Behind the bar of the Olde English Pub & Pantry, in brick-lined Quackenbush Square, in downtown Albany, N.Y., the phone rang non-stop. “It’s totally insane,” said the bartender as he picked up the line and explained, “No, we’re not taking reservations because of the show tonight.”
On the other end of town, down the hill from the grand New York State capital building, a waitress at the Parish Public House wrote up an order for a cheeseburger and fries, then apologized, explaining that the burger might not be ready by showtime because the kitchen was so busy.
At the Holiday Inn Express, the desk clerk reported that every hotel room in town had been booked for weeks, by those doing business with New York State legislature — “and Springsteen fans.”
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s River Tour had come to this river town, and cash registers were ringing — or at least beeping — across Albany, well before the legendary act had launched its eighth night of this tour Feb. 8 at the downtown Times Union Center.
“Shows like this are incredibly important to our city” for reasons including their economic impact, says Molly Belmont, director of marketing at the Albany County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Albany, 150 miles north of New York City on the Hudson River, is uniquely positioned to illustrate Belmont’s point. The Times Union Center, which marked its 25th anniversary in 2015, has hosted concerts by Paul McCartney, Ed Sheeran, Kenny Chesney and many others. It serves a market area of 1.3 million people, one of the smaller markets on the early leg of The River Tour. But the arena is easily accessible from the New York State Thruway, from Albany International Airport, and from an Amtrak station just across the Hudson River, all increasing the likelihood of spending by out-of-town fans.
Indeed, Springsteen fans flocked upstate by planes, trains and automobiles. Three Fordham University classmates — whose time on campus dates back to Springsteen’s release of “Darkness on the Edge of Town” in 1978 — reunited at the show. One drove 150 miles from ritzy Greenwich, Conn.; one traveled by train from Manhattan; the third flew into Albany from North Carolina.
The afternoon of the show, in the arena offices of SMG, the facilities management firm that operates the Times Union Center, the roar of Springsteen’s soundcheck reverberated through the walls. Bob Belber, manager of the arena, talked about the construction underway on a new adjacent convention center, the Albany Capital Center, another key to drawing visitors to the city.
The arena and convention center, which SMG also will operate, will be linked by an aboveground walkway to an existing convention center, as well as the concert hall known as “The Egg” at the state-run Empire State Plaza. SMG will join the county and state to jointly market the complex and its combined 300,000 square feet of space.
Belber noted that an entryway to the new convention center will feature displays highlighting Albany’s rich history, dating back to Henry Hudson’s arrival in 1609. That history is one of the city’s primary draws, even to visiting concert-goers. (Not far from the Times Union Center, on the edge of the city’s Mansion Historic District, a fan of the E Street Band discovered the signpost for Van Zandt Street).
The annual economic impact of the Times Union Center has been estimated at $100 million. For Springsteen’s concert, the Albany County Convention and Visitors Bureau reported that it contributed to a demand for 1,059 hotel rooms and generated direct sales to visitors of $734,813, which represents spending on lodging, transportation, food and beverages, retail and other services.
That level of visitor spending is not unusual for an arena event, says Belmont at the convention and visitors bureau. (And, for the record, the tally included the order for a cheeseburger and fries at the Parish Public House that arrived before showtime, after all).
Of course, power and politics will always matter more than rock ‘n’ roll in New York State’s capital city. But on the day Springsteen came to Albany, those worlds collided.
“I understand that Bruce Springsteen is in town,” said U.S. attorney Preet Bharara, an avowed fan, speaking with reporters after a speech to a conference of New York mayors at Albany’s Hilton Hotel. “If any of you have tickets,” he quipped, “I am perfectly prepared to subpoena them.”