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Sunday, Jan. 15, 2006 - 7:46 p.m.

Thank you, Bruce

It would've been a great concert anyway.

On a cold, rainy, windy New York night, Casey and I trekked down to the World Financial Center for a free concert in the glass-enclosed Winter Garden. The concert was "The Nebraska Project," a multi-artist interpretation of Bruce Springsteen's 1982 album, Nebraska, to kick off the 2006 New York Guitar Festival. Some I'd heard of -- Laura Cantrell, Martha Wainright, Jen Chapin, Michelle Shocked -- and the rest I came to love after their performances. It may have helped that they were singing songs that I know and enjoy, but they each put their own signature to the arrangements.

Casey and I found a spot off to the left side and pretty far back, but as the artists performed, I'd walk up closer to the stage for some photographs and then weave my way back through the crowd. We'd set ourselves up beside a pillar in a spot where all the artists walked past us on the way from their reception room to the stage and back. Upon one photo walk, I found another spot that seemed suitable for us and would mean a shorter walk for me each time, so I went back to get Casey and we moved up. Unfortunately, when we returned, two people had taken our potential spot against the Godiva store (all the businesses were closed ... alas), so we scrambled a bit until we found a dark corner by the Godiva window that didn't really provide a view of the stage but at least offered a wall on which to lean and a quiet spot outside of the thoroughfare. In fact, it was perfect, because we could sit there listening to the music; we could stand up and move in a bit to see the stage; and we could watch all the artists as they moved back and forth.

During one of those quiet moments, seated on the floor, listening to "State Trooper" or one of the other songs, I started thinking. I let my mind wander, wondering if I'd notice Bruce Springsteen if he happened to show up. I thought back to that afternoon in December when we saw Michael Stipe at The Spotted Pig. And again in my head -- I've said it so many times I've lost count -- I thought about what I'd say in the event that chance meeting arose.

I'd keep it simple and short. The last thing I want to do is annoy the guy. "I just wanted to let you know that I love what you do. It's wonderful stuff. Thank you for that," is pretty much the gist of it. I might alter the arrangement or substitute a word here or there, but that would pretty much be it. If I had the time to say something else, I'd add that I grew up in Little Silver, one town over from where he lives. Then, as the fantasy evolves in my head, he'd say something like, "Oh, that Edie's is good!" in reference to a luncheonette around the corner from my house. Then we'd shake hands and move along.

And that's pretty much how it went down, though without the Little Silver part of the conversation.

So with that, I can cross off No. 72 on my 101 in 1001 list:

72. Meet Bruce Springsteen.

I wasn't sure how I would accomplish it, but I thought that with 1001 days ahead of me, I'd figure something out. So I put it down. My thinking was that I could keep abreast of any appearances that might come across the celebrity news wire at work or hope for good fortune on a visit to the old neighborhood. I didn't really expect him to appear at The Nebraska Project, but it didn't surprise me that much, either.

Standing maybe 15 feet away from Casey, I was taking some pictures of Dan Zanes being interviewed by M.C. John Platt when my phone started to ring. I looked down at it and saw that it was Casey, so I walked back to her. Before I reached her, she ran over to me, pointing, "There he is!!" I turned around and saw Bruce and Patti walking toward where I had just been. I shuffled back over there, stopped him, and said simply, "I just wanted to let you know I love what you do. Thank you for everything." He stopped and looked at me, said, "Thank you very much" and shook my hand as Patti watched me and smiled.

I walked back to Casey, barely registering what had just happened. In the darkness and the hectic nature of the meeting, he seemed smaller than I'd expected; even smaller than me. I knew that couldn't be the case, so I guessed his height to be about 5'8" or 5'9" (he's listed at 5'10" on IMDB, which may be exaggerated by an inch, but may also be accurate; in any case, I'm sure he's taller than I picture him). It wasn't until a few minutes later, when I was back near the side of the stage shooting Gary Lucas when I noticed my heart racing and my knees shaking.

The rest of the concert is a blur. I know I listened to the music and I watched the rest of the performances (and took pictures of them all), but I also watched Bruce and Patti take in the show, standing in the shadows but also in plain sight of anyone who walked past. And many of them did -- without even noticing who they were stepping around. They were hiding in plain sight. You didn't expect Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa to be standing in the crowd watching singer/songwriters of a smaller wattage covering the songs on Nebraska. A few people did realize it was him, standing behind him, talking quietly, pointing to him. They'd take turns walking up one-by-one to stand parallel to him in order to glance over and see if his face confirmed their suspicions. Each time, they'd return, looking at their companions, nodding in acknowledgement.

After the penultimate song on the album, "My Father's House," was performed by Mark Eitzel, Bruce and Patti started walking toward the stage. At that point, one or two people said hello and the cameras started flashing. I got up and moved closer to the stage, finding a spot behind the folding chairs that had been set up where I had a good view for the upcoming finale. After "Reason To Believe," the final song on Nebraska, all of the night's artists starting returning to the stage. Jen Chapin carried her months-old son in her arms, a set of headphones on his head to protect his young ears. While some people had started to leave and others were standing up, gathering their things, the first low calls of "Bruuuuuuuce!" were heard when he was spotted on stage, carrying a borrowed guitar. He was the focus of the final song, by both those on stage and those in the audience, but he was by no means the point of it. He didn't try to steal the show. The ensemble played Woody Guthrie's "Oklahoma Hills," trading verses and coming together on the chorus. Bruce took a later verse and then led the group in several rounds of the refrain, huddling at center stage with Chapin and Laura Cantrell.

When it was over, Casey and I got our things together and stepped out into the cold night. In front of us, lights shone from the pit of Ground Zero and when we reached the corner at Vesey Street, the wind gusts -- the forecast said they could reach 50 mph -- off the Hudson froze us and pushed us eastward. With no cabs in sight, we walked to the subway and found we had enough time to ride the E train back to Port Authority before the 11:25 bus departed. The whole time, in between conversation, I kept singing Woody's chorus over and over in my head:

Way down yonder in the Indian nation
Ridin’ my pony on the reservation
In the Oklahoma Hills where I was born
Way down yonder in the Indian nation
A cowboy’s life is my occupation
In the Oklahoma Hills where I was born

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