While celebrity tourism isn't new, these two guides have certainly carved out a unique niche in covering Springsteen's origins at the Jersey Shore. Small and genuine experiences like the tours they offer may outperform generic, mass-market offerings during the travel sector's recovery.
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Jean Mikle and Stan Goldstein met at the office copy machine while working in 1988 at the same newspaper, the Asbury Park Press. The two reporter colleagues bonded over being fans of Bruce Springsteen. They began offering tours about Springsteen and the Jersey Shore’s rock history about a decade later.
Goldstein (who has seen Springsteen perform 400 times) and Mikle (who has seen “only about 200 shows”) hope that the artist’s new album, which drops October 23, will help revive their sideline business.
This year’s pandemic prompted travelers to cancel all but a few tours since February. That was despite the guides observing precautions, such as wearing masks and keeping the windows down when doing a driving tour.
The idea for the tours was born to run when Mikle and Goldstein went with another friend to see Springsteen and the E Street Band in London in 1999. While in London, they took a Beatles history tour. One stop was the famous Abbey Road crossing, a photo of which became the iconic cover of the Beatles’ album.
Goldstein and Mikle realized they could use their reportorial skills to create a comparable tour with a Springsteen theme. They marketed their first walking tour, which focused on Asbury Park, Belmar, and Freehold, to an online fan community. When about 60 fans showed up in July 1999, they knew they were onto something. They’ve given tours every year since.
“It’s a town full of losers and I’m pulling out of here to win,” sang Bruce Springsteen in the song Thunder Road.
But it turns out many people will travel far to see the locales that shaped the Boss. About 80 percent of the tours have been for people from outside the New Jersey and New York City area, Goldstein said. The demand for the tours peaked a few years ago when Springsteen had a show on Broadway. Many visitors hopped trains from Manhattan to Jersey Shore train stations, where Goldstein picked them up.
Many of the people who have taken the tours are international visitors. For a fan from Australia or South Africa, New Jersey can feel like a pilgrimage worth making, given the landmarks referenced in albums.
Exhibit A: Last year’s movie Blinded by the Light highlighted, near the end, a British teen’s visit to Springsteen’s old haunts. The movie was inspired by the story of Sarfraz Manzoor, a superfan. Coincidentally, Manzoor took a tour with Goldstein in 2005.
“At one point during the tour, Manzoor was shaking,” Goldstein said. “It was when I showed him the house Springsteen lived in when he was in high school in Freehold.”
Mikle likes to weave in stories of Asbury Park into the tours. The area had a rich heritage of musical performance and innovation, including Asbury Park’s African American community.
“Bruce didn’t originate out of thin air,” Mikle said. “He was heavily influenced by music from the west side of Asbury Park, for example, and he opened for some of those bands.”
The tours hit other stops, including Belmar, where fans like to take their picture at the sign for E Street and 10th Avenue — a block from the house where E Street band’s keyboardist David Sancious lived in the 1970s. Other stops often include Freehold, which helped to inspire the song “My Hometown.”
Sometimes the tour guides bring along special guests, like when original E Street Band drummer Vini Lopez has joined several tours.
Prices vary by the offering. For a two-hour driving tour, they charge $150 per tour for up to four people. Group walking tours are usually $15 to $20 a person.
Obviously the tours have always been a sideline for the pair of friends. Mikle continues to report for the Asbury Park Press, and Goldstein now works for Kates-Boylston Publications. They’ve written a book, Rock & Roll Tour of the Jersey Shore.
Why the devotion to Springsteen, anyway? Mikle’s appreciation had taken time to develop, she said. Mikle had liked Springsteen’s music fine enough as a teenager. But things changed after a friend persuaded her in 1978 to see a couple of concerts.
“The concerts almost felt life-changing,” Mikle said. “The albums were great, but to actually see him in concert and hear how the songs changed when performed live was almost epic.”
Goldstein said Springsteen is “the best live rock and roll show maybe ever and one of the best lyricists.” But there’s another important factor.
“He made it cool to be from New Jersey,” Goldstein said.
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Photo credit: Bruce Springsteen performing with drummer Max Weinberg behind him, on the Magic Tour stop at Veterans Memorial Arena, Jacksonville, Florida, August 15, 2008. Celebrity tourism isn't new, but these two have certainly carved out a unique niche. Craig O'Neal / Wikipedia