The MetraPark arena is back, and what a way to reopen — Elton John performing Sunday night for 10,159 fans.
People were packed to the rafters in the sold-out Rimrock Auto Arena. It's been 10 months since the venue has hosted a concert and four long years since Billings missed out on Elton the first time he came through the state.
Maybe that's why folks were so giddy, including Elton. He and his band came out blazing on a 10-minute dirge "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding," the opening track on "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road."
"I've been to Montana, but I've never been to Billings," Elton reminded the crowd.
The temperature rose about 10 degrees and fans jumped to their feet four songs later when John nailed "Tiny Dancer" and "Philadelphia Freedom."
"I think the acoustics are way better than before," Michaela Martinson said. "That piano intro he opened with sounded really good, and the place looks amazing."
Throughout the show, John, who turned 64 last month, proved he still has the vocal chops and the dexterity at the keyboard to make his show top-notch. On the big hits like "Rocket Man" and "Bennie and the Jets" that he plays every night, Elton showed he has the passion and the fire to keep it fresh and inventive.
Fans began lining up hours before the concert. There were mothers and sons, couples celebrating milestones, and sisters out on the town.
Scott Reid, a sophomore at Senior High, came early with his mom, Shelly, and his girlfriend, Haley Hatfield.
Scott dressed for the occasion with a shiny green jacket with tails, glittered music note glasses and a yellow feather boa. Even though he'd already seen Elton John play with Billy Joel in Fargo, Scott was thrilled to see him in Billings.
"My mom called me at school and said, ‘I have some news for you.' I thought I was in trouble."
Haley said when Scott found out the news was that the singer was coming to Billings, he screamed.
Bill Dutcher, MetraPark's general manager, said everybody was grinning Sunday night from the security personnel to the vendors and the fans.
"Everybody's just excited that we're back in business," Dutcher said.
Golf carts shuttled fans from the parking lots to the arena, where doors opened promptly at 6:30 p.m. Kurt and Cathy McLean, of Billings, sat in their car holding hands and listening to Elton on their iPod, reminiscing.
"When we first met in 1977, he owned everything by Elton," Cathy said of her husband. "Our granddaughter is 10 and she likes Elton John, too."
Cathy bought the tickets as a surprise Valentine's Day present for Kurt and they've been marking off the days until the show.
Four sisters — from Billings, Anaconda and Helena — were lined up to get into the arena, taking photos with their boas and glasses.
One of the sisters, Connie Ryan, who recently moved back to her native Anaconda from Colorado, said the four sisters from the Walund family spent the day shopping in Billings and were looking forward to a girls' night out.
"'Your Song' was our wedding song. My husband didn't get to come, so when Elton plays it, I'm going to call him."
Yellowstone County Commissioner Bill Kennedy stood at the entrance to the arena with his concert pass attached to his shirt, greeting fans.
"This is like a wedding. As soon as we get all 10,000 people in there, we'll give the bride away."