Salt Lake City, Utah Feb. 18, 2002 (AP by Pauline Arrillaga)--Mosh pits packed with undulating bodies. Athletes bodysurfing atop throbbing masses. Frenzied fans screaming at top pitch for big stars.
No, it's not the crowd at the ice dancing competition or, for that matter, snowboarding. The hottest ticket at these Winter Olympics is smack-dab in the middle of downtown Salt Lake City.
In a parking lot owned by the Mormon Church, in the land of Osmonds and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, 20,000 people a night are jamming to the likes of Smash Mouth, the Barenaked Ladies and the Foo Fighters.
The nightly concerts at the Olympics Medals Plaza have turned the usually staid Olympics in usually conservative Salt Lake City into a rockin' nucleus of fun.
``This is more excitement than Salt Lake City's ever seen and probably will ever see again,'' said Christopher Smart, managing editor of the alternative newspaper The Salt Lake City Weekly. ``Even critics and curmudgeons like myself are feeling the excitement.''
``We rock! We rock!'' a 30-something screeched on one recent night as she pushed her way into a mosh pit filled with fans waving flags and jingling cowbells.
Nearby a guy in a ski jacket with ``America'' emblazoned on the back performed a freakish fusion of the chicken dance and moonwalk, his girlfriend adopting that ``He's not with me'' expression.
A toddler twirled to the beat next to a posse of teen-age girls in ponytails and baggy jeans. ``Woo hoo! Girls night out!'' they shrieked, erupting into a chorus of giggles.
It's still not the coolest scene around, but it's not bad for an organizing committee whose chief was amused to discover the Barenaked Ladies ``includes no ladies'' and ``are clothed.''
(Footnote: All-guy Canadian band that is, indeed, properly attired.)
Creative director Scott Givens gets credit for the idea. After seeing the medals plaza at the 1998 Nagano Games, which held 3,000 people and showcased traditional Japanese entertainers, Givens wanted to create something more ``electric'' for the site, where most medals are handed out.
He set out to land a lineup of bands that would appeal to an ever-edgier group of Winter Olympians sporting body-piercings and tattoos along with their skis, boards and skates.
He ended up with an all-star roster of rock, pop and alternative artists, with a couple of country singers thrown into the mix.
To ensure a full house every night, organizers gave tickets away at Utah malls to fans who camped out overnight in frigid temperatures, and included them in Olympic packets for out-of-town visitors.
``We're setting the standard'' for all the games to come, Givens said. ``I don't know if we'll be absolutely the hippest, but I hope we are.''
It's hip for here, anyway.
During the Barenaked Ladies concert, athletes bodysurfed above the crowd while slighted Canadian figure skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier grabbed a tambourine and guitar and jammed with the band.
When the band screamed ``Salt!'' the audience shouted ``Lake!'' And so it went, back and forth, the town moniker echoing through these streets as never before.
``It's awesome!'' declared Christina Hutchings, 36, of Springville, Utah, who gyrated to the sound of pop group Train Sunday night along with her husband and 14-year-old daughter.
``It's great that people are actually participating, because sometimes you offer something like this and no one shows.'' Still, she surmised, ``I think some people don't know who they're seeing.''
That didn't stop baby boomers Christine and Bob Carr of Lubbock, Texas, from bopping to the beat. So what if they'd never actually heard of Train. ``Our teen-agers probably have,'' Christine said.
``They're pretty good,'' added Bob, his cowboy hat bouncing along as his hips swayed side to side.
Eighteen-year-old Mallory Cummins and a group of friends camped out for 14 hoours to get passes to the Dave Matthews Band and the Foo Fighters. They skipped school to land tickets to Train.
The effort was well worth it. ``It's sooo cool!'' gushed Cummins of Salt Lake City, who will be back Tuesday night for Creed.
Just how hot has the hottest ticket in town become? So hot that they are no longer going for free.
Shawn, a scalper who declined to give his last name for ``tax purposes,'' has nabbed anywhere from $10 to $100 for tickets.
``I haven't handed out a free one yet.''
Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press