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Keith Johnson, Deseret Morning News
One-year-old Elizabeth Farnsworth of Lindon sleeps after riding in the America's Freedom Festival children's parade in Provo Saturday.

PROVO — LaVell Edwards Stadium was a sea of waving American flags Saturday night while nearly 50,000 people rose to their feet and cheered during this year's Stadium of Fire.

The show started off with a fly-over by four Hill Air Force Base fighter jets captained by Shane Jensen, who started the show with a shout out from the cockpit to the excited swarms of people below.

"This is our first time inside the stadium," said Fred Dreis of Provo, who brought his wife and two children to see the show. "We've sat outside in years past, but this year we wanted to come in and see what we had been missing."

The family was not disappointed. The show was packed with entertainment, including a parachute landing by the Army's Golden Knights, a battle of the bands segment by tribute bands of the Beach Boys, ABBA and Queen, and a family face-off game hosted by Disney TV star Raven Symone.

It wasn't the tribute bands or the parachute team that fired up the crowd, however.

It was gray-haired "American Idol" winner Taylor Hicks, who stole the show with his growling harmonica and soulful singing.

Spectators' camera flashes lit up the stadium when Hicks appeared, dancing across the stage and singing a mix of cover songs and his own music.

"How about it for our troops?" the singer shouted out to the crowd, who immediately responded with wild shouts and applause.

Members of the "Soul Patrol," Hicks' fan club, were out in force. Fans from California, Florida, New Mexico, and Colorado joined his Utah fan base to watch the singer/songwriter in person.

"I just love him," said Deborah Olsen from Utah County. "Some of us are old enough to be his mother."

"Or grandmother," interrupted Billie Murdock, wearing a Soul Patrol T-shirt. "I haven't liked anyone so much since Elvis."

Following the tradition of the past three years, the Stadium of Fire was broadcast, at the Pentagon's request, on the American Forces Network to troops serving around the world.

The crowd was asked to show their support for American troops around the world by text messaging a special number.

By halfway through the show, the American Freedom Foundation, which hosts the Stadium of Fire, had received more than 3,200 text messages. The texts were then sent off to soldiers.

The show was capped off with a performance by country music star Lee Ann Womack and an enormous fireworks display.

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"We come to the Stadium of Fire every year," said Jon Sperry. "It's awesome. It's just a great American atmosphere with great music and a great show."

Provo's Freedom Festival continues with events today and Monday and culminates with the Grand Parade, stepping off 9 a.m. Tuesday at 960 N. University Ave. and ending at 900 E. Center. Today's schedule includes a patriotic service with speaker Stephen R. Covey at 7 p.m. at Utah Valley State College's McKay Events Center. Admission is free.





E-mail: alorimer@desnews.com