Carter Barron Amphitheatre, site of legendary DC Springsteen show, aims for renovation, reopening

On a rainy summer night in 1975, music fans in the nation’s capital witnessed a turning-point moment in the career of Bruce Springsteen, at a once-vital outdoor venue.

Weeks before the release of his “Born to Run” album, Springsteen performed several songs from his third studio album at the historic Carter Barron Amphitheatre, which opened in Rock Creek Park in 1950.



The stage at Carter Barron has been empty for more than five years. However, new efforts to revitalize and reopen the outdoor venue are gaining momentum.

The Carter Barron Alliance, part of the Rock Creek Conservancy, is working to raise interest and money for a major rehabilitation of the amphitheater, which was shut down in 2017 by the National Park Service, after an engineering study determined the stage was no longer up to building safety codes.

The National Park Service is working on design plans, which could be completed in 2023.

The night DC music fans got an early taste of ‘Born to Run’

“Between 1973 and 1975, Bruce Springsteen has been a guest on my WHFS show on three different occasions,” said longtime DJ Cerphe Colwell. “So, when he asked me to emcee the first show that he was doing at Carter Barron Amphitheatre, I was thrilled.”

“It was July, 28, 1975, and this was just a month before he released ‘Born to Run,’ the album,” said Cerphe. “So, we were hearing new songs like ‘Tenth Avenue Freezeout,’ ‘Born to Run,’ ‘She’s the One.’ They were brand new songs that we hadn’t heard before.”

Bruce Springsteen performs during his Born to Run Tour in 1975. This photo was taken several months after the D.C. performance. (Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns)

The set list for the first night of Springsteen’s three-night-stand at Carter Barron included “Rosalita,” “Growin’ Up,” “Spirit in the Night” and “It’s Hard to be a Saint in the City,” from his first two albums.

Cerphe, who now hosts a daily online show at musicplanetradio.com, says the show almost didn’t happen that evening.

“The thing that stands out about that night was the rain,” Cerphe recalls. “In between downpours, the staff would come out with push brooms and sweep the water off the stage.”

“Meanwhile, Bruce and the band were backstage, pacing around like tigers, waiting for the National Park Service to give the green light for the show to go on,” said Cerphe, resulting in an almost two hour delay. “Eventually it did, to the relief of the rain-soaked crowd — that was such an incredible night at Carter Barron.”

After witnessing performances at the 4,200-seat amphitheater by John Prine, Joan Armatrading, BB King with the Nighthawks, Chuck Brown, Richard Pryor and The Band, Cerphe said, “I’m so happy to see Carter Barron coming back — such a great concert venue.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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