PROVO — Amid cheers and applause, the Stadium of Fire started — and ended — with a bang.

Some 50,000 people crowded into BYU's LaVell Edwards Stadium for the event, which featured the largest Eagle Scout court of honor in history, a performance by superstar Carrie Underwood and, of course, fireworks.

"Tonight is all about … patriotism and fun," said Stadium of Fire host Lou Diamond Phillips.

The first sign of that patriotism came with a tribute to the military. As the song of each branch of the armed forces was played, those who had served rose to their feet while others marched onto the field.

Phillips, though an actor by trade, said his ties to the armed forces run deep. "I'm part of a military family myself," he said.

Then came a surprise.

Carrie Underwood appeared to sing the national anthem. Crimson fireworks shot into the sky, followed by others that flashed and banged as Underwood sang of "the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air." As the anthem ended, fighter jets thundered through the air above the stadium, and a tall sheet of orange flame erupted behind the stage.

"It's fantastic," said Laura Lillywhite, of Sandy. "There's a lot of really great energy here. It's fun to be united with everyone."

A musical medley of songs by American composers played by violinist Jenny Oaks Baker ushered in one of the high points of the event — the largest Eagle Scout court of honor ever.

A total of 260 Boy Scouts received the Eagle Scout award at the court of honor, held in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America. Thousands of Eagle Scouts rose from the audience to participate in the traditional Eagle's Nest, standing and raising images of the award as the Scouts' mothers pinned the medallions to their sons' uniforms.

"It's just a great sort of reaffirmation of the value that Scouting has added to communities … for a century now," Bob Mazzuca, chief Scout executive of the Boy Scouts of America, told the Deseret News earlier. "I look at this as a great opportunity for a representative group of fine young men."

After the awards were presented, Life Scout David Reeves fired a flaming arrow, suspended on an invisible wire, into a massive metal torch, igniting the Stadium of Fire Flame of Freedom.

As the fire crackled to life, The Osmonds Second Generation — all of them Eagle Scouts — took the stage, followed by The Five Browns, a piano quintet of siblings from Alpine, who played a John Williams medley.

The Browns, in turn, were followed by a singer who garnered screams and applause even before her name was announced. The audience roared even louder as Underwood took the stage.

"A lot has happened to me in the last five years," Underwood told the audience. She said she had almost completed a college degree in journalism when she decided to take one last chance with her music — a chance that took her to stardom.

"My plans didn't matter," she said. "It was all God's plan. I've been so blessed and so lucky."

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Taking the microphone, Underwood performed songs that alternately brought cheers and contemplative silence from the crowd. She also had warm words for members of the military, many of whom watched the program from their stations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"No matter where you are, God bless you guys," she said.

After Underwood closed, the air above the stadium was rocked with a volley of fireworks. Plumes of red, blue, green and gold erupted in the sky, echoing off the nearby mountains and leaving thousands of spectators transfixed.

e-mail: jritter@desnews.com