WORTHINGTON - On Friday evening, Worthington High School (WHS) sophomore Nicholas Ramirez played his violin in a small group performance of Brandenburg’s Concerto #3 in the WHS orchestra room as part of the music department’s annual solo/ensemble recital.
On Saturday night, Ramirez was privileged to be on stage at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, rocking out on a brand new ebony Epiphone Les Paul Special electric guitar with Billie Joe Armstrong of the renowned punk rock band Green Day while a screaming mass of 15,000 people cheered.
“Green Day is among my number one inspirations in music,” asserted Ramirez, 15. “They were probably the first band I listened to, so I’ve been a fan for close to 10 years.”
For the uninitiated, Green Day got its start in the late 1980s in Berkeley, Calif. Comprised mainly of lead vocalist/guitarist Armstrong, bass player Mike Dirnt and drummer Tré Cool, the band has won five Grammy awards, seen its album “American Idiot” adapted for the stage in 2010 and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 - its first year of eligibility for the elite honor.
When Ramirez, a music enthusiast who not only plays violin in the WHS orchestra but also regularly jams on the electric guitar with a local group of like-minded sophomore friends, heard that Green Day had a concert date in St. Paul, he didn’t hesitate.
“I bought the ticket in December,” said Ramirez. “It was actually a Christmas gift from my mom.”
The $170 ticket was for the floor section, closest to the stage, which is exactly where Ramirez wanted to be for an optimal view of his rock idols.
“I love to play guitar, and I really wanted to see Green Day play live, so I just decided to go,” said the enterprising teen.
Having fulfilled his orchestra obligation on Friday, Ramirez was driven to St. Paul on Saturday afternoon by his older sister, Rebecca Barraza, who dropped him off in front of the Xcel Energy Center at 5 p.m. and said, “See you at 11 p.m.”
When the doors opened at 6:30 p.m., the unaccompanied Ramirez was well positioned to get close to the stage, where he encountered other enthusiastic Green Day fans - most of them 10 to 20 (or more) years older than him.
Knowing that Green Day sometimes invites an audience member onstage to play a number with them, Ramirez’s dream was that the group might do so on Saturday - and maybe, just maybe, he’d be the one chosen.
“I was very hopeful and excited throughout the concert because they’re known for getting younger fans up on stage,” said Ramirez.
Before the concert began, Ramirez struck up a conversation with a 30-something attendee near him. The man was from Montana; a frequent concertgoer, he had brought his mother along for the fun.
“She was maybe in her mid-60s, and she needed to use the restroom, so I offered to hold her spot,” said Ramirez.
Upon returning, the woman thanked him, and she and her son asked Ramirez more about himself.
“She asked me if I could play guitar, and I said that I could and I’d love to get on stage and play with Green Day,” related Ramirez. “They said, ‘We can help you get on stage,’ and they started talking to other people around us.
“They were all pretty agreeable, and they were all older than me, and they said, ‘Let’s get the teenager on stage, let’s make him be THE ONE.’”
Meanwhile, Ramirez floated through the concert, mesmerized by Green Day’s skill and performance ability.
“They were even better in person, their showmanship and all that - really good,” he affirmed.
About 50 minutes into the show, the moment Ramirez had fantasized about occurred.
“Billie Joe Armstrong raised up a guitar and asked, ‘Who can play the guitar?’” recounted Ramirez. “The guys around me kind of raised me up so he could see me, and they all screamed for me.”
Armstrong noticed Ramirez and walked closer.
“He looked at me, pointed at me and directly asked, ‘Can you actually play the guitar?’ I screamed, ‘Yes,’ and then two security guys came over and lifted me up to the stage,” said Ramirez.
At that point, Armstrong talked to Ramirez, strapped the guitar on him, gave him a pick and quickly showed him the three chords necessary for him to jam in on “Knowledge,” the selected piece.
“I wasn’t very familiar with it, but it was only three chords so it was easy,” shrugged Ramirez.
Ramirez admits to being pumped full of adrenaline throughout his stage appearance, which he estimates lasted three to five minutes.
“I was jumping around the whole way through, with 15,000 people watching, and I looked over at the people who’d helped me get up there and nodded at them to thank them for helping me get the moment,” said Ramirez.
“Pretty much I was just smiling through it all, I was so happy about it.”
Armstrong asked Ramirez his name and where he was from.
“I said ‘Nick from Worthington, Minnesota,’ and the crowd started chanting my name,” he reported.
The Cinderella moment got even better when Armstrong, at the end of the piece, looked at Ramirez and said, “Keep the guitar.”
Ramirez was instructed to follow a security guard to the wings, where the guard told another attendant, “This is Nick, and he’ll come here after the show to pick up a guitar.”
For the rest of the concert, Ramirez was “even more pumped up than before,” but at the stroke of 11 p.m., the magical evening came to an end. As instructed, Ramirez reported to the stage, where he was handed the wrapped-up guitar before he headed out the doors to meet his waiting sister.
“I got even more excited at the hotel because when I opened the box, I saw that all three of the band members had signed the guitar,” revealed Ramirez.
He estimates the guitar itself would retail for about $200, but with its inscription by the Green Day members, who have sold more than 85 million records worldwide, the value is clearly higher.
As Ramirez began descending from his euphoric cloud on Sunday afternoon, he shared the credit for his one-in-a-million night.
“I’m so thankful to my mom, Gabriela Barraza, for the ticket, and to my sister for getting me there and back,” said Ramirez. “I appreciate their help so much.”
Ramirez also expressed gratitude to his orchestra teacher, Melanie Loy, for the musical instruction she’s provided to him since fourth grade.
“I enjoy orchestra a lot,” he assured. “I love doing it, and I thank Mrs. Loy and Mrs. Jenson for helping me learn more about music.”
Additionally, Ramirez recognizes that his offer to be a placeholder for the older woman who needed to use the restroom set in motion the series of events that led to his rock star moment.
“If you try to do nice things for someone else, something good might come out of it in the end,” reflected Ramirez, who plans to use his new guitar while playing with his hometown band.
“I’m inspired to keep working at my music,” agreed Ramirez. “The feeling I got when I was on stage was very natural, and after high school, I’m thinking a lot about doing something with music, whether that’s with violin, producing or with guitar.
“I have a real love for music.”