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That Time Bruce Springsteen Left a $100,000 Tip in an Arizona Bar

Bruce Springsteen
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

With no album or tour, 1989 was a down year for Bruce Springsteen, and the majority of his public appearances involved sitting in with friends in bars on the Jersey Shore. But on Sept. 29, he made national news by giving an impromptu performance at Matt’s Saloon in Prescott, Ariz.

Springsteen was passing through the sleepy town, which is about 100 miles north of Phoenix, with a few friends on their motorcycles en route to the Grand Canyon. The Prescott Courier’s original report says that he arrived at Matt’s at 2PM and ordered a beer. He also struck up a conversation with bartender Brenda “Bubbles” Pechanec, who told him that she had been married eight times and was facing a slew of bills for cancer treatment.

He then turned to the musicians, a local country-and-western group called the Mile High Band, and said, “Come on, boys, let’s jam.” Springsteen led them through some early rock classics — including Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen,” Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel” and the standard “Route 66″ — and his own “I’m on Fire.” The band called out Springsteen’s “Pink Cadillac,” but he refused because apparently he couldn’t remember the words. At one point, he told the crowd, “I’m here in Prescott to take Bubbles away and be her ninth!”

Unfortunately, as word spread that a major rock star was in town, the scene at the tiny bar became ugly. “It was mad city,” said Denny Orr of the band. “It went from seven or eight people to 80 or 90 in 10 minutes. Then it went nuts.” A few days later, Steve Brennan of the Courier called it “chaotic” and “downright rude,” and noted that it was “easy to see why stars of Springsteen’s caliber shun impromptu appearances after being a witness to Friday’s events,” although he admitted to being “mesmerized as much as anyone else by Springsteen’s presence.”

The scene soon became too much for Springsteen. After about an hour, he left the stage and got back on his silver-and-blue Harley. However, Bubbles, who reportedly helped him get through the mob, made quite an impression on him. A week later, she received a check for $100,000 to cover her medical expenses.

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