Gwinnett goes Gaga: Crowds swarm to the Arena to see pop's leading Lady

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Lady Gaga performs to a sold-out crowd Monday night at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Lady Gaga performs to a sold-out crowd Monday night at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.

DULUTH -- Before Lady Gaga strutted on stage in purple shoulder pads, knee-high boots and banana-blonde locks, before the lights burst on a stage resembling a post-apocalyptic Red Light District, before a crowd of preteens, middle-age men and a smattering of grandparents erupted, the unabashed, Monday night party at the Arena at Gwinnett Center was in full swing.

The Gaga juggernaut packed in a wildly eclectic crowd dotted with blonde wigs and impossibly short shorts. Elsewhere wandered burlesque bikers, a Superman in leopard-print platforms and something resembling a lingerie ninja.

"It's just the whole thing -- just watching the people, the things they wear," said Dallas resident Julie Fowkes of the Gaga concert appeal.

The 24-year-old pop diva, glam vixen and outspoken supporter of the LGBT community brought her bedazzling stage show to the suburbs for her only metro Atlanta stop on this "Monster Ball Tour" leg. And in a time of slumping concert sales and tour cancellations, the Gaga spectacle marked one of the fastest-selling concerts on record at the Arena.

Gaga sold more than 10,000 tickets, full capacity for an Arena at Gwinnett Center concert, back in May, nearly a year beforehand. Those tickets were gobbled up in two weeks, a Justin-Bieber-like rapidity one Gwinnett tourism official called "incredible."

Tickets -- which ranged from $52 to $178 before fees -- hadn't moved that fast since the aforementioned Bieber, Taylor Swift and Justin Timberlake sold out the Arena in separate shows. Online trading posts like StubHub saw ticket sellers asking as much as $1,000 for floor seats.

Paulding County resident Trish Duncan shelled out $180 apiece for resale tickets that put her and a friend close to the stage. Gaga's appeal, as Duncan sees it, stems from her being "just fantastically individual."

Christina Raycheva, 9, who made the trek from Newnan with her mother, Maria, defined the Gaga motif as "all these kinds of crazy and cool stuff."

"I heard her singing," the younger Raycheva explained, "and I just really started liking the music."

The economic impact of Gaga's draw is nothing to sneeze at.

Sold-out shows pump cash into Gwinnett's economy in the form of restaurant and bar revenue and increased hotel occupancy, especially in Duluth's Sugarloaf district, said Lisa Anders, Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau deputy director.

"One of the most frequent emails or calls we receive is 'Where can we go for a nice dinner with drinks before the concert?'" Anders said. "It depends on the show and the day of the week, but we normally see a spike in overall, county-wide occupancy the night of a big show."

Many hotels in close proximity to the Arena will sell out, brimming with not only attendees but concert road crews and the performers themselves, she said.

But not everyone was smitten with the anything-goes bacchanalia.

A group associated with Saved From What Ministries butted heads with security as they questioned the show's morality and loudly scorned parents for subjecting children to a "den of Satan" rife with "demons."

Group leader Keith Higgins said the demonstration was meant less as a protest, and more as a call to Christ.

Perhaps Gaga herself said it best when summarizing the evening's theme: To dance like nobody's watching and love-thy-brother in the process.

"The Monster Ball will set you free," she said, to deafening applause. "Tonight in Georgia we're gonna be super free little monsters."

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