Springsteen showed up around 10:20 a.m. and was escorted into the back of the store, where a platform advertising the book was set up for photos. The rock star -- who turned 67 on Friday -- was clearly excited to meet fans, waving to people in line and shouting, "Hey, everybody! Let's get this started!" The crowd then broke into an impromptu rendition of "Happy Birthday," as Springsteen -- dressed all in black with a leather jacket and motorcycle boots -- settled in for a day that would extend longer than his historical four-hour concerts. Springsteen's longtime guitar tech, Kevin Buell, stood off to the side and laughed when he was asked if it was "strange" being on hand without a Fender to tune.
A Barnes & Noble spokesman told Billboard that Springsteen signed each book personally while he was in the midst of touring. The bookstore even sprang for the parking lot across the street from the Freehold Raceway, as the typical $2 parking fee was waived for the big event. "This is paid for by Bruce," said an attendant at the site.
One fan who didn't sweat the parking was Audrey Hunn, a longtime fan from Philadelphia who slept in her car in the Barnes & Noble parking lot since Sunday night. Her patience was rewarded as she was the first fan to get her close up with Springsteen. "I love Bruce. I have met him before and he is an amazing person as well as a musician," said Hunn, who first saw the E Street Band in Philadelphia at the age of 17 the night after John Lennon was killed. "This is an almost 40-year love affair. The E Street Band is the soundtrack to my life."
So what did she say to him? "I talked to him about something I wanted to tell him from before," she said. "He is awesome. He is absolutely the best."
Jen Ursillo of Brick, New Jersey, said her moment was "fast" but "magical." "I’m still trying to catch my breath. I told him I waited 30 years for this moment and he said, ‘I’m so blessed,'" she says. "I said that I loved him and he said, ‘I love you too. Thank you for being my fan.' I’m sure he says that to a lot of people, but it’s my moment so I don’t care."
Nick Ferrara -- otherwise known as "The Philly Elvis," as featured in the film Springsteen & I -- attended the event with a fellow fan who flew in all the way from Israel just for the book signing. "She flew in yesterday and she is flying back tonight to Israel," he said.
Outside the store, the mood was festive as store employees organized the crowd with barricades and a setup similar to attending a show at an arena.
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Tom Cunningham -- host of 105.7 The Hawk's Sunday morning Springsteen show The Bruce Bunch -- said seeing Springsteen in Freehold is a "monumental" experience. "It’s so exciting to see the looks on people’s faces walking out after taking their picture with Bruce and they now have the book," he said. "To me, that is worth the price of being here -- which was free."
Rich Russo, who hosts the New York-area radio show Anything Anything, said the event was "well-organized" and special for fans, many who got handshakes, hugs, and a few private moments to share personal stories. "It's so cool, because it's here in his hometown," he said. "The only thing that would be cooler would be if it was in an independent bookstore in Freehold."
The air staff of Sirius XM's E Street Radio -- Dave Marsh, Jim Rotolo and Vinny Usuriello -- kept the party festive with a live broadcast blasting Springsteen's music, including tracks from the companion album Chapter and Verse.
"Bruce is having a great time," Rotolo tells Billboard. "I saw him show up this morning. He got out of the car, and he seemed really excited to do this. It’s something new and different for him, so he is just excited about it and he looks well-rested too. He’s taking some animated photos with fans. It definitely looks like he is enjoying this whole process.”
Rotolo said fans are going to really want to dig into the book, as there are many morsels to digest. "I am trying to savor every page. It’s just something you don’t want to skip over casually," he says. "You want to take in every moment of this book because it is so descriptive, like his songs. He really tells the story.”
Born to Run is available now. Springsteen's book tour continues at the Union Square Barnes & Noble on Wednesday in New York and at the Apple Store in SoHo.