With a picture-perfect blue Texas sky overhead and a bed of lush kelly green sod below, March Madness Music Festival consummated its first night on Friday with an outdoor concert starring Jason Aldean that went off without a hitch.
The festival is a three-day event that's part of NCAA Final Four weekend taking place at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. The level of organization seemed huge and flawlessly executed, from the highly visible police presence to the Disney-quality landscaping at Reunion Park. This was an operation hewing to a national standard, and you could see the money spent.
Aldean was the final act in a congenial country lineup that included The Wild Feathers, Eli Young Band and Jack Ingram.
Attendees such as Madelyn Reeves, 17, and Cameron Clark, 18, who drove in from Mansfield, had no trouble getting there or finding parking.
The atmosphere was relaxed and sunny; the crowd was young (30s, mostly) and complacent. Pretty blondes in denim shorts cavorted. Couples leaned against each other, watching the stage. Men with burly stomachs feasted on cheese fries. A Ferris wheel circled; behind it, in the background, the Omni Dallas hotel displayed the words "Final Four" in big block letters, as if begging to be noticed.
Although some traffic and congestion was anticipated, it never materialized. The turnout was estimated at 16,000 people, significantly lower than the 40,000 expected. Attendees such as Madelyn Reeves, 17, and Cameron Clark, 18, who drove in from Mansfield, had no trouble getting there or finding parking. "We just parked in one of the lots nearby. It was no big deal," Clark said.
DART was out in full force. Officers at the Pearl Station, way on the other side of downtown, handed out flyers with festival pointers. Most attendees got off at Reunion Station, then walked down Reunion Boulevard to the field. Some got off at American Airlines Center or else the Dallas Convention Center stop and were ferried to Union Station in shiny shuttle buses. One DART staffer, manning a bus with less than 1,000 miles on the odometer, said that 40 new buses had been acquired.
Reunion Park, the football-field-size open space where Reunion Arena used to be, received an astonishing makeover, with directions stenciled on the sidewalk, manicured bushes and a swath of newly sodded grass as far as the eye could see, thick and luxuriant as a carpet. The "production values" were high.
Food vendors operated out of a string of tents around the perimeter of the field. It was obvious they were from out of town: They were noticeably better than any concessionaire you'd find in Dallas. Options included a veggie burger and an excellent pizza stand from Arizona-based Italia Pizzeria.
Saturday's lineup begins at 1:30 pm with LL Cool J, followed by Tim McGraw at 2:45 pm and The Killers at 7:30 pm. On Sunday, it's Pat Green at 3:30 pm, Fun at 5:15 pm and Bruce Springsteen at 7:15 pm.
The National Weather Service forecasts a 20 percent chance of rain on Saturday and a 60 percent chance on Sunday.