The River Tour

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The River Tour
Tour by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Associated album The River
Start date October 3, 1980
End date September 14, 1981
Legs 4
Shows 140
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band concert chronology
Darkness Tour
The River Tour
Born in the U.S.A. Tour

The River Tour was a concert tour featuring Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band that took place in 1980 and 1981, beginning concurrently with the release of Springsteen's album The River.


The first leg of the tour took place in arenas in the United States, comprising 46 shows beginning on October 3, 1980 in Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor, Michigan and lasting through the very end of the year. After a three-week holiday break, a second leg continued with 26 shows through early March in Canada and the U.S.

The third legs of the tour, during April through June 1981 (and pushed back three weeks from the original schedule, due to Springsteen's exhaustion from the first two legs), represented Springsteen's first real foray into Western Europe, and his first appearances at all there since his very short venture there following the release of Born to Run in 1975. In total 34 shows were played, including six nights at London's Wembley Arena. Ten countries were visited: West Germany, Switzerland, France, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, United Kingdom.

The final leg was billed as a "homecoming tour", visiting U.S. cities that had been special in Springsteen's career for multiple night stands, beginning with six nights that opened his native New Jersey's Meadowlands Arena. After 34 shows in just 10 cities, this leg concluded on September 13 & 14 at Cincinnati's Riverfront Coliseum.

The show[edit]

For the only time in his career, Springsteen opened some concerts with his signature song, "Born to Run". At the very first Ann Arbor show, he famously was struck dumb and forgot the words to it; the audience's singing them helped him regain his bearings. In that show's encore, local hero Bob Seger appeared to duet with Springsteen on "Thunder Road".

Springsteen's performances on this tour were similar in nature to tours before, but extended in length. Thirty-song sets were often seen and shows ran up to four hours; it was during this tour that Springsteen's reputation for marathon performances really took hold.

The emotional tempor of the concerts was assessed differently depending upon the goer, with some having a party and others reporting that after a string of depressing songs they felt like slitting their wrists. Certainly The River had material to illustrate both viewpoints — on it Springsteen had acknowledged that "life had paradoxes, a lot of them, and you've got to live with them" — and the tour followed in kind. A key difference now was that where before Springsteen had relied upon old 1960s R&B and pop numbers for his concerts' uptempo, lighter moments, he now had written them himself: "Out in the Street" and "I'm a Rocker" and "You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)" and other River numbers would serve this role in this tour and in tours for years to come.

A couple of Springsteen concert traditions began during the tour. Near the end of the frat-rocker "Sherry Darling", Springsteen pulled a young female out of the front rows and danced with her on stage; this practice would become famous when he did it in the subsequent Born in the U.S.A. Tour during "Dancing in the Dark". And when playing his new (and first) Top 10 hit "Hungry Heart", Springsteen let the audience sing the first verse and chorus, a ritual that would be solidified on subsequent tours as well.

Two shows were noted at the time for their confluence with historical events. A November 5, 1980 show at Arizona State University followed the day after Ronald Reagan's electoral college landslide in the United States Presidential election. In a rare at the time move, Springsteen pronounced, "I don't know what you guys think about what happened last night, but I think it's pretty frightening," after which he and the band launched into "Badlands". The performance of the song, but not the preceding remark, is included in the Live/1975-85 box set. About a month later, on December 9, Springsteen went ahead with a scheduled concert at The Spectrum in Philadelphia the day after John Lennon was murdered, despite initial objections from sideman Steven Van Zandt. "It's a hard world that asks you to live with a lot of things that are unlivable," Springsteen announced before starting the show, "And it's hard to come out here and play tonight, but there's nothing else to do." He opened with an especially frenzied "Born to Run" and closed with a rendition of The Beatles' version of "Twist and Shout". That show has been compared to Robert Kennedy's statement on Martin Luther King Jr.'s death

The most famous of the shows on the tour is probably the New Years Eve 1980 one at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, New York. With a set list 38 songs strong, it is one of the longest Springsteen shows of all time and also often regarded as one of the best.

Songs performed[edit]

Springsteen in concert on The River Tour. Drammenshallen, Drammen, Norway. 5 May 1981.

The first European show in Hamburg, Germany started out stiffly, but in time language and cultural barriers were broken and the European leg of the tour was considered a great success in building a Springsteen following there. It concluded with two epic shows at Birmingham, England's NEC Arena, one of which featured The Who's Pete Townshend joining the encores.

Moreover, his time in these foreign countries exposed Springsteen to the world outside America, including talking to people who considered America a beacon of self-interest and greed, and gave him alternative views of societies and issues. He began to read books on American history, deepening his heretofore admittedly shallow political consciousness.

By the time the final leg of the tour took place back in the U.S., he was doing a benefit show for Vietnam Veterans of America in Los Angeles (which raised $100,000) and often singing a heartfelt acoustic version of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land", presaging his much greater political involvement later in the 1980s. His on-stage stories and raps became longer and emotional, and he began asking for quiet before some of his more serious songs. He added the dour death-of-Elvis "Bye Bye Johnny" (later retitled "Johnny Bye Bye") and obscure Jimmy Cliff descent "Trapped" to his repertoire.

The July 1981 Meadowlands shows, while lauded for opening the arena (New Jersey's first), were marred by their proximity to the American Fourth of July and the firecrackers that were set off in the crowd during every show of the stand. Springsteen hated them (and had once been hit in the face with one), and angrily denounced the fans doing it.

Critical and commercial reception[edit]

By now tickets were very hard to get for many Springsteen concerts. As biographer Dave Marsh wrote, "Springsteen concert tickets sold out of all proportion to his popularity in the record stores or on Top Forty radio. He could sell out 20,000-seat sports arenas faster and more often than artists who sold four or five times as many records ... he was acclaimed as the greatest performer in rock." Thus, ticket scalping was a constant problem, as was fraud in mail-order lottery sales.

Critic Robert Hilburn wrote that the album and "the extensive U.S. tour that immediately followed its release made Springsteen not just a critical but also popular favorite with rock & roll fans across the country. No longer was he seen as merely an East Coast critical phenomenon." Music writer Robert Santelli wrote that, "Eager to please old fans and make disciples of new ones, Springsteen and the band pushed the limits nearly every night, with shows that went on for three—and sometimes four—hours. These marathon performances were exhausting for band and audience alike. The sheer number of songs played, the range of emotions explored, and the between-songs stories told by Springsteen ... took the shows far beyond the usual rock concert. Each night turned into a hard-driving demonstration of how and why Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band had become the best rock act on the road."


Of all Springsteen's tours, The River Tour is perhaps the least known in retrospect to people who were not there. Unlike those before and since, there is little official audio or video documentation of it — no live radio broadcasts, no live album, no music videos made from concert footage, no DVD releases. The Live/1975-85 box set had thirteen selections from the tour, but they form little thematic pattern. Shows from the tour were of course bootlegged, but otherwise they are mostly lost to time. This would finally be changed in 2015, when Bruce finally offered a show from the tour as part of his official live archive series, with the marathon 4 hour New Years Eve performance from Nassau Coliseum in 1980.

The tour also suffers by comparison to the legendary 1978 Tour before it and the monumental Born in the U.S.A. Tour after it. Perhaps its biggest legacy is the successful introduction of Springsteen's music and performance abilities across Western Europe. Two decades later, much of Europe would boast a bigger and more vociferous fan base for Springsteen than anywhere in America.


Tour dates[edit]

Date City Country Venue
First leg
October 3, 1980 Ann Arbor, Michigan United States Crisler Arena
October 4, 1980 Cincinnati, Ohio Riverfront Coliseum
October 6, 1980 Richfield, Ohio Richfield Coliseum
October 7, 1980
October 9, 1980 Detroit, Michigan Cobo Hall
October 10, 1980 Chicago, Illinois Uptown Theatre
October 11, 1980
October 13, 1980 Saint Paul, Minnesota St. Paul Civic Center
October 14, 1980 Milwaukee, Wisconsin MECCA Arena
October 17, 1980 St. Louis, Missouri Kiel Auditorium
October 18, 1980
October 20, 1980 Denver, Colorado McNichols Arena
October 24, 1980 Seattle, Washington Seattle Center Coliseum
October 25, 1980 Portland, Oregon Memorial Coliseum
October 27, 1980 Oakland, California Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum
October 28, 1980
October 30, 1980 Los Angeles, California Los Angeles Sports Arena
October 31, 1980
November 1, 1980
November 3, 1980
November 5, 1980 Tempe, Arizona ASU Activity Center
November 8, 1980 Dallas, Texas Reunion Arena
November 11, 1980 Baton Rouge, Louisiana LSU Assembly Center
November 14, 1980 Houston, Texas The Summit
November 15, 1980
November 20, 1980 Rosemont, Illinois Rosemont Horizon
November 23, 1980 Landover, Maryland Capital Centre
November 24, 1980
November 27, 1980 New York City, New York Madison Square Garden
November 28, 1980
November 30, 1980 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Civic Arena
December 1, 1980
December 2, 1980 Rochester, New York Rochester Community War Memorial
December 4, 1980 Buffalo, New York War Memorial Auditorium
December 6, 1980 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania The Spectrum
December 8, 1980
December 9, 1980
December 11, 1980 Providence, Rhode Island Providence Civic Center
December 12, 1980 Hartford, Connecticut Hartford Civic Center
December 15, 1980 Boston, Massachusetts Boston Garden
December 16, 1980
December 18, 1980 New York City, New York Madison Square Garden
December 19, 1980
December 28, 1980 Uniondale, New York Nassau Coliseum
December 29, 1980
December 31, 1980
Second leg
January 20, 1981 Toronto, Ontario Canada Maple Leaf Gardens
January 21, 1981
January 23, 1981 Montreal, Quebec Montreal Forum
January 24, 1981 Ottawa, Ontario Ottawa Civic Centre
January 26, 1981 Notre Dame, Indiana United States Edmund P. Joyce Center
January 28, 1981 St. Louis, Missouri Checkerdome
January 29, 1981 Ames, Iowa Hilton Coliseum
February 1, 1981 Saint Paul, Minnesota St. Paul Civic Center
February 2, 1981 Madison, Wisconsin Dane County Coliseum
February 4, 1981 Carbondale, Illinois SIU Arena
February 5, 1981 Kansas City, Missouri Kemper Arena
February 7, 1981 Champaign, Illinois Assembly Hall
February 12, 1981 Mobile, Alabama Municipal Auditorium
February 13, 1981 Starkville, Mississippi Humphrey Coliseum
February 15, 1981 Lakeland, Florida Lakeland Civic Center
February 16, 1981
February 18, 1981 Jacksonville, Florida Jacksonville Memorial Coliseum
February 20, 1981 Pembroke Pines, Florida Hollywood Sportatorium
February 22, 1981 Columbia, South Carolina Carolina Coliseum
February 23, 1981 Atlanta, Georgia The Omni
February 25, 1981 Memphis, Tennessee Mid-South Coliseum
February 26, 1981 Nashville, Tennessee Nashville Municipal Auditorium
February 28, 1981 Greensboro, North Carolina Greensboro Coliseum
March 2, 1981 Hampton, Virginia Hampton Coliseum
March 4, 1981 Lexington, Kentucky Rupp Arena
March 5, 1981 Indianapolis, Indiana Market Square Arena
European leg
April 7, 1981 Hamburg Germany Congress Centre
April 8, 1981 Berlin Internationales Congress Centrum Berlin
April 11, 1981 Zurich Switzerland Hallenstadion
April 14, 1981 Frankfurt Germany Festhalle
April 16, 1981 Munich Olympiahalle
April 18, 1981 Paris France Palais des Sports
April 19, 1981
April 21, 1981 Barcelona Spain Palau d'Esports de Montjuïc
April 24, 1981 Lyon France Palais des Sports de Gerland
April 26, 1981 Brussels Belgium Forest National
April 28, 1981 Rotterdam Netherlands Ahoy
April 29, 1981
May 1, 1981 Copenhagen Denmark Brøndby Hall
May 2, 1981
May 3, 1981 Gothenburg Sweden Scandinavium
May 5, 1981 Oslo Norway Drammenshallen
May 7, 1981 Stockholm Sweden Hovet
May 8, 1981
May 11, 1981 Newcastle England Newcastle City Hall
May 13, 1981 Manchester Manchester Apollo
May 14, 1981
May 16, 1981 Edinburgh Scotland Edinburgh Playhouse
May 17, 1981
May 20, 1981 Stafford England New Bingley Hall
May 26, 1981 Brighton The Brighton Centre
May 27, 1981
May 29, 1981 London Wembley Arena
May 30, 1981
June 1, 1981
June 2, 1981
June 4, 1981
June 5, 1981
June 7, 1981 Birmingham National Exhibition Centre
June 8, 1981
Homecoming leg
July 2, 1981 East Rutherford, New Jersey United States Meadowlands Arena
July 3, 1981
July 5, 1981
July 6, 1981
July 8, 1981
July 9, 1981
July 13, 1981 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania The Spectrum
July 15, 1981
July 16, 1981
July 18, 1981
July 19, 1981
July 29, 1981 Richfield, Ohio Richfield Coliseum
July 30, 1981
August 4, 1981 Landover, Maryland Capitol Centre
August 5, 1981
August 7, 1981
August 11, 1981 Detroit, Michigan Joe Louis Arena
August 12, 1981
August 16, 1981 Morrison, Colorado Red Rocks Amphitheatre
August 17, 1981
August 20, 1981 Los Angeles, California Los Angeles Sports Arena
August 21, 1981
August 23, 1981
August 24, 1981
August 27, 1981
August 28, 1981
September 2, 1981 San Diego, California Sports Arena
September 8, 1981 Rosemont, Illinois Rosemont Horizon
September 10, 1981
September 11, 1981
September 13, 1981 Cincinnati, Ohio Riverfront Coliseum
September 14, 1981