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The Party

The crowd mingles in the lobby of the Gallo Center for the Arts before the gala concert Thursday. (Bart Ah You/The Bee)
The crowd mingles in the lobby of the Gallo Center for the Arts before the gala concert Thursday. (Bart Ah You/The Bee)

Who needs a ticket anyway?

Instead of spending $200 to $1,000 for the Gallo Center's opening gala Thursday night, about 250 people sprawled on the concrete, lay on blankets or sat in folding chairs in front of a Jumbotron screen at Tenth Street Plaza.

Longtime Modesto resident Garry Buchet, 64, may have had the most creative take on "black tie" attire. He added a black clip-on tie to his white tank top to watch the event on the outdoor screen. Buchet and his brother first stood near the Stanislaus County Courthouse to watch the throngs pass in tuxedos and sparkling dresses.

"I thought I'd dress up as a hick," Buchet said. "A little tongue-in-cheek humor."

About 7:45 p.m., the crowd gave shrieks and laughs of surprise as the booms of the symphony's percussion started "Fanfare for the Common Man," by Aaron Copeland.

Rick and Pam Rivas snagged an outdoor table at The Nines, where they sipped margaritas and champagne while the Modesto Symphony Orchestra played.

"We thought there'd be more people here, but it's beautiful," Pam Rivas said. "When the tickets go down in price, we'll definitely be purchasing."

The two moved to Modesto

25 years ago and they said they never expected to see a performing-arts center completed.

"When we moved here, I didn't think they had a Marie Callender's," Pam Rivas said with a laugh.

"They had two restaurants and they closed at 6 o'clock Saturday night," Rick Rivas added.

Across the plaza, Barbara McDonald had her 26-year-old daughter, Heather, stake out a seat on the benches close to the screen at 5 p.m. The two ordered takeout food from Fuzio and took turns going to the bathroom so not to lose their prime seats. McDonald said her daughter loves to play the music of Broadway star Patti LuPone on her iPod at home.

"She's been crying for weeks that she can't afford tickets," McDonald said. "She saw this in the paper and she said, 'Let's go!' "

Then LuPone held up her arms and took on her role as Eva Peron.

"Oh, 'Evita'!" McDonald whooped. "We've been waiting all night for this."

Kate Schnepp, a Beyer High School senior, sang along with LuPone as she watched her perform the song "English Teacher" from the musical "Bye Bye Birdie." Schnepp said she's heard all of LuPone's original Broadway recordings and saw her guest appearance on the comedy series "Will and Grace."

"I am a big drama girl; I am a huge fan of Patti LuPone," Schnepp said. "I want to be her when I grow up."

Schnepp, who brought along two friends, said the sound coming from the speakers was "a little quiet" at first, and part of the screen blacked out for a few minutes.

"We only got eight-ninths of the experience," joked Schnepp's friend, 17-year-old Brett Bailey.

"Yeah, but $4,000 cheaper," Schnepp shot back. "I'm really glad they have this out here. I could not afford to go by any means."

Viola player Anne Martin, dressed in all black, went to meet her brother at the Jumbotron after playing the first half of the gala with the Modesto Symphony Orchestra. Martin said she's played in front of much larger crowds but the experience still was exciting.

"I think the Gallo Center is beautiful and it sounded great," Martin said. "It was packed. I didn't see any empty seats."

Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at mbalassone@modbee.com or 578-2337.

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