First, let's state the obvious: Yes, we've all seen most of the photos before. But that's the interesting thing about "Bruce Springsteen: Portraits of an American Music Icon" at the Folk Americana Roots Hall of Fame in Boston — it makes you realize that you only think you've seen them.
Somehow, seeing these classic shots — by Danny Clinch, Ed Gallucci, Eric Meola, Barry Schneier, Pamela Springsteen, Frank Stefanko and Ron Pownall — full sized, framed and displayed in two well-adorned rooms backstage at the glorious Wang Theatre, brings them to life like never before. Throw in video interviews with the photographers at each stop, and a classic Springsteen concert playing on a wide screen in the background ... Well, it's safe to say it beats scrolling through a Google image search any day of the week.
There's a thrill of recognition when you first spot some of these beloved images, like Frank Stefanko's shot of Bruce and his ’60 Corvette that wound up on the cover of Springsteen's 2016 memoir, or Eric Meola's 1977 photo taken of Bruce leaning on a hood in the desert somewhere between Salt Lake City and Reno. (It's not exactly the one from 2010's "The Promise," but it's close.) And it's appropriate that Boston-area photographer Barry Schneier's moody negatives of Bruce at the piano from the night Jon Landau declared Springsteen "Rock 'n' Roll future" should be enlarged to take up a whole wall.
But there were also some photos I admit I hadn't seen, and those were a pleasure too: The visceral "Bruce and the Big Man" by Ron Pownall, taken in Worcester Mass, was one, and a 2009 Danny Clinch shot of Bruce toasting Clarence and his tour-mates at the end of the "Working on a Dream" tour is both striking, in the joy present on their faces, and moving, knowing now that it would be Clarence's last.
And maybe it was just me, but there's a certain intimacy in Pamela Springsteen's photos — mostly during his cowboy-hat-and-facial-hair phase — that I'd never noted before studying them here. Maybe it's with his sister that Bruce is most able to truly let his guard down as a subject.
The best part of "Bruce Springsteen: Portraits of an American Music Icon" is that it's part of something much bigger: the Folk Americana Roots Hall of Fame (FARHOF), launched in 2019 at Boston's Boch Center, home of the Wang and several other venerable theaters. Curated by Deana McCloud and Bob Santelli of the Museum Collective, its other current displays include "Legends of Folk, Americana, Roots," "Cultural Heroes," "Boston: A Music Town," "The Wang Theatre: A Century of Great Music," and the David Bieber Archives. (There's also a hologram of Boch Enterprises CEO Ernie Boch Jr. talking about famous guitars, believe it or not.)
You can see here some of the photos I mentioned above, but these snapshots far from do them justice — if you're anywhere near Boston, a trip to the Wang to see for yourself is in order.
Public tours of the Folk Americana Roots Hall of Fame lasting 80-100 minutes are offered on select days and times. Reservations are required. Price is $25 for adults, $17 for children; private tours are also available. More information at folkamericanarootshalloffame.org/events/tours.