Bruce Springsteen Catches COVID, Misses His Archives’ Awards Show

The inaugural American Music Honors awards show — a fundraiser for the Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music at Monmouth University — launched Saturday night without two very important presenters in attendance: Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa.

Bob Santelli, the Archives’ executive director, broke the news that the Springsteens were both diagnosed with COVID-19 just hours after Springsteen took a final bow Friday night at the Prudential Center, wrapping the first part of his 2023 tour with the E Street Band.

“It broke our hearts around 6 a.m. this morning when I got a call that two of the most important people who were supposed to be here, Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa, unfortunately came down with COVID.”

While the news was met with silence in the crowd, host Jon Stewart lightened the mood, joking, “They’re alive. Don’t overreact. You can still see them in concert. They’re home sitting by the fire eating French onion soup.”

Despite his absence physically, Springsteen was feeling spry enough to tape two videos presenting awards to Darlene Love and fellow E Street Band member Steven Van Zandt.

Stewart joked that Springsteen “with COVID looks better than me,” adding that he appeared “eerily healthy.”

“Aren’t you supposed to have sniffles or something?” he said. “We shut down the world for a year and a half.”

Springsteen was supposed to receive a proclamation from New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who was in attendance with his wife, Tammy. Murphy, who joked that some in the audience were hoping that he was the one with COVID, unveiled a proclamation declaring Sept. 23, 2023, Springsteen’s birthday, “Bruce Springsteen Day” in the Garden State.

“I can’t believe it’s taken this long,” Murphy said.

“It’s not a rest area, but it’s nice,” quipped Stewart, an obvious reference to the Jon Bon Jovi rest stop and others in New Jersey. “It’s not like taking a whiz to ‘Livin’ on a Prayer,’ but it’ll do,”

The evening was a celebration of rock and soul music, honoring Van Zandt, Love, Steve Earle and Sam Moore of Sam and Dave for their musical contributions and career. Presenters included E Street Band bassist Garry Tallent honoring Earle and Southside Johnny Lyon inducting Moore, with Van Zandt’s band, the Disciples of Soul, serving as the house band.

The joyful tone was set early as the Disciples of Soul performed a medley of songs associated with each artist, starting with Love’s “A Fine, Fine Boy” and the Sam and Dave hit “Soul Sister, Brown Sugar.” The short set included Earle’s “Hard-Core Troubadour” and Van Zandt’s “I Am a Patriot.”

Tallent inducted Earle, crediting him for his decision to move to Nashville.

“When you’ve been around music as long as I’ve been, and if you’re lucky to come across an artist whose musical influences are so broad and whose understanding of the importance and meaning of music is so great that sometimes you just have to sit back and admire the genius — I play with basically one of those guys,” he said. “Steve Earle is one of those guys too.”

Earle, who performed his song “Copperhead Road” after accepting his award, said that although he has other awards — including not just three Grammys but a fleeting honor as the “fan of the game” on a Jumbotron at Yankee Stadium — this one meant “a lot to me because of the name over the door of the organization giving out this award.”

Springsteen wore a denim jacket and looked quite alert despite a late night in Newark the night before at a show where he performed for three hours and even did a shot with a fan from Avalon, NJ celebrating her 21st birthday. He saluted Love’s accomplishments and recounted how her relationship with Van Zandt and him dated back to seeing her perform in 1982 at a show where she sang his hit “Hungry Heart.”

“By that time, Darlene had become this mysterious figure in the music industry who had made this bunch of amazing records and was considered one of the best, if not the best, of all the ’60s singers, male or female — and then in the ’70s suddenly disappeared,” he said. “As fate would have it, Darlene leaves the business to become a housekeeper in the ’70s. I’m sure there’s something equally bizarre, unjust and impossible to imagine,” he added, though little comparable came to mind.

Love was overcome with emotion receiving her award, and celebrated by performing an uplifting version of “River Deep Mountain High” with the band.

“I said I was going to laugh for the first five minutes but now I’m going to try not to cry,” Love said. “I love you, Stevie, with all my heart. My husband loves you. You know, it’s hard. You never know what you have done for us. Because I had truly said goodbye to this business, because this is one of the hardest businesses you ever want to be in. You have to love it. You have to love people that don’t love you. You go the show and you say, why am I doing this? Why am I doing this? But it’s because of the gift that God has given me here and I truly intend to use it for the next 80.”

Lyon was reverential inducting Moore, recalling how he and Van Zandt were inspired to form the Asbury Jukes after watching Moore perform at a show in New Jersey.

“One of those moments in your life, you hear that first Sam and Dave record and you just go, ‘I wanna do that. That’s what I want to do,’” he said. “There’s not a lot I can say about Sam except that he is still teaching me.”

The 87-year-old Moore took the stage seated in a chair and lead the crowd through an uplifting and fun performance of the hit “I Thank You.”

Springsteen appeared again on video to honor his friend Van Zandt and his accomplishments in music and socially conscious efforts, including organizing “Artists Against Apartheid” for the “Sun City” record. Springsteen reminisced about the first time the two met as teenagers at the Hullabaloo Club in Middletown, NJ and ” I found a rock ‘n’ roll partner in crime forever.”

“Yes, we liked the same music, yes, we liked the same bands, and it was at one time we liked the same clothes,” he said, quoting his song from “Born in the USA,” “Bobby Jean.”

“He does look kind of healthy, doesn’t he? — son of a bitch,” Van Zandt joked, before giving a speech about his passion for music and his mission to preserve the legacy through his TeachRock initiative, a program also offered at Monmouth University.

“This is nice to have a home for Bruce’s archives, and we’ll talk about other things as well as teaching workshops and all the rest that’s going to come with this wonderful organization,” he said.

“We were the luckiest generation ever growing up in a renaissance. I define renaissance very simply by when the greatest art is being made, it’s when it’s also the most commercial, you are in the middle of a renaissance. And that was the ’60s,” he said. “Of course, we were taking it for granted at the time, thinking that this was normal. Of course, we soon realized that it was a very, very special time.”

Van Zandt explained that the TeachRock initiative expands the standard S.T.E.M. basic curriculum of science, technology, engineering and math and adds an “A” for Arts, therefore transforming it to what he described as “S.T.E.A.M.”

“You integrate the art into math, into engineering, and not as a separate entity, but actually part of that same discipline. And this is changing the way kids are starting to learn,” he said.

The evening was capped by Van Zandt taking the stage to perform the song “Bitter Fruit” with the Disciples of Soul, and a finale that called all four honorees to the stage with Lyon to perform “It’s Been a Long Time,” “Hungry Heart” with Love on lead vocals, “Soul Man,” “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” and “I Don’t Want to Go Home.”

The previous night at Prudential Center, Springsteen closed out the show by dedicating the night’s final song, an acoustic version of “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” to his nephew, Michael Shave. An online family obituary noted by Springsteen fans reported that Shave died at age 53 on Friday, although Springsteen did not mention the death as part of his dedication.

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