Stadium of Fire got the crowds on their feet Saturday night with dancers, skydivers, big-name talent and a fireworks "concert in the sky."
To the music of "God Bless America," four skydivers executed landings in a relatively tiny space on the field as the crowd held its breath. The first and second divers landed feet from stadium seating. The third missed a barrier by inches, and the fourth -- who happened to be flying the American flag behind him -- clipped the same barrier with his feet, tumbling onto the field. The flag was grabbed up and marched across the field by military in uniform. The diver walked off the field unharmed.
Utah native David Archuleta made an unannounced early appearance on stage to sing the national anthem followed by the frisson of a flyover of the Hill Air Force Base 388th Fighter Wing accompanied by fireworks, which segued into an apparently live transmission to the audience from a member of the military on active duty.
Later in the show, Archuleta opened for Brad Paisley. Archuleta found fame on American Idol and established himself with his song "Crush" which reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and has since sold two million downloads.
"These mountains are beautiful, Utah is just beautiful," Archuleta told the crowd between songs. "I love it here. It's crazy how many of you are here. I love being home and want to thank all of you guys for the support you have given me." He closed by singing a patriotic salute to the troops.
Brad Paisley took the stage at 9:18 p.m. as cameras flashed and the crowd thundered. Paisley is the winner of three Grammys, 14 Country Music Association Awards, and 14 Academy of County Music Awards. He has 18 number-one singles and nine studio albums.
Former BYU and professional football player Chad Lewis introduced a commemoration of the Gettysburg Address and Civil War by saying that the true winner of the nation's seminal war was freedom. The Gettysburg Address "set America back on the path to our higher ideals," he said. The Stadium of Fire Chorus than sang a dramatic musical interpretation of Lincoln's famous speech. The music was commisioned especially for the event by America's Freedom Festival.
Dancers filled the field, depicting the Liberty Bell, forming a review for the presentation of the Colors, and forming the head of the Statue of Liberty.
The show was interactive. The audience was asked to text in whether it was their first time attending, or if they were veterans of the Stadium of Fire. Instant results revealed that 66 percent were attending for the first time. The audience also voted via text for the $10,000 winner of a talent search, choosing from among three finalists who performed during the show.
Saturday night's event was the pinnacle of more than 30 annual events put on by America's Freedom Festival to celebrate patriotism and liberty. Though America may have its critics, no nation in history has given as much aid to the poor and afflicted around the world, nor done as much to stand up for the liberty of people around the globe, said David McDougal, chairman of the board of trustees of the Freedom Festival.
"We are confident that if we continue to do our part as citizens, God will continue to bless America," said McDougal.
• Caleb Warnock can be reached at email@example.com.