It appears on the horizon like a massive jellyfish made of metal and glass. As you get closer, it resembles a round version of Arizona's Biosphere. Then you walk in, and no matter how much you may have read about the new, state-of-the art, 80,000-plus-seat Cowboys Stadium, you feel like you've just stepped into Star Trek and boarded a giant spaceship.
Admittedly a bit dizzy, a few of us Observer-ers -- including Pete, who's recapping for the paper version of Unfair Park, and Patrick, whose photos are up in this slide show -- landed at the Starship Jerry's Enterprise last night for the George Strait-Reba McEntire home opener and wound our way toward the floor, past the suites that smelled of new car and through some incredibly long ramps that had folks in wheelchairs struggling to navigate their way through streams of people. Everywhere, people craned their necks to gaze up and admire the retractable roof (would it open tonight?) and the $40-million biggest-HDTV-screen-ever. We finally arrived at our seats in Section C to find ourselves in the third row, dead center. Not bad.
We were close enough to see Lee Ann Womack's eye shadow and silver cross necklace as she strutted onstage and belted out the crowd's favorites. Turns out, the couple next to us paid $800 apiece -- yes, $800 -- for their tickets to the stadium's first concert. "It's crazy what they want for these," Omisha Martin told me. "But, oh, well, it was my birthday present. Mainly we wanted to see George and Reba, and Lee Ann was an added plus." Among the couple's first dates was a Strait show; they've been married 15 years.
Wearing a chunky turquoise necklace with a large silver cross and holding a pink margarita in a plastic Cowboys cup, she surveyed the stadium with awe. "It's unbelievable," she said. "I mean, look at those people way back there -- imagine watching a game, seeing tiny little men on the field. Of course, there's the screen."
Indeed. There is the screen. As it should for $40 million, the gargantuan television projected enormous, high-definition images of Womack, McEntire, Blake Shelton, and, of course, Strait. Alas, I missed most of Shelton's performance because of what turned out to be one of the evening's major complaints.
After discovering that every food and beer concession stand took only cash, I made my way back through the labyrinth of ramps, stairs and suites up to one of the few ATM machines in the stadium, near the entrance. About 100 people waited in a line that snaked back toward the concession stands.
"The line is an hour from right here," said one man, tucking a wad of cash into his pocket. "Pathetic," said someone else. "Next time, get some frigging cash before you come to the stadium," muttered another.
"They still got a lot of things to work out," said John Hrisco, who lives in Euless and was angry not only about the ATM line but also the tailgating rules, which apparently prohibit setting up chairs and coolers in the paved lots (they're allowed on the dirt or grass areas). "It's a crock," Hrisco told me. "You have one of the most beautiful stadiums in the world, but fans can't do what they come here to do."
Debra Carrilla of Rowlett worried what the monstrous ATM lines bode for the first Cowboys game. "I've seen so many George Strait shows at Texas Stadium, and this just sucks," she said. "I don't know what they're gonna do for a football game."
After waiting over an hour for my cash and then finally grabbing some hard-earned beer and water ($8 Miller Lites and $5 bottles of water), I returned to the floor, where there wasn't a trace of frustration or disappointment over the lines or anything else.
Cameras flashed and people whooped as McEntire took the stage in jeans and a blue sequined tank top. Backed by a nine-piece band, she brought everyone -- even the stodgy media types in our section -- to their feet with "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia." She exited after her set only to reappear moments later in a bright red sequined dress. By the time she finished her encore with "Fancy," a large number of folks had clearly been over-served.
One of the guys next to us who'd paid $800 for his ticket was so tanked he could barely stand and was hauled away by an entourage of burly security guys before Strait even appeared. The guy's wife said they took him downstairs to some sort of holding cell. Judging from the horrified complaints of stadium employees cleaning one of the bathrooms, the Cowboyritas were stiff enough to send quite a few fans into drunken oblivion. "I ain't signed up for this," lamented one employee as she peered into a stall. "No more events with alcohol." Right, good luck with that.
Those of us who'd held our liquor and made it through the stadium's marathon inaugural extravaganza watched Strait take the stage to thunderous applause. While the screens along the walls flashed and couples created an impromptu dance floor in back near the beer stands, Strait crooned such as classics as "Ocean Front Property" and "Amarillo by Morning." During "The Fireman," the screens flashed flames.
At one point, Strait, wearing his trademark cowboy hat and lopsided smile, paused. "Isn't this roof supposed to open?" he asked.
The throng went wild, cheering and screaming. "Jerry, open the roof!" Strait shouted, leading the crowd in a chant.
Sure enough, a minute later the roof began to inch its way open. Strait finished his performance under the night sky, and despite long lines or any other opening-night glitches, the expansive stadium was filled with the wonder of a new future and the certainty that size does matter.
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