Go ahead, try to overstate Hannah Montana's popularity.

Here, let's give it a go.

Miley Cyrus and her Hannah Montana alter-ego are a pop-culture meteor.

Duh. Come on, try harder.

This girl is burning as brightly as the Beatles or Elvis, though they had longer runs and older fans.

OK. Getting there.

She might just be bigger than Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan and Tom Brady — combined. At the height of their powers. And you know Woods and Jordan are guys who made $100 million a year, right?

Now you're talking.

Miley Cyrus could be that kind of megastar, if the 15-year-old with the smoky Southern voice can maximize what could be a short window of opportunity and avoid the increasingly familiar crash-and-burn slides painfully produced by Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears.

And she's coming to little ol' Provo, Utah, on the Fourth of July.

In March, she sold 72,000 tickets in less than a half-hour to a concert in a Houston football stadium. And last week she sold 58,500 tickets in even less time to the Stadium of Fire, the crown jewel of America's Freedom Festival at Provo.

For Stadium of Fire executive producer Brad Pelo, Miley mania is a godsend. Last year the event wasn't the usual sellout, chiefly because the Fourth of July fell on a dreaded Wednesday.

No such problem this year, and the date wouldn't have mattered. Only Tiger can rival Hannah Montana right now.

Pelo and the folks at the Stadium of Fire have pursued her for 18 months. They invited her to headline last year's show and courted her people for the past eight months.

Years of networking with agents and managers of other Disney talents helped, but Cyrus couldn't commit to Provo this year until she learned shooting on her movie would halt for a Fourth of July vacation.

Pelo said the Stadium of Fire had other talent lined up if the answer to prayers that is Cyrus hadn't materialized. Of course, Pelo said, "I think it's safe to say that Miley is the hottest ticket in town, so I can't imagine anyone selling out more quickly than she did."

Some looked at the Stadium of Fire prices and thought they were steep, but Pelo said the event has had a surplus only twice in recent years. When that happens, the money goes to support the free events staged by the Freedom Festival. Pelo is a volunteer, one of about 300 who are the heart of the event along with sponsors who pay much of the freight.

"If it weren't for our sponsors, we couldn't put on the show," Pelo said. "When Miley goes on tour, there are huge economies of scale to doing so many shows. We have a one-time event with zero economies of scale. We are subsidized by sponsors and philanthropists who feel it is a community event that needs to continue."

The images of the past week have been jarring as Hannah hoopla drove the market value of the tickets far above face value: The man who stuffed his tickets into his cowboy boots to safeguard them before leaving the ticket window. The crying children whose families didn't get tickets. The woman with cancer longing to get her grandkids in to see their idol.

"The market forces that have come to bear have created opportunists and victims," Pelo said.

Now he and festival officials are bracing for a new experience. Cyrus/Montana is a teen pop star, a break from years of country music acts that have fueled about 50 percent of tickets sales in the past.

Longtime Provo residents are accustomed to 250,000 people attending the Freedom Festival parade on the morning of the Fourth and a similar number packing the streets, hills and mountain benches around the stadium for the fireworks at night.

This year, that number could jump. Security will at least triple. National media will descend, and probably paparazzi, too. To prepare, Pelo and Co. are consulting with Houston and other places Cyrus has played.

It's a cruel question with another three months still to go before the show, but how will Pelo possibly upstage all this next year?

"This year the high-water mark of the show will be a headliner at the top of her game," he said. "Will we do it again next year? I doubt it. But every year the high-water mark changes. Next year it might not be the headliner but other elements of the show. It could be a celebrity. The two years Sean Hannity came, his status with his radio show was huge."

That's very true. But he wasn't Hannah Montana huge.


Tad Walch lives with his wife and five children in Provo, their home for the past 21 years. Please e-mail [email protected]