NASHVILLE -- This was a game day unlike any other, one 19 years in the making.
This city never hosted a Stanley Cup Final game before Game 3 between the Nashville Predators and Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday.
As early as 2:30 p.m. CT, a little over two hours before a free open-air concert by Country Music Hall of Fame member Alan Jackson on Broadway and a little under five hours before the opening faceoff, people were flowing into the city over the Cumberland River Pedestrian Bridge.
Every one of them was wearing a Predators shirt of some kind, and nearly all of them had a folding chair slung over their shoulder, an indication they were not actually attending the game but rather planning to watch it outside.
Coming off the bridge, I turned toward 2nd Ave. in an attempt to walk up nearly the entire length of Broadway, the city's main drag lined with honky-tonk bars and cowboy boot stores. As I made my way there, a miniature yellow antique convertible pulled up next to me and stopped at a traffic light, and there were three clowns inside in full makeup. Because of course there was.
A police cart -- basically a really big golf cart with a siren on it -- pulled up beside the clowns and came to a stop.
"Y'all going to have fun tonight!" the clown said to the police officer, clearly being sarcastic.
"Absolutely!" the officer replied, clearly being sincere.
Yes, Smashville was ready for this.
Already at that hour, Broadway was jam-packed. The street was closed to traffic because the massive stage where Jackson would play blocked the entire width of it. But the street also was closed to fans, so they waited on the sidewalks.
I tried to walk along Broadway from 3rd Ave. to 5th Ave., where the stage is located, and what would normally be no more than a 10-minute walk took me nearly an hour. It was about 88 degrees, but in the sun it felt much, much hotter.
"I can't handle this anymore," one man said before ducking into the air conditioning of The Stage, one of the bigger bars on Broadway.
Broadway was just a convergence of lineups, people lining up to enter bars, lining up to get access to the street when it opened, and those simply trying to walk along Broadway, like me.
It was mayhem, but it was amazing.
All this was two hours before the concert, and it only got more intense as show time approached. At around 3:45 p.m., an hour before the show, someone who worked at one of the bars halfway between 4th and 5th Ave. on Broadway was trying to make it there in time to start his shift. He moved maybe four feet in 10 minutes before he got desperate and bulled his way through the crowd.
The rooftop bars were overflowing, people were hanging out of balconies and windows, sidewalk traffic ground to a halt with everyone waiting to hear a country music legend sing and then watch their Predators play their first home game in the Stanley Cup Final.
It was as unique a setting as you are ever likely to see before a hockey game.
It was astounding.
It was Smashville.