Bruce Springsteen has had a special relationship with Sweden ever since his first visit here in 1975 on the Born To Run Tour. In fact, Sweden was the first non-English speaking country that The Boss visited. That first visit he played in a small concert hall, but with each successive visit he would gradually step it up; first to arenas during The River Tour, and finally graduating to stadiums with the Born In The USA Tour in 1985.
This was also the time that Springsteen solidified his place in Swedish hearts once and for all, and legends were made. Since that visit, The Boss sell out every show he plays in Sweden, no matter how many extra nights are added. To give an example, last year he did two sold out stadium shows in Sweden in front of 140,000 people, and he's coming back in the spring for another set of three sold out shows to about 150,000 people. Pretty impressive for a country with a mere 9 million people, actually close to the population of Springsteen's native New Jersey.
The first time Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band visited Sweden was in 1975. The played a concert at Konserthuset in Stockholm, a venue that seats about 1500 people. That show has since taken on mythical proportions. It's one of those events like Woodstock where more people than could possibly have attended claim to have been there. After the show Bruce ate at McDonald's. At that point the fast food chain had only existed in Sweden for a couple of years, and it was probably the only thing that reminded him of home at the time. In an interview with Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet from 1998 Springsteen admits to being a bit scared the first time he visited Sweden: “I've always been received well in Sweden. It was one of the first European countries I visited, 1975, and I was actually terrified. I had never left the States before, barely left New Jersey and had no idea what would happen. But in Stockholm, at Konserthuset, that fear let go. Since then I've had a special relationship with the Swedish fans.”
Bruce Springsteen is a favorite among concert goers in Sweden, and there have been many memorable shows over the years. But the show at Ullevi stadium in Gothenburg in 1985 is probably the most talked about for two reasons. For one, this was at the height of Springsteen's popularity. Born in the USA had just come out the year before, and Springsteen had taken the leap from arenas to stadiums to quench the seemingly insatiable demand for concert tickets. Back in 1985 it was not a given that every major artist touring around Europe would make it all the way up to Scandinavia, so people traveled to Gothenburg from all over the country. Springsteen put on a nearly three hour long show with songs from his entire career up to that point, including a nearly 15 minute long version of ”Rosalita (Come Out Tonight).” But it was for the encore of ”Twist and Shout” that this concert would be remembered. When everybody in the stands stood up and jumped in unison to the music, it actually caused the arena to sway, and later cracks in the foundation of Ullevi was discovered. A new arena has since been built, and to this day Springsteen refers to ”Twist and Shout” as ”The Stadium Breaker.”
Late E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons was at one point married to a Swedish woman with whom he has a son. Last year Bruce chose to play “Jungleland,” the song most closely associated with The Big Man, for the first time since his passing at a show in Gothenburg, Sweden. During the intro to the song Bruce talked about Clarence's ties to Sweden: “Clarence was a special part of Sweden, and this was a very special place for him […] This is for The Big Man, and for you for giving him a home for quite a few years.”
E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt also has Scandinavian ties. He is currently filming the second season of Lillyhammer, a joint American-Norwegian produced TV drama. In the show Van Zandt plays a former mafioso who relocates to Norway in the witness relocation program. The show has been a huge success in Scandinavia, and Van Zandt is actually taking time off from touring with Bruce in order to film more episodes, as we have reported here previously.
It's hard to explain what makes Bruce Springsteen so popular in Sweden. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that his blue-collar inspired lyrics speak to many Swedes, or perhaps it's just the catchy music draws people in. Most likely it is a combination of both reasons, but most of all, as in every country that The Boss visits, people are just mesmerized by his live shows. It is virtually impossible to not be amazed and swept up in Springsteen's energetic stage performances. Hopefully he can keep the magic going for his two concerts in Stockholm in early May, and for the third one when he returns a week later - because two sold-out stadiums wasn't enough.