, but the guys in the band, including Springsteen, walked over from their hotel.
They arrived early and played pool at the back of the club for a couple of hours before the Del Fuegos took the stage. The Boss was drinking Moosehead and, as one might expect, there was a sudden run on Moosehead that night and we ran out.
Once the band started playing, Springsteen went to sit in a booth. Even without the advantage of cell phones, the word had gone out that Bruce Springsteen was at the Rhino and the crowd was somewhat larger than usual. Because the statute of limitations has run out, I might add “way above legal capacity,” or you might say packed in like sardines. Because of the crowd, even though the E Street guys had arrived early and commandeered a good booth, they couldn’t see the stage, so Bruce climbed up to sit on top of the booth and watch the band.
One of Rudy’s rules was that nobody sat on top of his booths, and nobody, including band members, ever put a foot on his bar. One of my jobs was to tell people they couldn’t sit on top of the booths, but, well, that was Bruce Springsteen, so my executive decision was that The Boss could sit wherever he wanted.
Let me add that, at this point, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band had been in the Rhino Club, drinking beer, shooting pool and generally hanging out for about three hours.
After Bruce had been sitting on top of the booth for a while, Rudy called me over and said, “Don’t you see that guy sitting on my booth?”
I said, “Rudy, do you know who that is?”
Rudy looked across the room at Bruce Sprinsteen and said, “No idea.”
I said, “That’s Bruce Springsteen.”
Rudy said, “He’s not really here. That’s just a rumor you and Paul started to fill the place up.”
I said, “No, that’s Bruce in the flesh. He’s been here all afternoon.”
I started to add, and you’ve served him at least three beers, but didn’t.
Rudy said, “Do you think Bruce is going to be a regular?”
I said, “I doubt it.”
Rudy said, “Then go tell him to get off of my booth.”
I went over and, on my best behavior, said, “Bruce, we don’t let people sit on top of the booths.”
He said, “I can’t see anything from down there.”
I said, “I know, but if we let you sit up here pretty soon people will be on top of everything.
He said, “OK,” and got down.
A little while later, Bruce and some members of the E Street Band took the stage and played three songs, and for what is said to be the only time in the history of the Rhino Club, Rudy allowed people to sit and stand on the booths and even stand on his bar. Of course, at that point the place was so packed there really wasn’t anywhere else to stand and the guy who was supposed to be at door keeping people out was himself standing on top of a booth.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.