Springsteen, E Street Band ready to bust your bracket at Final Four

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band rocked Super Bowl XLIII at Raymond James Stadium back in 2009, performing a halftime show that included “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” “Born to Run,” and “Glory Days” in Tampa, Fla. Three years later, Major League Baseball honored Springsteen by using “Land of Hope and Dreams” as the theme song for the 2012 postseason on TBS.

Bruce and big-time sporting events go together like beaches and bars on the Jersey shore. And Tuesday morning we got the glorious news that Bruce is headed for basketball’s biggest stage – the 2014 NCAA Final Four in Dallas, Texas.

Free show! April 6, on the site of the old Reunion Arena, on the Sunday between Saturday’s semifinals and Monday’s national championship game. Bring on your Wrecking Ball!

Bruce Springsteen (Ken Davis photo)

Bruce Springsteen (Ken Davis photo)

The news came across my computer screen on Twitter. One of my basketball writing buddies who also happens to be a Bruce fan (there are many of us in the sportswriting profession) had posted a Tweet. I immediately went searching for confirmation and found the word spreading everywhere.

A friend who is a member of the NCAA staff said Tuesday he had been dying to tell me for about a month but had been “sworn to secrecy.” Rest well, NCAA officials, I knew nothing. Your secret was safe.

The news broke as members of the E Street Band were returning to their homes in the United States after completing the foreign leg of the 2014 tour in Auckland, New Zealand on Sunday. Bruce and the Band hit the road again in late January, opening in Cape Town, South Africa and then heading to Australia and New Zealand for shows that have been powerful and inspiring under the heading of “High Hopes” – the title of Bruce’s latest album.

In interviews before the tour started, Bruce promised surprises and said there would be U.S. dates. He said he wanted to hit some spots he has missed lately. Well, he’s never performed a show at the Final Four, so he is certainly keeping his  word. And he hasn’t been to Texas since the SXSW live performance on March 15, 2012 in Austin – and that wasn’t a tour show with the E Street Band.

So what’s this Final Four gig all about? Bruce and the E Street Band will be the headliners of the 2014 NCAA March Madness Music Festival to be held April 4-6. The other top attractions at the festival, a non-ticketed event open to the public on a first-come basis, will be the rock band The Killers and country stars Jason Aldean and Tim McGraw. For more information on the schedule, check out the NCAA site.

The March Madness Music Festival has grown in size and popularity in recent years. Expect long lines, lots of security and the possibility of disappointment if officials decide the crowd has grown too big. I know this from first hand experience in New Orleans, where Jimmy Buffett attracted a big crowd right along the Mississippi River, and in Atlanta, where my son and I gave up trying to find a spot to watch Dave Matthews. We did get to hear a little bit of Sting as we walked from dinner toward Centennial Olympic Park.

The official NCAA press release sums it up this way: “Past performers at the festival have attracted hundreds of thousands of music fans to watch talented acts including Sting, Dave Matthews Band, Muse, The Kings of Leon, Zac Brown Band, Jimmy Buffett, KISS, The Black Keys, Kenny Chesney, Kid Rock, LL Cool J, Taylor Swift among many others.  The March Madness Music Festival is an activation extension of the NCAA’s Corporate Champions and Partners marketing program, which Turner Sports and CBS Sports license and collaborate on as part of a 14-year multi-media agreement with the NCAA.”

We now know that the band’s much-awaited return to the U.S. will be this free show at Reunion Park on April 6. The live dates announced last month had commenced with an April 8 show in Cincinnati and ended with dates May 17 and 18 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. (just a few minutes from my home and I’ve been unable to land tickets to either show yet; if anyone has extras you know how to reach me.)

As always, Bruce has been true to his word regarding surprises. “High Hopes,” the title cut from the new album, is getting played on a regular basis, as is “Just Like Fire Would.” But that’s about it from the new work. There have been complete albums played, a treat that Bruce began in 2009, and new versions of classics.


Bruce and The E Street Band (Ken Davis photo)

Bruce and The E Street Band (Ken Davis photo)

And there have been some shocking covers, including Bruce dipping into the world of disco to honor the Bee Gees. More recently, Bruce opened a show in Auckland with his acoustic version of “Royals,” the recent hit by Lorde.

Anyone familiar with E Street Nation knows Bruce will come up with something special for Dallas. It’s safe to say that the band has made a remarkable transition since the passing of saxophone great Clarence Clemons. The Big Man’s nephew, Jake Clemons, has handled all the well-known solos, staying true to the great spirit of Bruce’s famous sidekick. At the same time, the solos now belong to Jake and he has been accepted and is loved by audiences all over the world.

Bruce has welcomed the guitar work of Tom Morello and The Nightwatchman had a heavy hand in the latest album. But listening to the shows from South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, Morello has not been overwhelming. He takes his turn with solos, brings his own trademarks to the show and has blended better than anticipated.

The addition of the E Street Horns has brought a new dynamic to all the great hits and to the new music. Listen to Bruce’s standards in their original form now and it seems as if something is missing without the arrangements for these great horn players. And it is clear that Bruce has developed a huge trust and bond with trumpet player Curt Ramm – or “Kansas City Curt” as Bruce has called him. Curt has been handed a bigger load in terms of solos and key moments in the show and his terrific phrasing provides the perfect touch for so many songs.

Curt is a sports fan and we have the same Midwest roots. Long ago, we were both in the University of Kansas marching band and spent a Christmas vacation playing together in the pep band for a Big 8 Holiday Tournament at Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Mo. Curt remains a Kansas basketball enthusiast and I know he will be hoping that his Jayhawks join him in Dallas.

Curt Ramm of the E Street Horns and Ken Davis in the E Street Lounge (Nancy Davis photo)

Curt Ramm of the E Street Horns and Ken Davis in the E Street Lounge (Nancy Davis photo)

I don’t know if Bruce has a favorite college team. I’d love the chance to ask him. Maybe the band will hold a pre-concert press conference in Dallas.

This will be my 30th consecutive Final Four. What a way to celebrate. I covered my first for the Baltimore News-American in 1985 when Villanova shocked Georgetown in the title game. The next year Louisville prevailed at Reunion Arena in Dallas. This is the first time back to North Texas since 1986 and Bruce will be playing where the smaller arena once stood. Monday night the championship game will be played before about 80,000 fans in a football palace that is home to the Dallas Cowboys.

I have a Final Four tradition, a Sunday night dinner with friends from across the country, including my former roommate at KU, who was the best man in my wedding. I hate to tell those friends that the Sunday dinner will have to be rebooked. Bruce is coming to town.

I’ll be working for myself in Dallas this Final Four. The only Boss I answer to plays a guitar and grew up in the swamps of Jersey. Any work that has to be done will be done before the show – or it will have to wait.

For one night in Dallas, I must follow all orders from The Boss.

The Legendary E Street Band (Ken Davis photo)

The Legendary E Street Band (Ken Davis photo)






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