By CPT Michael GreenbergerAugust 30, 2012
The rising moon was met with a rising symphony of rock and roll Wednesday night as Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band took the stage at Vernon Downs Hotel and Casino during their 2012 Wrecking Ball tour.
"It's a great night for rock 'n' roll," Springsteen boomed from the stage. "It reminds me of many other summer nights long ago."
Springsteen was right. Without a cloud in the sky, the stars peered down on the audience gathered in the outdoor venue. The temperature was in the high 50s and it was a perfect night for a show -- and what a show it was. Springsteen is a master of his craft. He and the E Street Band have rocked audiences large and small. Although drenched in sweat, he seemed to have the energy of a 20-year-old as he ran up and down the stage screaming into the microphone and chopping away at his guitar.
Not many bands can pull off taking audience requests in an arena setting -- but they did. Fans who showed up early enough to be in the front rows held up signs with the names of songs on them. Springsteen plucked the ones that struck his fancy and the band went to work playing their tunes -- old and new.
For more than three hours, concert-goers ranging from child to great-grand parent danced and sang along with the gang from Jersey striking memories for most and making new ones for the rest. For one lucky 16-year-old holding a sign announcing it was her birthday - hers will last a lifetime after being pulled from the crowd to dance with Springsteen during Dancing in the Dark. Before returning to the front row, Springsteen offered her a gift -- his harmonica.
Springsteen, a rock legend whose roots, embedded in America itself, reach back to the sixties where he began his career in his native N.J. playing bars, schools and venues along the Jersey Shore and Tri-State area before recording his first album in 1973.
The 2012 tour is the first E Street tour without Saxophonist Clarence "Big Man" Clemons, who died June 18, 2011 after suffering a stroke last year. Visibly emotional, Springsteen dedicated a song to the Big Man and fans cheered every time his nephew, Jake Clemons roared to life on the saxophone.
The raceway at Vernon Downs, a first for the Springsteen tour, was converted into a venue that had the potential to hold 30,000 fans. Gathered around the stage, tens of thousands of ticket holders may have been unaware that Vernon Downs owner Jeff Gural was donating portions of ticket sales to both the Foodbank of Central New York and the Central New York Veteran's Outreach Center.
"Vernon Downs approached us," said CNY Veteran's Outreach Center Project Director Terésa Fava-Schram. "We were told that they wanted the money to not only go to Veterans, but to a grass roots organization that served Veterans."
The CNY Veteran's Outreach Center serves more than 300 Veterans and family members on a monthly basis offering services like a food pantry, transportation to and from VA medical appointments, arranging appointments with the VA, and a Veteran Homelessness Prevention Program.
"The (CNY Veteran's Outreach Center) is local here and I have a lot of respect for those that have served in the military," Gural said. "It's a tremendous sacrifice and I know a lot of them are having tough times so for me it's a way of just recognizing the sacrifice that they've made and I know the money will go to good use."
According to Fava-Schram the donated funds could be used to help renovate their gymnasium, complete a college access center, and replace an elevator making transitional living units handicap accessible to homeless veterans.
"We are just so thrilled to have been chosen," Fava-Schram said. "It proves that our efforts have not gone unnoticed and they can be assured that the money is going to a great cause and will benefit the Veterans of this community."
In addition to supporting Veterans, the United Services Organization received more than $150,000, which was used to purchase about 2,500 tickets distributed to service members all over the N.Y. area.
"The USO gets no government funding," said Rachael Murray, Director of Entertainment for USO, Metropolitan New York. "If it wasn't for our corporate and personal donors the USO would be completely ineffective."
"Because we have such incredible partners like Jeff (Gural) .90 cents out of every dollar donated goes directly back to programs and services," Murray said.
Fort Drum received approximately 1,500 tickets for the show and most were expected to attend the concert.