I felt a blast of heat hit me the moment I got out of my air-conditioned car. I walked through the oppressive humidity and made my way through the media entrance at about 5:45 p.m. yesterday, just in time to catch Crystal Day close out her set before heading over to the main stage to hear Maggie Rose belt out some tunes from her new album, “The Variety Show, Vol. 1.”
There were visibly more people in attendance today than on Wednesday. Lansing — or at least the mid-Michigan area surrounding it — loves its country. As I walked through the crowd I couldn’t help but overhear snippets about headliner Tim McGraw: “I can’t wait to see him!” and such. And the crowd played its part. I played a game with myself to see how many Stetsons and pairs of cowboy boots I could count in 15 minutes — 41 and 30, respectively. (This number includes some tiny cowboys and cowgirls; kids in boots and hats are the cutest.) I kind of felt out of place, hatless and wearing sneakers.
But cheerful as the crowd may have been, there was an unmistakable gloom over the scene. Literally. It was visibly cloudy, and the radar forecasted a 90 percent chance of rain and thunder at 9 p.m. — 30 minutes before McGraw’s scheduled performance. Things were not looking good.
The skies took a turn for the worse near the end of Cassadee Pope’s set, and worry showed up in the furrowed brows of many in the audience. I made my way to the Sparrow Stage just as Pope was finishing to catch Lansing-born Billy Strings shred on the guitar. I enjoyed the set so much that I barely noticed when sporadic droplets of rain began to fall. I shielded my slice of pizza and walked over to the Pavilion Stage to catch Jericho Woods in the last half of its performance — and get under the stage’s coverage in case the weather got ugly.
Twenty minutes later, the clouds hadn’t budged and looked as menacing as ever. I moved toward the main stage, flashing my working wristband to get close to the stage. It was ten minutes to McGraw’s performance, and most of the crowd was already in position. I stood off to the side of the pit near some volunteers.
Ten minutes passed. Then 15. At this point, I could feel the energy of the crowd and it was buzzing. People wondered out loud, “Is he even coming on?” At 20 minutes, the crowd let out a cheer. But it stopped as quickly as it had started — it wasn’t McGraw, but radio personality Tim Barron. “I’m sorry I’m not Tim McGraw,” Barron said.
Barron was joined by another man, whose name I didn’t catch over the angry roar of the crowd. We were notified that a huge storm was going to hit in 15 minutes and that the concert would be postponed until it passed. The crowd was forced to evacuate to nearby LCC. I caught myself getting almost as annoyed as the crowd – its energy was infectious. I heard someone say, “I like Tim McGraw, but I don’t love Tim McGraw” as they made their way towards the exit.
My portion of the audience filled the Grand Avenue entrance of the Gannon Building. Packed like sardines, the close proximity of the crowd made it hotter inside the building than out. The tension was making people angry, and voices got louder and more agitated. Then someone let out a piercing whistle, and everyone went silent.
A disembodied voice asked the question we all wanted to know: “Who did that?” “They’re trying to talk to us!” answered another. “Who?” “The aliens!” Everyone laughed, and, for a moment, remembered they were there to have fun. It turns out “they” were the authorities, and at 10 p.m. we were allowed to file back into the show. We had been lucky; the storm had passed by without hitting us.
It took another 30 minutes of jostling back and forth and reclaiming stolen spots, but McGraw did make it on stage. I will admit that I don’t know many of McGraw’s songs, but the drama leading up to his arrival on stage made me oddly giddy to see him perform. And I wasn’t alone in this; the audience’s energy was electric. By the time he launched into “Live Like You Were Dying,” it was impossible not to sing along.