by Brent Carmack, Assistant Director, Fort Collins Museum
Last week I had the pleasure of seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in concert in Denver. Why, you might ask, am I writing about my Springsteen concert experience on a museum blog? In thinking about the show I realized that there are a number of lessons that museums can learn from Bruce’s continuing career and his consistent presentation of a great product.
- Visitor Expectations. Springsteen has always treated his fans with respect and has been the consummate professional in his field. He always provides a first-class experience for the people that pay to consume his product. Much like a museum visit, most visitors have some preconceived notions about what their experience will be like. They have a set of expectations that must be met otherwise they won’t come back to the museum in the future and they won’t tell their friends about the positive experience they had visiting the museum. So Bruce has to play “Born to Run” at each concert or people will leave disappointed. But like Bruce, museums should exceed visitor’s expectations by providing surprises that will make their visit special. Bruce played “E Street Shuffle,” a song not often heard anymore in concert but one that die hard fans know and love.
- Consistency of product and experience. I first saw Springsteen and the Band almost twenty-five years ago after camping out 4 days and nights for tickets. It was one of those college experiences that make college what it should be. This time the ticket experience changed (10 minutes on the internet) but the concert experience did not. He delivered as well as he did way back when with a mix of new songs, old hits, and a showmanship that is unmatched in the business. What tricks can museums learn from Bruce? Many museum goers can remember that special moment when they were kids, going to a museum and seeing that special artifact or having that experience that turned them into museum fans for life. Much like hearing Bruce play “Thunder Road” twenty-five years ago and again the other night, it served as a tie to a special memory that helped make me a Bruce fan. When I took my family to Colonial Williamsburg, we first had to go to the magazine where the colonists kept their arms and ammunition because that’s the place that fascinated me as a child. Many visitors to our Fort Collins Museum first go to the cabins in the courtyard because that’s what they remember from their first visit.
- Opportunities for inter-generational experiences. Almost all museums are designed to provide opportunities for families to have positive educational experiences. Often the key to these positive experiences comes from older members of the family interacting with and passing down information to a younger generation. Artifacts in museums serve as connecting points and touchstones for these conversations. The same thing happens at a Springsteen concert. Because of the way that Bruce meets his visitor’s expectations, and consistent quality of his concert experience, he has been successful at what he does for over 35 years – and because of that success, my wife and I could take our fourteen year-old daughter to the show and shared an experience we had from our youth with her. And by the looks of the audience the other night we were not the only inter-generational audience members in the house. The fact that as parents we could share this experience with our daughter not only brings us closer together as a family, it also proves to our daughter that her parents are not as uncool as she thinks! There are other common themes between Bruce Springsteen and museums: cultural relevancy, historic landmark status, heritage tourism, competition for leisure time and money, to name a few. It doesn’t take much of a leap to make the connections. I’m just glad I work in a field that can consider going to a Springsteen concert as “professional development.”