Baltimore City

Keith Urban soothes Ravens fans home in Baltimore

As tens of thousands of Baltimore sports fans packed downtown to watch country music star Keith Urban kick off the NFL season and the Orioles' win at home, some of the lingering exasperation that the Ravens were playing out of town faded away.

"It was frustrating that the Orioles couldn't move their game," said Kevin Williams, who was celebrating his 53rd birthday at the harbor with friends. "But this is the next best thing. And it's free, you know."


Over at Camden Yards, some Orioles fans were ducking out early to catch the Ravens on TV. But manager Buck Showalter didn't seem to mind. "I'm not going to critique that," Showalter said of fans choosing the Ravens over the O's. "I'm just excited that anybody decides to come here."

With the date of the NFL kickoff falling on the same day as an Orioles home game, the Ravens played the first game of the season against the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium in Denver. As defending Super Bowl champions, the Ravens normally would have been granted a home opener.


While the rematch of last year's AFC divisional-round playoff game was delayed for more than a half-hour because of reports of lightning in Denver, events in Baltimore went smoothly.

For a Baltimore sports fan, there was a lot to choose from. Throngs took in the fanfare with the free Urban concert and NFL-themed events. About 17,000 watched the Orioles defeat the Chicago White Sox. And others flocked to bars to watch the Ravens game.

Police did not report any major incidents at the Inner Harbor event. Although state agencies warned drivers to expect delays during rush hour, few accidents were reported and traffic — while heavy at times — didn't cause any major backups on Baltimore's highways.

Dozens of fans crowded onto the floating stage as Urban kicked off his set about 7:15 p.m., beginning with the song "Long Hot Summer." The Australian country singer told the crowd he wanted to play all night but ended his set with fireworks and a laser show just before the Ravens-Broncos kickoff.

Michael and Becky Catron, a Perry Hall couple who caught a bus down to the Inner Harbor, said it was disappointing that the Ravens were in Denver but said many fans can't get the often sold-out tickets to see the Ravens play at M&T; Bank Stadium.

"It's nice to have something for those who wouldn't have been able to come to the stadium," said Becky Catron, 43. "They could definitely have something like this once a month, another great way to bring money into Baltimore."

Organizers expected 20,000 attendees, and the main concert area was packed tight with bodies, and some concertgoers said the crowd appeared to exceed expectations.

"They just don't know how many fans they have," said Michael Catron, 53. He also recalled February's Super Bowl victory parade, in which an estimated 200,000 people packed into downtown, well over what was expected.


Urban sang from a floating stage next to the sea wall by the Maryland Science Center, and some people stationed themselves high on Federal Hill, or on a grassy area by the science center.

On a loudspeaker, organizers encouraged attendees to watch the game at a nearby bar once the concert ended.

Hooters restaurant at the Inner Harbor had a line out of the door from about 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., said manager Alyssa Manas.

"Since 4 o'clock we've been nonstop," she said. "It was awesome."

City officials and business leaders have been attempting in recent years to draw more large events to downtown and the Inner Harbor, in an effort to boost the city's national profile, tourism and economy.

"Special events like Sailabration and the Keith Urban concert are the type of one-off events that can continue to create a vibrancy in the Inner Harbor," Downtown Partnership President Kirby Fowler said. "It's hard to create new attractions over and over again, so these will have to do the trick."


Christine Bortner and Amberle Dunnigan, both 21 and of Baltimore, said they spotted former Ravens tight end Todd Heap, which they called "pretty exciting." They said they hoped the city would host more events near the harbor in the future.

"I love country music and I love Keith Urban and I love the Ravens," said Bortner.

Laurie Schwartz, head of the Waterfront Partnership business group, called the concert a "major undertaking" in its logistics and cost. Schwartz said that despite that, she hoped more major events would be hosted there.

"Historically the harbor is the place where Baltimore celebrates," she said. "It's just been a terrific couple years for Baltimore and having opportunities to celebrate."

An event of the size of the Urban concert was without precedent for the Inner Harbor. A floating stage has been used in the harbor only once before, in 1979.

In the sea of purple Ravens jerseys, Scott and Julie Koranda stuck out in orange. Scott Koranda, 42, of Idaho said he converted his Baltimore-native wife to a Broncos fan.


The couple said they endured a little good-natured ribbing, but no serious issues.

"It's nice to be a free country where you can have the team of your choice," said Julie Koranda, 41, who wore Ravens earrings along with the Broncos jersey "out of respect."

Baltimore Sun reporters Jean Marbella, Peter Schmuck, Joe Burris, Aaron Wilson and Paul McCardell contributed to this article.