Why Greensboro Matters: A Brief History of Springsteen Cancellations

Why Greensboro Matters:
A Brief History of Springsteen Cancellations

Bruce Springsteen does not cancel shows.

Some shows might get postponed, sure. Weather takes a turn for the worse, tragedy strikes, or-- for some reason-- God doesn’t want to snag a free nosebleed ticket to a Bruce Springsteen concert that night. For anyone else who has had a touring career chronicling more than forty years, these things are normal. Not for Bruce Springsteen.

In a post on his official website this week, Springsteen announced that he would be canceling the show scheduled for April 10th in Greensboro, North Carolina due to the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act-- more commonly known as “The Bathroom Bill.”

Some things are more important than a rock show and this fight against prejudice and bigotry — which is happening as I write — is one of them. It is the strongest means I have for raising my voice in opposition to those who continue to push us backwards instead of forwards.

The bill is almost universally regarded as hateful and discriminatory to people of the LGBTQ community and American citizens in general. North Carolina’s attorney called it “a national embarrassment.” I’m not here to argue the finer points of the bill, though. If you’d like to read more about HB2, I urge you to read this piece in The Charlotte Observer that outlines how far these laws reach.

We’re a music blog. I don’t consider myself particularly adept at covering political issues as alarming as this one. What I can do, though, is put Bruce Springsteen’s decision to cancel tonight’s show into the context of his career. Thanks to the meticulous records at BruceBase.com, we’re able to see a complete list of shows that Bruce Springsteen has played since 1965.

Since 1970, Bruce Springsteen has canceled (without plans for rescheduling) about 80 shows. 71 of those shows occurred before he had made it as a major touring artist with the release of Born To Run in 1975. During 1978’s landmark Darkness on the Edge of Town Tour, four shows were canceled. For three of those scrapped Darkness shows, Springsteen and his management had never even signed a contract and tickets were never sold.

This leaves us with, give or take, five shows that Springsteen has outright canceled since 1978-- one of them being tonight’s show in Greensboro. Morrissey nixed more concerts last year than Springsteen has in the last forty.

Here are a more few reasons Bruce Springsteen has either canceled or rescheduled concerts since 1978:

The death of an immediate family member on October 26, 2009. Lenny Sullivan, Bruce’s cousin and assistant tour manager, was found dead in his hotel room hours before the show that night in Kansas City, Missouri. 

Funeral services for a forty-year band member. Starting on April 18th, 2008, Bruce and The E Street Band took three nights off to attend services for organist Danny Federici who had passed away the night before. Federici played with Springsteen dating as far back as 1969 and suffered from melanoma for years before taking a leave of absence from The E Street Band.  All three shows were made-up before before May 3rd, 2008.

On November 3rd, 2005, Springsteen was forced to postpone due to damage from Hurricane Wilma in Hollywood, Florida. He returned to play two weeks later.

On October 30th, 2012, fans were greeted at the doors of the Blue Cross Memorial at The War Arena in Rochester, NY with this sign. Hurricane Sandy had obliterated the east coast a week prior.

Bruce returned to play Rochester two days later.

Just this year, Bruce was forced to cancel a show on January 24 at Madison Square Garden because downtown New York was being hammered with one of the worst blizzards it had ever seen. Meteorologists indicated that the storm could “potentially paralyze the eastern third of the nation”-- and The E Street Band was still hesitant to cancel just 24-hours prior to curtain call. The concert was rescheduled to March 28th and the crowd was treated to “Meeting Across The River” leading into “Jungleland” just as it appears on Born To Run.

The only things that can stop a performance by Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band are imminent natural disasters and deaths within the immediate circle of band and crew.

For decades, Bruce has supported local food banks across the nation by inviting them to collect donations at his concerts. During the speeches he gives regarding these charities, he calls the volunteers “fighters on the front-lines” and “the only safety net that some people have.” Some fans took to comment sections telling Bruce to “keep his politics out of his music,” but his music and concert experience have always been political. He typically takes five minutes out of more than three hours to address the people in each community going through tough times. 

Bruce Springsteen doesn’t cancel shows. If Bruce Springsteen has a problem with your state, he will direct those grievances into the microphone while standing on your soil. On the day after Ronald Reagan was elected president, he stood in front of the crowd in Tempe, AZ and said the following before launching into “Badlands”...

“I don’t know what you guys think about what happened last night but I think it’s pretty frightening....you guys are young, there’s gonna be a lot of people depending on you coming up, so this is for you…”

This is all a roundabout way of saying that Bruce Springsteen has never canceled a concert, to the best of my knowledge, for reasons like the ones he cited for tonight’s show in Greensboro, North Carolina. This is like Supreme Court precedent. It changes things.

Bruce’s usual tactic of addressing his crowd directly wouldn’t have been enough to, in his words, “raise his voice” across the rest of America. With his decision to cancel tonight’s show, more attention has been cast on North Carolina and its out-of-touch government. Bruce Springsteen will hurt you financially if you hurt the citizens of your state. He won’t allow your government to enjoy the revenue brought by the greatest bar band on the planet arriving in your town.

Yesterday, Rep. Mark Walker of Greensboro accused Springsteen of being a bully. He said, “it’s like when a kid gets upset and says he’s going to take his ball and go home”-- but bullies aren’t the people who step in when a big kid shoves a smaller kid. Those people are taking a stand.

Bruce Springsteen and his music represent what America should be, but he still understands what American is and where we are.

Bruce Springsteen doesn’t cancel shows.

Nobody wins unless everybody wins.

“You know that flag flying over the courthouse
Means certain things are set in stone

Who we are, what we'll do and what we won't"