We desperately needed the rain. Just not right then.
Soon after the lights went up for the first of the 17-day Spotlight Lexington festival's concerts, so did the umbrellas. The first of three acts, Scott Said and the Backroads Band, were soon forced off the stage at the Courthouse Plaza by a downpour that sent much of the audience running for cover, putting up umbrellas and pulling on ponchos.
The rain quit long enough for the second act — American Idol finalist Danny Gokey — to get in about half of his set. When showers returned, spectators again headed for nearby restaurants or took shelter beneath the narrow covered walkways in front of the courthouse.
Despite the off-and-on rain, the crowd kept building until several thousand people were on hand as headliner Blake Shelton took the stage 45 minutes later than planned.
Shelton's fiancée, Miranda Lambert, made a surprise appearance, too, giving the crowd a double dose of country music star-power with a duet of Shelton's hit song, Home. The duo left the crowd screaming. Lambert was nominated for nine Country Music Association awards last month.
"I'm glad to see so many of you redneck country music fans standin' out in the freakin' rain," Shelton said to the drenched crowd.
Shelton, whose concert tickets often go for as much as $100 a seat to sell-out crowds, said he was glad to be in the South, where people like "beer, shootin' deer and beautiful women."
He invited the crowd to grab a beer and drink with him as he sang The More I Drink.
Spotlight Lexington, organized by the city as part of the celebration for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, includes daily entertainment at Cheapside Park, Triangle Park and the Courthouse Plaza through Oct. 10. It also includes artists, food vendors and demonstrations.
While the rain delay might have kept some spectators away, it didn't send many home. Everybody there — from toddlers in strollers to seniors in folding chairs — seemed determined to have a good time. And there was no shortage of beer for sale.
"We're here to see Blake Shelton, and we're not leaving," said Elaine Noel, who was there with fiancé William Palmer to celebrate their upcoming birthdays. "We've got our raincoats and ponchos, and we'll just stand here and get wet. Let it rain. We need it."
"Am I bothered by the rain? Certainly not," said Chelsey Reid, a recent Georgetown College graduate who plans to attend the Games' cross-country and driving competitions. "I'm very excited about the Games and all that's going on here because of it."
Titus Tindall and his wife, Lala, said they have tickets to just one WEG event: jumping. But he said they plan to attend as many of the Spotlight Lexington events as they can. "There's a lot more to do than we realized," he said.
Joachim and Dorthea Scholz, who have lived in Lexington for 12 years, said they were especially excited to see the Games come to Lexington because the event is so popular in their native Germany. But they are just as excited about all of the improvements and events now bringing people downtown.
"Hopefully, they recognize this can be done after the Games, too," he said of the festival. "Lexington doesn't just have to be about living in the suburbs. It's a nice city, and events like this work well."