BLOOMINGTON - People with seats on the floor of the U.S. Cellular Coliseum didn't need them Thursday night because John Mellencamp kept them on their feet during the first concert at the city-owned building.
Mellencamp drew a near sellout crowd for his concert, one stop on the Indiana native's "Words & Music" tour.
"This is fabulous," said Charlie Cresci of Normal. "I love Mellencamp and this is an excellent place to see him."
Cresci was one of the 6,844 people who walked through the gates at the Coliseum for the concert set up to seat 7,500.
Mellencamp took the stage just after 9:20 p.m., a few minutes after his expected 9:15 p.m. start time. Almost everyone in the Coliseum got to their feet when Mellencamp started with the first song of the evening, "This Is Our Country."
While much of the crowd began to sit down near the end of the song, that changed when Mellencamp said, "I'm glad to be here tonight in a small town."
Mellencamp rocked into one of his older hits, "Small Town," much to the delight of the crowd.
At several points during the concert, Mellencamp made comments to introduce a song. At one point he stopped to tell a story about how actor Sean Penn was flying in a private jet to visit him in Bloomington, Ind. Instead Penn's jet landed at the Central Illinois Regional Airport.
"At least he got it right that he needed to be in the Midwest," Mellencamp said. "He flew all the way across America and got the wrong Bloomington."
Coliseum General Manager Mike Nelson said the Coliseum proved itself Thursday as a great concert venue. The $37 million Coliseum opened April 1 and has already hosted two indoor football games and an ice show.
"For the first concert we are very pleased," Nelson said. "And as we get to know better what people want to see, it will only get better and better."
The only hint that Mellencamp met earlier in the day with Bloomington Alderman Mike Matejka and representatives from the Central Illinois Organizing Project, a local advocacy group pushing for a living wage, came before he started his fifth song, "Jackie Brown."
"We need to help each other as much as we can," Mellencamp said.
The advocacy group wants to see Coliseum employees paid a starting salary of $9.33 an hour, a rate that for 40 hours a week will pay rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the area.