It was an onstage pairing few would ever have predicted, as blue collar rocker Bruce Springsteen joined jam titans Phish onstage for a few songs during the latter's Bonnaroo-closing set on June 14 in Manchester, Tenn.
Springsteen's three-hour set the night before was the Boss's first-ever appearance at a North American festival with his E Street Band. Phish had reconvened only months earlier and was playing Bonnaroo for the first time, a festival conceptually inspired by the band's own massive events like the Clifford Ball and the Great Went.
Springsteen came onstage during the first of two Sunday night Phish sets to play rock chestnut "Mustang Sally," followed by Springsteen's "Bobby Jean" and "Glory Days." A few days later, Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio, still basking in the that glory day, says, "I got to play with Bruce. That's my hero."
At one point during "Bobby Jean," Springsteen asked for a "little more keyboard." "We had a little rehearsal room backstage and [Springsteen] said 'this song's all about the keyboard, that little part's gonna be the loudest thing in the mix,'" recalls Phish keyboardist Page McConnell. "Then we got out on stage and started that song, he said 'turn up the keyboard.' He may have been referring to his monitor. I played it as loud as I could."
Phish bassist Mike Gordon says the previous night's Springsteen show was the first Boss performance he had seen outside a couple of songs at the Pete Seeger 90th Birthday Party last month. He now says he sees why Springsteen is so highly regarded. "It's great to know that it's not all hype or anything, there's such a solid musician and songsmith standing there, and then to be so nice and such a gentleman at the same time," Gordon says.
"What really blew me away was when we were in the practice room playing one of his songs and he strolled on in," Gordon continues. "We had planned to practice with him, and he started kind of dancing to one of his songs we were playing. When he walked in, his guitar playing and his singing and his presence, it became clear to me why he became a megastar. Because he instantly brought this sense of melody and just bold statements out of his singing and guitar playing, it was undeniably great. It was a real joy to play with him."
After Bonnaroo, Phish quickly resumed its own tour in St. Louis June 16, and will release a new album on the band's own JEMP Records this fall. Springsteen was in the midst of a European tour before Bonnaroo, and next plays the Glastonbury (England) festival on June 27.