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Country fans brace against the heat for Garth Brooks' Crystal Palace performance

Garth Brooks fans are a dedicated bunch. So much so that not even a 106-degree day would stop a few from waiting hours by Buck Owens' Crystal Palace to see the country superstar.

Friends Jessica Phillips and Jackie Hicks, from Los Banos and Merced, respectively, arrived at the venue at 2:30 p.m. Thursday and were the first two people "in line." 

Hicks, a "die-hard fan," was decked out in a 27-year-old Brooks T-shirt, cowboy boots and a bracelet that featured four charms with the country singer's face on them.

"His music is out of this world, everything else is a plus," she said about what she likes most about the performer. "His thunder thighs are cool, too."

Fans of the singer called into various country radio stations around the state, including KUZZ, to win tickets to his performance at the Crystal Palace. The venue seats 550 people.

Phillips, who won the last set of tickets being given out, called in to country radio stations about 20 times, but even that, she said, was a conservative number.

"I was going to go with my husband, but he has to work tonight, so I'd rather go with the big Garth Brooks fan," said Phillips, referring to Hicks.

Hicks called radio stations about 20 times a day, participated in online drawings daily and texted the word of the day several times. She even doubled up with a co-worker for the chance to see Brooks for the 10th time in concert. Although she was not a lucky caller, her prayers would end up answered. 

"I didn't believe it until we got here," she said. "The whole family loves him. He's family. If his car broke down in Merced, we'd help him out ... let him swim in the pool and send him on his way."

Some ticket winners get lucky and win tickets after calling in once, like what happened with Visalia resident Maggie Davis. 

"I was in the car and was like, 'I wonder if that's 'Shameless' playing,'" she said. She used the app Shazam, which helps users identify songs, and sure enough it was one of the country singer's top hits. 

"Had I not wondered, 'Is this really him?,' I wouldn't be here. Everything fell into the right place," she added. 

She tried to win tickets for her children, but there were no additional "lightnin' strikes."

She and her plus-one, Regina Gaebe, arrived at the Crystal Palace at 3:15 p.m. and became quick friends with Phillips and Hicks. 

The night was special for Davis because it was the first time she was seeing Brooks live in concert. She said she could not attend a performance in the early 1990s in Fresno, and she did not want to "miss the dance" another time.

"He's a country icon," she said.

Another Brooks concert first-timer was Bakersfield resident Candis Smith, whose friend won tickets. She bought her sons tickets to his concert in Paso Robles a few years ago, but never got around to attending a show herself, despite also being a huge fan.

"I even know his first name," she said. It's Troyal, for all those who didn't know. 

Her friend broke her back a few weeks ago and just this week removed her brace, but nothing was going to stop them from seeing the superstar on stage.

"She called and emailed someone to make accommodations," said Smith.

The Bakersfield performance was the second of seven stops on Brooks' "Dive Bar" tour, where he'll play in smaller venues around the country.

Ema Sasic can be reached at 661-395-7392. Follow her on Twitter: @ema_sasic.

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