I can’t quite remember where I was the first time I heard “The Way It Is” or just about everything from that album. I just remember I couldn’t quite get enough of it. I was 11 years old when it was released, and to hear those songs wasn’t quite an ephiphany, but I knew I really enjoyed this guy’s groove and the brilliant piano melodies. Then, “Scenes From the Southside” was even better. And it just kept getting better. When Bruce started playing with the Dead, I began listening to the Dead (and became a Deadhead via Bruce … rather than the usual pattern of Deadheads becoming Bruceheads). My parents finally gave in, and I opened a copy of “Harbor Lights” on my 17th birthday … and practically wore the tape out.
My Bruce memories from there are many … the first time I saw him live — Furthur Festival, 1996, just in front of the fence at Deer Creek that I had seen destroyed at a Dead show the year before … a blistering “Rainbow’s Cadillac” at Tinley Park the next year … the interplay with Bob Weir on “Jack Straw” — I nearly wore out my copy of the 4/12/96 show, and then caught the two playing it live together at an Other Ones show … several live shows, several tape trades later … this guy is INCREDIBLE. I haven’t heard anything like this, ever. The amount of virtuosity in every performance just holds me. I teach high school, and my students ask me, “what kind of music do you like?” I tell them, “Bruce Hornsby” and their faces get screwed into all sorts of different directions. I just tell them to listen a little bit — to a live show — and they’ll understand.
My three favorite memories come from live shows: taking my future wife to a show in Indy in 1998 at the Indianapolis Tennis Center, and seeing her be blow away by what I already knew to be an incredible performance … going to see Bruce a couple of years later and, after waiting out an interminable rainstorm, seeing Rick Carlisle smoke on the piano during “Rainbow’s” while Bruce jammed out the accordion and hearing “Shadow Hand” like I’d never heard it before (and a blistering “Tango King”). And, in 2009, my wife surprised me with tickets to the Indy show, only to have my 3-year-old run a 100+-degree fever that night. So, I took a friend whose only real exposure to Bruce was “Jacob’s Ladder.” When we left, I had to pick his jaw up off the floor. He was amazed at the show — its impromptu nature, the skill of everyone in the band, Sonny & J.V.’s playfulness, how Bruce had everyone working together. He just said, when we left, “those guys are awesome. You have to be really good to be in that band, and they are.”
Bruce brings us together. A few years back, I’m coaching a freshman high school girls basketball team. I hear one of my players singing — rather loudly — “Fields of Gray” in the back of the bus. I start singing it with her. She’s amazed: “You listen to Bruce Hornsby?” “Of course, he’s the best there is.” Found out her father — one of my colleagues — is also a Brucehead, and I’ve been able to keep him supplied in concert CDs. It’s a great, great world, especially with those who “get it.” I’m kind of glad there aren’t too many of us — makes sure I always get great seats at concerts — but those of us who do are so passionate, it’s awesome that we have venues like bruuuce.com to enjoy.