The Smith Blog

SMITH HISTORY BLOG & VIDEO: The Springsteen Connection

By Karen Miltner

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band first performed at the Geneva Theater (now the Smith Opera House) in October 1976.

One of the most talked-about performances at The Smith in the past 50 years is the Bruce Springsteen show on Oct. 26, 1973. Booked by Hobart & William Smith Colleges’ concert commission at the 11th hour after John Sebastian, founder of The Lovin’ Spoonful, canceled, Springsteen and his E Street Band stepped in to fill the slot. At the time, Springsteen had just released his first studio: “Greetings from Ashbury Park, N.J.,” which was not tracking impressive sales. The young, energetic and not yet wildy famous Springsteen and his E Street Band, along with opener James Montgomery, agreed to the gig for the same price that HWS had negotiated for Sebastian: $2,000. Tickets were $3. If you adjust for inflation, that would be about $18 today.

HWS alum remember that show with vivid memories. Among the recollections: Springsteen and bandmates were late after Montgomery’s 60-minute blues set, charging into the theater’s back parking lot in an old black station wagon down the side alley. They introduced themselves to a restless audience with “New York City Serenade,” and 90 minutes later, ended with “Twist and Shout,” part of a triple encore, according to Brucebase Wiki.

The third time Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played at Geneva Theater was in July 1975.

Remarkably, Springsteen and the E Street Band played “New York City Serenade” two more times at Geneva Theater (which was the name The Smith went by back then). The Boss and the E Street Band were so well received by students that the colleges brought them back in Dec. 7, 1974 (when they played a 24 minute-long versions of “Serenade) and July 22, 1975. That last show brought many students back to Geneva as they were on summer break.  

Fast forward a few years to when Springsteen actually was wildly famous (and still young), and management of the Geneva Theatre was looking for fundraising ideas. “How could we bring Springsteen back?” they asked.  Longtime Geneva resident Greg Lavin was building superintendent of the Geneva Theater from 1978-1984, right after the not-for-profit Finger Lakes Regional Arts Council took ownership of the building . The theater was starting to renovate seating in the orchestra level and planned a Buy a Seat campaign. Could Springsteen be persuaded to return for another concert? Greg picks the story up from there in this December 2018 video interview.