A dreary, gray day in Pittsburgh turned electric as a capacity crowd rallied at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Military Museum with Bruce Springsteen on Saturday afternoon. Obama for America supporters lined the streets waiting for the doors to open at a venue that both whispers and shouts liberty and democracy. With a backdrop of the Gettsyburg Address and a large FORWARD sign across the stage, the diverse audience was welcomed with music — from U2 to Sugarland to REO Speedwagon’s “Roll with the Changes.”

The Obama endorsements continued to excite the crowd, especially the video about how Edith Childs broke the ice with “fired up, ready to go” after only 20 people showed up at a 2008 rally in her hometown of Greenwood, SC, about an hour and half off the beaten path.

Bruce Springsteen took the stage at 3:45 pm and reiterated that he was “here today because of the distance between the American dream and American reality.” He spoke of an idealism where the way to encourage change, petition and argument in America is to vote, vote, vote. With his “drums and this guitar,” Springsteen opened his performance with “No Surrender.” The crowd helped out joining in the final refrain “no retreat, baby, no surrender.”

Concerns about women’s health issues, Roe v. Wade, and efforts of voter suppression were at the forefront of Springsteen’s remarks. A passionate “Promised Land” echoed Springsteen’s conviction that Barack Obama has the strength and vision for a country where “nobody crowds you and nobody goes it alone.”

The next song, “Forward,” was written after an alleged 2:00 am phone call from The President (wink, wink) pleading for a campaign song. His resulting struggle to find rhymes for Obama — and to incorporate a vague campaign slogan — led to a whimsical and witty tune in which, after each line, the audience responds with “Forward” and Bruce responds with his trademark chuckle.

In the wildcard slot of the rally set, Springsteen sang of nearby workers left behind in “Youngstown” — just 30 miles from Pittsburgh — also addressing one of his biggest concerns, the disparity of wealth in the state of Ohio and the rest of this country. The passionate acoustic rendition was clearly a crowd favorite.

Springsteen was joined on stage by Pittsburgh’s own Joe and Johnny Grushecky for an animated “We Take Care of Our Own.” The chemistry between these musical statesmen provided an extra dimension to this now-familiar campaign message. The  45-minute set came to a close with a heartfelt “Thunder Road” before Bruce greeted fans, shook hands, and sent them away steeped in the rally’s mantra, “Forward, and away we go.”

- Jill Levinson, backstreets.com