His beloved 2006 Jazz Fest set is now available through the official Springsteen bootleg download site.
Bruce Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions set at Jazz Fest 2006 has become legendary. It was an emotionally cathartic moment for so many at the end of an emotional Jazz Fest weekend. For me, it wasn’t, though I concede I wasn’t really in the right space for it.
The set is now available for download in a variety of formats at live.brucespringsteen.net, and it came well after my Springsteen years had ended. I loved the Springsteen who romanticized being teenaged, and I was with him as him and his characters grew up and grew darker. As the distance between his own age and that of the characters he sang about decreased, the songs became more conventional and interested me less. I did love “Brilliant Disguise,” but by that point and certainly by Born in the USA, most of what I valued in Springsteen had been supplanted by more efficient songs that lacked the effusiveness of the first three records and the obvious ambition of the next three, including Nebraska. When I fell out of love with Springsteen, even the old records went away for me. Max Weinberg’s beat was too squarely on the beat, and the faux Wall of Sound blare that the E Street Band mastered stood between me and any rapprochement.
The day of the show, everybody I knew who worked at Jazz Fest buzzed after seeing his 45-minute soundcheck before the Fair Grounds’ gates opened. I was also pleased to hear that the night before the show, he and Patti Scialfa had visited a relief agency and hung out for hours listening to people’s stories. That became a gauge for me as to how sincere people were about wanting to help after Katrina—how willing they were to listen. Far too many people meant well as they told us everything wrong with the government and its response, as if we somehow had missed that news. The soundcheck and that story made me think, Yeah, I want to see this.
I was with the show during “O Mary Don’t You Weep” and “John Henry,” and I was glad to hear “Johnny 99” rearranged for his string-heavy band. By “Old Dan Tucker” though, I was struck by his ability to create the same blare with the Seeger Sessions band that he got from the E Street Band. Two or three songs later, my wife was tired and I wasn’t into the show enough to make her stay. Maybe if I’d have seen his finale of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” I’d have a different, more emotional story to tell, but like everybody else, I’d already had an emotional Jazz Fest.
Springsteen’s set was Jazz Fest 2017 in quintessence. The festival itself was emotional, and the fact that it existed it all was a sign that the New Orleans people loved would return. Jazz Fest behavior is as thick with rituals as every day life in New Orleans, so people enjoyed the comfort of revisiting them even if Patton’s Catering missed the first weekend, forcing the faithful to go without crawfish sacks.
The festival is also an annual tribal gathering, bringing together people who love the festival and New Orleans music enough to travel to it from around the world year after year. In 2006, that reunion side of Jazz Fest had a new dimension as people who left after Katrina returned to reconnect with the city and perhaps check on their battered property. For some, they wanted to see what if any progress had been made in the efforts to rebuild their houses, while others were saying goodbye as part of the process of setting up new lives elsewhere.
That year, almost every set had a moment that spoke indirectly to life in New Orleans after the post-Katrina flooding. Bob Dylan’s set included “High Water (for Charlie Patton),” and naturally he asked, “How does it feel / to be without a home?” If anybody understood a word he said, lines like that would have reached straight for their hearts as couplets, phrases and words jumped out of songs and took on fresh meaning independent of the song that housed them. That was certainly the case when indie rock band World Leader Pretend covered Talking Heads’ “Home (Näive Melody) and sang, “Home is where I want to be / but I guess I’m already there.” John Boutte achieved the same effect with a single word when he covered Annie Lennox’s “Why?” As he sang the ghostly “Why” in the chorus, the word became all the questions New Orleanians wanted to ask, and the pain associated with all of those questions was unmistakable in Boutte’s delivery.
When a song address the moment, musicians made them connect. John Gros rewrote a couplet in The Beatles’ “Come Together” as “Got to be George Bush / because he’s so hard to see.” Marva Wright dedicated “I Will Survive” to her family members that survived as well as the ones that didn’t.
It’s telling that there are few videos from Springsteen’s 2006 show on YouTube, and most of what has been posted are clips of the set opening “O Mary Don’t You Weep.” You’d think that most of a historic show like that one would be available almost in its entirety for those willing to watch shaky camera work and listen to sub-bootleg sound complete with the chatter of those nearby, but no. The available versions of “When the Saints Go Marching In” are from other stops on the tour or 2012, when he revisited the song with Tom Morello joining him on lead vocals. Evidently the show was one of those rare moments people at Jazz Fest were too involved in the moment to try to share it.
This bootleg doesn’t drastically change my feeling about the show, but being less tired, less emotionally raw, and less over Springsteen makes it easier to enjoy. At the same time, I suspect that it will be hard for those who were there to hear it the same way, being more than 10 years removed from the anxiety and anguish of the moment. The boot—like all bootlegs—is a document of a moment and not a wormhole back to the people we were and the city we lived in. Other shows may loom larger in Springsteen bootleg lore, but this Seeger Sessions show captures Springsteen at a moment when he and the songs he sang were exactly what so many people needed to hear—a moment when he really performed a public service as much as a show.
Just not for me.
Here's Keith Spera's recollections of this show from 2012.