When Riverbend opened in 1984, it was one of only 16 outdoor music amphitheaters in the United States and it helped revive the Cincinnati concert scene. Many concert promoters avoided Cincinnati following the December 3, 1979, The Who rock concert tragedy, in which 11 people died at Riverfront Coliseum. The city passed tough crowd control ordinances, which kept major acts away. Despite those factors, promoters gave the venue a chance and the fans were excited to see acts who had been avoiding the city since 1979.
Riverbend was built for $9 million on 15 acres (61,000 m2) of land donated by Coney Island, a small amusement park. The land was once the home of 2 popular rollercoasters, The Wildcat and Shooting Star, the latter was demolished in 1971. Due to its location next to the Ohio River, parts of the venue can become flooded, canceling shows. A Pearl Jam concert in 2003 and a 2001 show by Oasis and The Black Crowes were among the shows canceled.
The venue's first performance was by Erich Kunzel & The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, with special guests Ella Fitzgerald and Neil Armstrong, on July 4, 1984. On July 4, 2000, The Pops performed the first live concert televised from Cincinnati, which aired on PBS, featuring Rosemary Clooney and Doc Severinsen. The Dave Matthews Band performed and recorded their show, on June 26, 2000, which was later released as a live album, entitled Live Trax Vol. 16. Sting performed during his Symphonicities Tour on July 20, 2010, along with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.