By 6:30 Sunday night, 90 minutes before the start of the Darius Rucker and Rascal Flatts concert, thousands of fans wrapped around the outside of Lucas County Arena, waiting for the doors to open at 7.
Large cutouts of Gary LeVox, Jay DeMarcus, and Joe Don Rooney stood watch in the arena's plaza, lit by spotlights, giving the night the feel of a Hollywood premiere.
Mayor Mike Bell, possibly Toledo's No. 1 country music fan, was one of the first through the doors. Decked out in a Harley Davidson jacket and cowboy hat, he flashed a smile and showed off his outfit when somebody remarked that it was cool having a mayor who liked country music.
Upstairs, Gary Shores, half of K-100's top-rated Shores & Steele morning show took pictures with fans and encouraged passersby to fill out a contest entry to win tickets for Carrie Underwood's concert in April.
"This place is beautiful, just unbelievable," Shores said of the new arena. "They hit it out of the park with five runners on base."
Downstairs in the bowels of the arena, Rucker was perched in front of a television, watching the AFC Championship game between the New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts.
"It's championship football - all football. Gotta love it," he said later.
Rucker also appreciated the importance of the night for the city. He was the first country act to appear at the arena.
"This place really is unbelievable. There aren't too many places we haven't played, so it's always nice to play somewhere new," said Rucker, former frontman for Hootie & the Blowfish.
Terri Camp, a teacher at Perrysburg High School, screeched with excitement moments before getting her picture taken with Rucker. Afterwards, she expressed surprise at the meeting.
"All of these guys, they're really so much more real than you think. You see them on stage, they seem like demigods, but they're just normal people," she said, her daughter Molly by her side.
At 8:10, Rucker took the stage - 10 minutes late and, perhaps coincidentally, exactly when the Jets-Colts game reached halftime.
The crowd erupted, and phones and cameras rose in unison to capture Rucker's appearance as he broke into "Forever Road."
But the night belonged to Ohio's Rascal Flatts. For nearly 90 minutes and 22 songs, LeVox, DeMarcus, and Rooney entertained the crowd, drawing raucous cheers each time they mentioned their home state or how good it felt to be in Toledo.
As the lights came on after "Life Is a Highway," the final song of the night, the crowd still buzzed with excitement.
Toledo has hosted lots of concerts, but every fan left Sunday night knowing the city has entered a new era. The arena is superior to any venue the city has been able to offer acts before. Exciting days are ahead.
Brian Dugger's column on country music appears in The Blade the final Saturday of every month.
Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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