Lead Belly - Goodnight Irene

First performance: 03/05/2009


Bruce performed the song 2 times:
Bruce sings the song after the plug was pulled out in Hyde Park 2009. Hard Rock Calling Festival
Bruce and band return to the Hard Rock Calling Festival in Hyde Park with a fine show and a farcical conclusion. The final guest for the evening is Paul McCartney, and together they play "I Saw Her Standing There" followed by a raucous "Twist and Shout". Unfortunately, despite only being a few minutes over the 10.30pm curfew the concert organisers choose to cut the sound at the conclusion of "Twist And Shout", and as a result Bruce is unable to play a final song, nor is he able to say his farewells to the crowd. Instead he sings a brief a cappella, unamplified "Goodnight Irene" and leaves the stage. Steve took to Twitter following the show to express his disappointment and anger, while Bruce commented "I wasn't aware the plug had been pulled, and people couldn't hear what I was singing. Afterwards I said to Paul, 'I can understand them pulling the plug on me, but you? Aren't you a knight?'". Paul McCartney remembers: "Bruce, sort of, got in touch and said, 'Do you wanna get up? We'd like you to get up'. I said, 'Well, I don't know, I'll just come along to the show', so we're in the side of the show in the wings, and he says 'Are you gonna get up, man?', I said 'I don't know, maybe'. Then his roadie says 'I've got a bass for you, I've got a guitar, it's all tuned, it's ready to go'. I go 'Oh, you're REALLY ready!'. So they're all really ready to go, so, what have they rehearsed? He said 'Twist And Shout' and 'I Saw Her Standing There'. So at last minute, I sort of have to say, 'Yeah, I'll do it', so I go on, and it's great, they really have rehearsed it, and I'm the only one who sort of doesn't know it, even though I wrote the bloody thing. So then they go to 'Twist And Shout', and I'm singing it, and someone had whispered 'We haven't got any time, we can't do it', but it was so nice, Bruce is going 'Yeah, come on, man' and Bruce is you know, he's a do-er, a go-getter, so I was happy. 'Yeah!'. We're rocking away, all our monitors stayed on, so we weren't really aware that the plug had been pulled on the audience, that you see on the youtube later, it's all gone dead. And he is singing, he's gonna then go back and sing ' Good Night Irene', which I think was all dead, but we had a laugh again. You've gotta have a laugh, it would just be so terrifying if you didn't, so we just had a laugh afterwards, I was just apologetic like 'I'm sorry, man, only in Britain!'. It's the only place... You can't imagine in New York somewhere like that, them pulling the plug, and it got everyone of course, so that was the big story. Everyone in America was going to me 'Is it true, man? They pulled the plug on you and Springsteen?!', and I'm saying 'Yeah, well, you know, just some guy. Some bloody jobsworth..."
Bruce performed the song with Pete Seeger and all performers during the Clearwater Concert in honour of Pete Seeger's 90th birthday together with Pete Seeger and his wife Toshi, Patti Scialfa, Joan Baez, Emmylou Harris, Patterson Hood, Michael Franti, Ani DiFranco, Bruce Cockburn, Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp, Arlo Guthrie, Warren Haynes, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Richie Havens, Kris Kristofferson, Del McCoury, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Steve Earle, Roger McGuinn, Tony Trischka, Ben Bridwell, Tyler Ramsey, Taj Mahal, Keller Williams, Jay Ungar, Molly Mason, Peggy Seeger, Ben Harper, Ellen Harper, Sue Chase, Bill Nershi, Mike and Ruth Merenda, Juanes, Scarlett Lee Moore, Larry Long, Jacob Silver, Tim Robbins, Miles Robbins, Martha and Rufus Wainwright, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Casey Driessen, Tommy Sands, Tom Chapin, Michael Mark, Oscar the Grouch, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Billy Bragg, Ruby Dee, Béla Fleck, Teddy Thompson, Dar Williams, Lenny Pickett, Abigail Washburn, Guy Davis, Eric Weissberg, Laura Cortese, Native American Indian Cultural Alliance, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the New York City Labor Chorus, and more. All performers dance onstage during the Preservation Hall Jazz Band's rendition of "When The Saints Go Marching In". Tao Rodriguez-Seeger takes lead vocals on "Well May The World Go". First ever Springsteen performance in the U.S. of "This Little Light Of Mine"


"Goodnight, Irene" or "Irene, Goodnight," is a 20th-century American folk standard, written in 3/4 time, first recorded by American blues musician Huddie 'Lead Belly' Ledbetter in 1933. The lyrics tell of the singer's troubled past with his love, Irene, and express his sadness and frustration. Several verses refer explicitly to suicidal fantasies, most famously in the line "sometimes I take a great notion to jump in the river and drown," which was the inspiration for the 1964 Ken Kesey novel Sometimes a Great Notion and a song of the same name from John Mellencamp's 1989 album, Big Daddy, itself strongly informed by traditional American folk music. The specific origins of "Irene" are unclear. Lead Belly was singing a version of the song as early as 1908, which he claimed to have learned from his uncles Terell and Bob. An 1892 song by Gussie L. Davis has several lyrical and structural similarities to the latter song; a copy of the sheet music is available from the Library of Congress. Some evidence suggests the 1892 song was itself based on an even earlier song which has not survived. Regardless of where he first heard it, by the 1930s Lead Belly had made the song his own, modifying the rhythm and rewriting most of the verses. Lead Belly continued performing the song during his various prison terms, and it was while incarcerated at the Louisiana State Penitentiary that he encountered musicologists John and Alan Lomax who would go on to record hours of Lead Belly's performances. A few months prior to his release in 1934, Lead Belly recorded a number of his songs, including "Irene", for the Library of Congress. An extended version of the song that includes narratives connecting the verses appears in Negro Folk Songs as Sung by Lead Belly. "Irene" remained a staple of Lead Belly's performances throughout the 1930s and '40s. However, despite popularity within the New York blues community, the song was never commercially successful during his lifetime. In 2002, Lead Belly's 1936 Library of Congress recording received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award.


Bruce on the artist


Irene, goodnight,
Irene, goodnight,
Goodnight, Irene,
Goodnight, Irene,
I'll see you in my dreams.

Last Saturday night I got married,
Me and my wife settle down,
Now me and my wife are parted,
I'm gonna take another stroll in town.

Sometimes I live in the country,
Sometimes I live in town,
Sometimes I have a great notion,
To jump in the river and drown.