By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press
YPSILANTI -- Bruce Springsteen may have been "Born to Run," but on Monday afternoon he was gunning his engines in support of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama.
Springsteen's eight-song, 50-minute performance was the focal point of a spirited and highly partisan voter registration rally at Oestrike Stadium on the campus of Eastern Michigan University. On the third day of a barnstorming tour that included similar rallies in Philadelphia and Columbus, Ohio., Springsteen played more than he spoke and managed to whip up the crowd of fans -- reported at 11,000 by organizers and estimated at a more accurate 5,000 by university officials --with a selection of favorites and well-received rarities, all chosen for their poignant relation to the issues of the day.
"Hello Michigan. Hello Ypsilanti -- glad to be here. I don't know how to spell it though," Springsteen told the crowd before kicking into "The Promised Land." The solo acoustic set also included "The Ghost of Tom Joad," "Thunder Road," "Devils & Dust," "No Surrender," "The Rising" and Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land," but the real treat was the rarely performed "Used Car," whose mentions of Michigan Avenue were particularly well-received.
"You can't go wrong singing a song that has the name of the state in it," Springsteen quipped. "It's kind of a cheap applause-getter, but it gets 'em every time."
Most of Springsteen's comments were aimed at the U.S. presidential race, however. He noted early in the show that "I was on the campaign trail four years ago. This time we're winning." And before "The Rising," he made a long speech similar to those he delivered in Philadelphia and Columbus (the text is posted on his official www.brucespringsteen.net web site), saying that "we need someone to lead us in a great American reclamation project." He added that in the coming weeks he expects that Republican candidate Sen. John McCain will launch "an attack on Senator Obama's character that will make the Swift Boaters look fair and balanced ... they will fail."
Springsteen finished the show leading the crowd in a rhythmic chant of Obama's campaign slogan, "Yes we can," urging everybody to vote and "take America back."
Springsteen was preceded on stage by local folks singers Dick Siegel, Kitty Donohue and David Moshier, and by the EMU Gospel Choir. Speakers included Democratic Party activist Debbie Dingell -- who took a few minutes before realizing the crowd was not booing but chanting for "Bruuuuuuce" -- her husband, Democratic Congressman John D. Dingell, Sr., and Michigan Supreme Court candidate Diane Hathaway.
Volunteers were on hand at the stadium to sign up voters (Monday was the deadline), but most of those in attendance indicated they were already registered. And with quite a few families in attendance, some were too young -- such as five-year-old Ben Stratman from Ann Arbor, who wore a Kids For Obama button as he caught a baseball with his father, John, 50.
"We knew if we were going to a baseball field we could get him to come," the elder Stratman said, adding that his son "watched the debates for as long as he could last and has a sense of who his parents are (supporting). And he gets to hear some good music -- not that he hasn't heard it before."
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