Bieber-mania reaches a fever pitch at the State Fair

Thousands wait for hours to catch a glimpse of the teen pop star

September 05, 2010|By Sam Sessa and Erica L. Green, The Baltimore Sun

Hours before showtime, 10-year-old Gabrielle Atienza peered through a chain-link fence at the Maryland State Fairgrounds, watching as thousands of Justin Bieber fans streamed onto the grassy racetrack infield.

Try as she might, Gabrielle couldn't get tickets to last night's sold-out show — the biggest in state fair history — but she was going to get as close to the teen pop idol as she could, which was at least a football field away. Sporting a Bieber T-shirt, button, lanyard and the words "Justin" and "Bieber" written in magic marker on her cheeks, she and her sister had waited since mid-afternoon in a gap between two hedges at the far end of the infield.

"I'm happy to be here," said Gabrielle, who lives in Parkville. "This is good enough for me."

Teens and tweens have fallen en masse for Bieber, who, in a year, rose from near obscurity to become an international phenomenon. At Sunday's fair, Bieber fans (and their parents) seemed not to mind waiting for hours just for a glimpse — however far off — of the baby-faced boy wonder.

When the 16-year-old pop phenomenon finally hit the stage around 8:30 p.m., the audience erupted in ear-piercing screams. Dressed in white and flanked by backup dancers, Bieber didn't waste a moment before bursting into his signature song, "Love Me."

It was a day of, in turn, waiting and squealing. Eager concertgoers said they had arrived at about 11 p.m. Saturday to camp out for the best general admission seats. Gates opened at 8 a.m. so fans could be issued wristbands of various colors, with specific times for when they could enter the concert area. Joe Robel, who has worked at several public events and at the state fair for six years, said there were at least 1,000 people when he arrived at the fairgrounds at 7:15 a.m.

"Not even at the Preakness [Stakes] have I seen something like this," said Robel, who has worked at Pimlico Race Course for the middle leg of the Triple Crown. "I don't think anybody anticipated this kind of crowd."

As the day wore on, shrieks of giddy anticipation sporadically burst from the lines of people, which snaked around the side of the racetrack. Genesis Pippen and Caitlin MacMillan, two 15-year-olds from Woodbridge, Va., got to Timonium at 9 a.m. and spent most of the day playing fair games, napping in the car and glancing at their watches every five minutes, they said. It was their first concert.

"We haven't eaten anything but McDonald's and half a funnel cake all day," Genesis said. "We counted down the hours and then the minutes."

The 12,500 tickets for Sunday's show sold out in less than 20 minutes, a record for the fair. The next most popular acts in fair history were rock band Switchfoot, who performed in 2004, and singer Raven Symone, in 2006, according to a fair spokeswoman, Edie Bernier.

"It's overwhelming, in a good way," Bernier said.

Once inside the racetrack, most fans rushed as close to the stage as they could get, while some stretched out blankets on the grass and waited for Bieber. Lexi McDaniel, 10 ,and Izabele Lomax, 11, stayed up until 2 a.m. Saturday making "I [heart] Justin Bieber" signs, complete with red felt hearts.

"I texted my mom and told her Justin Bieber is going to be my boyfriend," Lexi said.

"No he's not — he's my boyfriend," said Lexi's McDaniel's friend Brittany Stamerro.

Brittany wasn't planning on seeing Bieber until her grandmother Julia nabbed two tickets that had been released by the event promoter a few days before the show. Julia made sure she and Brittany went to church before the show Sunday.

"We had to thank God for getting tickets," she said. "I couldn't believe it."

Conversations among waiting groups of fans varied from the songs they anticipated hearing, to the best way to get past security to touch Bieber and maybe even get a marriage proposal from the pop star. Some playfully argued which of Bieber's assets — his voice or his hair — was most attractive. Many fans admitted that when they heard Bieber would be coming to the fairgrounds, their fanaticism bubbled over.

"I started crying," said Allie Teminovich,14, as she and her friend Carly Waters, 14, stood in line bundled under blankets in the cool, morning weather. "When I get bored, I go onto YouTube and watch Justin Bieber."

"That's all we did last night," Carly said.

The girls said they have been diehard fans since Bieber got his start on YouTube. Jini Waters, Carly's mother, who brought the girls from Annapolis early Sunday, said she had observed the girls correspond over Facebook about Bieber so much, she thought he was a new boyfriend.

"He's just adorable," Waters cooed.

Long waits for wristbands and tickets prickled some concertgoers, such as Matt Frentsos. He and his family stood in line to get into the infield for more than an hour and a half, he said.

"They couldn't have made it harder if they tried," Frentsos said. "There was no reason for it."

But all was forgiven when Bieber appeared. One glimpse of the teen sensation whipped the audience into a frenzy.

"What's up Maryland?" he said after the second song. "Welcome to my world. I'm hoping you guys are having a good time tonight."

All the crowd could do was scream at the sight.

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