When 10-year-old Ewan McFarland-Smith went to the CenturyLink Center Omaha on Thursday night, he expected to see Bruce Springsteen.
What he didn't expect made it one of the coolest nights of his young life.
Ewan, a fifth-grader at St. Pius X/St. Leo Catholic School, went to the concert with his dad, Ryle, and a large, bright green sign requesting the song “Badlands.” Ewan was in section 101 right next to the stage, so the singer spotted him.
Springsteen was happy to see a young fan who loved an older song (“Badlands,” on his “Darkness on the Edge of Town” album, was released in 1978.)
“The future is secure,” Springsteen told the crowd.
Later in the show, the E Street Band played the request while Ewan danced and sang along the railing in the front row of his section.
Soon the lights went up and the band left the stage. But Ewan's Springsteen story wasn't over.
From backstage, the superstar fished in his pocket, pulled out the harmonica he had used throughout the concert and tossed it to Ewan.
The starstruck boy now is determined to learn to play it. He already plays guitar — he executes Springsteen's “Glory Days” pretty well — and he wants to start a band.
“This might be an omen for my musical career,” he said.
Beyond all this, Ewan got another gift: Springsteen's permission to skip school as the concert would be a late one.
“Tell them the Boss said it was OK,” the singer said to a roar of applause.
The Boss did, but Mom didn't. Ewan still went to school on Friday. His parents, Ryle Smith and Monica McFarland, figured Springsteen would want that because he's a dad.
It wasn't so bad, however: He spent most of the day telling friends and teachers about his newfound rock 'n' roll fame.
“I told them the whole story from beginning to end,” he said. “I was amazed. I never expected that.”
Thursday's show was Ewan's first big concert, Ryle Smith said, and they expected it to be a special night. Ewan's uncle, Brian Barratt, surprised Ewan and his dad with tickets because he knew Ewan loved Springsteen and wanted him to be his nephew's first concert.
Before leaving for the concert, Smith asked his son what song he'd want to hear if they brought a sign.
“He said, 'Oh, “Badlands,”' right away,” Smith said. “'Darkness on the Edge of Town' is one of his favorites.”
Fan interaction is standard operating procedure for Springsteen. Thursday, he invited a lucky few onstage, took requests besides Ewan's and handed out high-fives like candy on Halloween.
Stephen Vaughan traveled from Perth, Australia, to catch a series of Springsteen shows, including Thursday's in Omaha. He ended up being part of the action when Springsteen brought him onstage during “Dancing in the Dark.”
“Once I heard the first chords I unrolled my sign 'From Down Under to Dance with Bruce,'” Vaughan said. “It was a very surreal moment. I was just concentrating on looking on Bruce as to not overstay my welcome.”
He didn't. Vaughan and Springsteen got a great cheer from the audience as they traded dance moves.
Before the song was over, Springsteen leaned in and said, “Well done.”
“It was great,” Vaughan said. “The whole experience was just fantastic. I will forever remember Omaha, that's for sure.”
Springsteen also invited a woman onstage and granted her request to dance with drummer Max Weinberg.
A young girl from Columbia, Mo., also got her moment during “Waitin' on a Sunny Day.” She wore an “I Bruce” T-shirt and came onstage to help him sing the chorus, to loud applause for her effort. Springsteen put her on his shoulders and danced.
And he wasn't done with Omaha.
With a day off here on Friday before playing Kansas City tonight, Springsteen was spotted around town. A couple of readers confirmed that he was lifting weights at Prairie Life Fitness in Midtown Crossing.
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