Julie and I have had a tremendous journey when it comes to meeting many great music artists. Having the knack to be at the right place at the right time has resulted in lifetime of memories and experiences.
It all started innocently forty-two years ago on the afternoon of Sunday, September 13, 1981 at the Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati, Ohio. We had behind the stage tickets to see Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band on their second to last show of The River Tour.
It was a beautiful day so we decided to head over to Cincinnati early. Downtown was about empty – nothing going on. We parked our Toyota Tercel, got out and started to wander around the outside of the Coliseum. Seeing the semi trucks that had carried Springsteen’s tour equipment across the country for the last two years, we made a beeline toward them. Next to the trucks were several generators that powered the legendary concert sound of the E Street band. Cables ran out of the generators and around the corner of the building. We followed them. Not too many steps later, we heard the unmistakable beat of Mighty Max Weinberg launching the E Street Band into a song which, after all these years, I don’t remember.
We kept following the cables to a door that was propped open so the cables could send their power to its intended destinations. We entered the coliseum through the door and right there in front of us was the side of the stage where Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band were firing on all cylinders. After a bit, Julie and I came out of our state of shock and realized that if we stayed in this spot we were most likely going to be in trouble.
But instead of using our better judgement and leaving, we figured maybe we could find another spot to watch and listen to the sound check. As we wandered the outer concourse, out of nowhere appeared one of the biggest guys we’d ever seen. He was easily 6’-5” and his shoulders were what seemed to be 4’ across. We stop dead in our tracks. He asked us what we were doing there. We simply said we were in town for Springsteen’s concert and we got in early so we were poking around and found an open door so we came in to listen to the sound check. We simply told him the truth.
After he heard our story, he said, “Come with me.” At this point I figured we were toast. We followed this gentleman into a dingy freight elevator that, for light, only had a single dim lightbulb swinging from a cord attached to the ceiling. He pulled the doors closed with a slam that seemed to echo for five seconds. In the darkness, he asked us where we were from, which was the only thing he said to us. The rickety freight elevator came to a stop, the door opened, and again he said, “Come with me.” Now we are sure we are done for. Going to the show now seemed like a distant possibility.
Walking out of the elevator, we turned to our left and followed our new friend. We continued walking for a short time and then the big guy turned to to the right out of the outer concourse and into the second level of the coliseum. He shows us to seats about three or four rows down and tells us to sit still and make no noise, and we’d be okay. We thanked him profusely, but he was gone in an instant.
There we were – watching The Boss’ sound check and literally the only two people in the coliseum.
This was the era when Bruce would walk around the hall and listen to the sound check for a song or two making sure the concert sound was as good as it could be. Sure enough, at the start of the next song, Bruce jumps off of the stage and starts walking the floor. I’m thinking this is totally cool that we are getting to witness all of this.
Then, Bruce starts walking directly toward us. Just when we had recovered from our shock and were enjoying this incredible moment, we now feared that we might get busted by Springsteen himself! Bruce pauses, and turns to his right and walks up about a quarter of the way up a row and goes back down onto the floor. Now he looks right at us and pauses. We followed the directions of “the big guy” and sat still, very still, and made no noise. After a couple of seconds, Bruce turns back toward the stage and continues his walk-around. Apparently, we were no threat and we were being left to our own devices. Bruce and The E Street Band ripped though another three songs to finish up the sound check.
Julie and I found our way out of the Coliseum basking in the wonder of what we were incredibly fortunate to have just witnessed.
The concert itself was monumental. The set list is below. Our behind the stage seats were awesome. We listened to excellent sound as the crew provided us with ample speakers so we could clearly hear the music. We witnessed Bruce plunge his head into a tub of heavily iced water between songs from Ramrod on to the finish of the show. My favorite part of the concert was the last songs to end the first set, Who’ll Stop the Rain,? The Promised Land, The River, This Land Is Your Land and Badlands.
What a day. Never to be forgotten.
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
Riverfront Coliseum, Cincinnati, OH
September 13, 1981
Second to last show of The River Tour
Out in the Street
Prove It All Night
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Darkness on the Edge of Town
Who’ll Stop the Rain?
The Promised Land
This Land Is Your Land
You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
Johnny Bye Bye
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Born to Run
Twist and Shout