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Britney Spears
Britney Spears

Britney Spears circus act come to Grand Forks Saturday

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What once seemed highly unlikely is now upon us. Pop music superstar, pop culture icon and tabloid sensation Britney Spears will bring her world-touring "Circus" concert to the Grand Forks Alerus Center Saturday night.

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Grand Forks may be the smallest market in which Spears will perform during the second leg of her North American tour, but the effect of her coming here -- for the city, its hotels and shopping centers and for the Alerus Center itself -- will be huge.

"This show will have an enormous 'dollars left behind in the community'

impact," said Steve Hyman, executive director of the Alerus Center. "For the community, it's about the community resume and where we fit into the region. It's bragging rights, and it's net income."

Alerus Center officials have said since the concert was announced that ticket sales could make or break the Alerus, not financially, but as a future site for big-name concerts. If this concert doesn't meet expectations, Hyman has said, it will be bad news for future bookings of stars like Britney in Grand Forks.

A few weeks ago, the Alerus announced that the concert promoter was offering $20 tickets on the floor to area college students with student ID. The $20 tickets will be available through today. The most expensive seats, at up to $500 each, have sold out. Earlier this week, ticket sales in general took a serious spike.

The Alerus has about 13,000 seats to sell. As of Tuesday, about 1,500 to 2,000 tickets remained.

Spears is an artist sometimes met with derision from the pop music audience and from critics. But let's face it: Someone's buying all those CDs and concert tickets. Someone's made her, at age 27, one of the world's best-selling female recording artists ever.

Her fan base may be hard to pin down, but it seems to range from adult dance club fans to the gay community to little girls like Essence Matthews of Winnipeg, whose mother bought tickets for them to see Britney in Grand Forks on what will be Essence's 10th birthday.

In a telephone interview, Essence was shy and soft-spoken but clearly looking forward to her weekend trip to Grand Forks and to seeing Spears.

"I really like her," Essence said. "She's nice. I can't really explain but I like her a lot."

Essence, who just started fifth grade, has seen the Jonas Brothers and Gwen Stefani in concert, and she enjoys dancing, singing and volleyball.

Her grandmother, Sharon Delorme, said she and mom Holly Delorme hope the Spears concert will make a wonderful birthday memory for Essence.

It appears that many Canadians will be making the trip south to see Spears in the Alerus. Indications are that one of every three tickets has been sold to someone from Canada, Hyman said. And that means a lot of sold-out hotel rooms, a lot of booked-up restaurants and a lot of shoppers in town.

"We'll be ready for a crowd," said Cheri Reitmeier, events manager of Canad Inns, which is attached to the Alerus Center. "We expect it to be a very busy weekend." Canad has learned that people tend to arrive early for big events at the Alerus and wait for traffic to clear before they depart. In the meantime, they often dine or drink at Canad's bars and restaurants.

Other hotels, eateries and bars reported being full or nearly full and anticipating big weekend crowds. Some planned to run shuttle buses from their establishments to the Alerus. Others were running concert promotions and ticket giveaways.

Tami Pearson, marketing director for the Alerus Center, said doors for the concert would open at 7 p.m. and music would begin at 8:30 p.m.

Opening acts will be Kristinia Debarge and Jordin Sparks. Spears is expected to take the stage about 9:45 p.m.

The Alerus, too, will be running shuttle buses beginning at 6 p.m. from UND's Chester Fritz parking lot and from the lot south of Altru Family Clinic. You must have a UND parking permit to park in the Chester Fritz lot. If you park at the Alerus, remember there will be a $5 parking fee.

So how's Spear's "Circus" going so far? Tonight, she'll be in Des Moines, Iowa. Earlier this week, she was in Detroit, after which the Detroit News online headline said: "Spears works her magic at Palace show" while the Detroit Free Press online headline reported: "Britney Spears nails the steps, misses the mark at Palace."

"For years, Britney Spears' life has been a circus. So if life gives you lemons, might as well make some lemonade, right?," wrote Adam Graham of Detroit News. "Spears made some lemonade Tuesday night at The Palace of Auburn Hills during her first area concert in five years."

The show unfolded in front of a "healthy, but not sold-out crowd," he reported, composed largely of groups of high school and college-aged girls.

"Much of the concert was quite clearly lip-synced as well, and Spears often made no attempt to hide it. But few come to a Spears concert for her vocal prowess, they come to see a show, and on that front she delivered more than on any of her past tours," he wrote.

'Back in the saddle'

Brian McCollum of the Detroit Free Press reported that Spears was "firmly back in the saddle, locked into her new groove. If only it had a heart."

Her Detroit show was a dazzling spectacle, McCollum wrote, a "three-ring production that operated somewhere between 'The Phantom of the Opera' and Cirque du Soleil, with a cue or two nicked from godmothers Madonna and Janet Jackson."

"Spears showed ample flesh but little of herself," he wrote. "The rare smiles seemed rote, her eyes masked by sunglasses and hats. Just when you thought she might pause for breath and make a link, she was gone, disappearing down a lift through the stage to prep for the next high-flying number."

Other news from her tour: Britney has added a cover of Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know" to her performance. As always, the online tabloids and Web sites were making the most of it. Who was Britney's target, they wondered, in delivering this acid-tongued song to a faithless lover?

From Grand Forks, Britney's tour heads to (among other places) Dallas, Los Angeles and San Diego, landing in Las Vegas on Sept. 26-27.

In November, she's off to Australia, where the Herald Sun Web site reports that tickets for the two-person loveseats at the foot of the stage at her Melbourne shows (Nov. 11-12) are selling for $1,500. Another VIP package includes a ticket, merchandise and a meet-and-greet with the band and dancers -- but not Spears -- for $500.

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