And in a typical gesture to his legion of fans, early arrivals saw rock saviour Bruce Springsteen take to the stage nearly two hours ahead of schedule for a little warm-up.
Flicking through fans’ posters for a request, he laughed and joked, before performing ‘Land of Hope and Dreams’ from his Tunnel of Love album. Standing alone on the stage, he said: “This is the first time I did this acoustically, you know.”
With many fans camping since Sunday for prime positions in the magnificent stadium, the early warm-up treat was greeted with rapturous applause.
Rumour had it that Bono was expected to be among the VIPs flocking to the gig. However, the 25,000 fans in the electrically charged atmosphere of Thomond only had eyes for Springsteen.
Scottish fan Jim Hazel had queued outside Thomond since Sunday and plans to move on to Cork tomorrow and Belfast on Saturday to see what he described as the greatest show on Earth.
“He just gets better with every show, I can’t believe this guy is 63, he performs like a 40-year-old and gives his fans what they want,” said Jim, from Edinburgh.
Niamh Cullen, 28, from Dublin, was ecstatic. “It was unbelievable to have an early glimpse, he’s a total legend. I am so happy I arrived early. I’m just hooked on him,” she proclaimed
In a blistering three-hour performance, backed by the 18-piece E Street Band — which included The Sopranos star Steve Van Zandt — Springsteen set the ball rolling with ‘This Little Light of Mine’, a violin-inspired ‘American Land’, and ‘Badlands’. After ‘Death of My Hometown’ and full audience participation on ‘Hungry Heart’, Springsteen showed off a large Irish passport, much to the delight of an audience that included fans waving their national flags.
Promoter Peter Aiken said The Boss had sold out within 15 minutes for Thomond.
“It’s a fantastic venue,” he said. “We had Elton John, Rod Stewart, and Pink here since it was transformed.”
Aiken said he has seen Springsteen perform at least 40 times, and that every concert was memorable.
“He engages the fans at every concert and he’s a great crowd-pleaser. He has incredible energy on stage and fans appreciate that.”
More than 140,000 fans ensured a quick sell-out of Springsteen’s five Irish concerts, with the other two shows in Kilkenny at the end of the month. With the Cork and Belfast stages in the process of being finalised, the Thomond stage will be rebuilt in Kilkenny.
“We had 55 trucks of steel arriving from Belgium in recent weeks, with hundreds of riggers involved,” Aiken said.
Limerick is normally famed for its sporting legends and is still recovering from a weekend hangover of a Munster hurling title. But the carnival mood moved into the stratosphere last night, with the arrival of The Boss and the local economy anticipating a €10m boost.