HomeEntertainmentMusicTaylor Swift played Lehigh Acres, Florida concert for free in 2007

Taylor Swift played Lehigh Acres, Florida concert for free in 2007

Taylor Swift crashed Ticket master last week as millions of fans tried to buy tickets for her upcoming new tour. Some paid thousands of dollars for concert seats, while many others were left tearful and empty-handed.

But way back in 2007? Swift was just an up-and-coming country singer when she played the annual Lehigh Spring Festival in Southwest Florida. And tickets to that March 17 show were absolute free.

Fest entertainment director Debbie Jackson – who helped book the future pop superstar – watched the concert as she worked on her hot dog stand for the nine-day festival in Lehigh Acres’ Veterans park.

“It was amazing!” Jackson remembers. “She sang every song on her first album. And in the end they all became hits.”

News press photographer Amanda Inscore took pictures of the concert and soon became a fan himself.

“I had no idea who she was,” Inscore recalled. “She was just a very little teen country girl – she sang country back then. And I thought, ‘Oh, she’s so cute, and this is really good music!’”

Of course, a lot has changed since 2007. The Lehigh Spring Festival is no more. And Swift went on to win 11 Grammy Awards, pack arenas around the world and sell more than 200 million albums.

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In fact, she’s so popular that an estimated 15 million bots and ticket buyers overwhelmed Ticketmaster’s presale last week for Swift’s highly anticipated The Eras Tour. Ticketmaster ultimately canceled a scheduled general sale on November 18 due to “extremely high demands on ticketing systems and insufficient remaining ticket inventory to meet that demand.”

But 15 years ago, Swift was just beginning her ascent to mega-stardom. And the tiny Lehigh Spring Fest snagged her for a concert on that cold Saturday night in March 2007.

Even festival organizer Andy Reisinger can’t quite believe it sometimes.

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“It really makes us feel proud and grateful to have been able to have her on our stage,” said the former board member and president of Lehigh Spring Fest. “Little town of Lehigh!

“Now she is an entertainer worth millions and millions of dollars, performing for hundreds of thousands of people around the world. … It’s hard to wrap your head around it.

How Taylor Swift played Lehigh Acres

In 2006, the Lehigh Spring Fest was looking for live bands for the 2007 festival – especially country singers for the planned “Gone Country” theme. Swift was a perfect fit: She had just released her debut album and her single “Tim McGraw” had become a country music hit.

Fortunately, Swift was still available for festival bookings through her talent agency.

“When they said, ‘Yes, she’s available,’ I remember saying, ‘Book her, book her, book her!'” says Reisinger. “We were definitely excited because she seemed to be getting more and more popular.”

Months later, 17-year-old Swift and her band rolled up for a sound check at Veterans Park in two massive tour buses. “I was like ‘Oh dear, where are we going to park those things!'” Reisinger recalls. “It took some effort on the driver’s part, but we got it done.”

Reisinger first met Swift on her tour bus and later at a meet-and-greet with fans. She even posed for a picture with him.

“She was absolutely warm, caring, very pretty,” he says. “You can tell she was really sincere.”

Finally it was 8pm and it was time for Swift to take the stage. An estimated 3,500 to 4,000 people filled the audience for the outdoor show.

“It was probably the biggest crowd we’ve ever had,” says Jackson, a former Lehigh resident who now lives in North Carolina. “She was just getting started, but you knew she was going somewhere.”

Swift performed for about 90 minutes, singing every song from her debut album, Jackson says, including “Tim McGraw,” “Teardrops on My Guitar,” “Should’ve Said No,” and “Our Song.” She even jumped off stage and danced with a child in the audience.

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It was a frigid night, Jackson recalls, and Swift wore an off-the-shoulder dress with spaghetti straps. But when Swift was cold, she never let the crowd know.

“She never said anything,” says Jackson. “She just performed.”

News press photographer Inscore loved what she heard on stage that night. It was a fun show, she says.

“I really liked her vibe,” she says. “She was super cute. … She had long, curly blond hair. And I thought, ‘Oh, this is cool!’”

Everyone seemed in awe of what they saw onstage, Reisinger says. That included himself.

“It was great,” he says. “The public – even the people who had never heard of her – I think fell in love with her. Just because of her demeanor and her personality and the sincerity she conveyed.”

Afterward, Swift hung around signing autographs and posing for photos with fans. She did that for at least a few hours, Reisinger says, and she didn’t stop until she saw the very last person in line.

They will always have Lehigh Acres

Now, 15 years later, many of the people who saw that show cherish the memory. Especially when you consider how big of a star Swift became after that.

“How much do you think it would cost to book her now?” says Jackson. “I paid $8,500 (laughs). And that was a piece for the Lehigh Spring Festival, you know?

“We thought, ‘Oh man, how are we going to do this?’ But it was worth it. It was worth it. And anyone could come. Just bring a folding chair to make sure you have a seat.”

Inscore eventually became a huge fan of Swift’s music, especially recent albums “Folklore” and “Evermore.” She had hoped to see Swift for a second time on the upcoming The Eras Tour, but now Ticketmaster’s general sale has been canceled and she probably won’t get her chance.

However, she will always have Lehigh Acres.

“It’s really cool to see how far she’s come,” says Inscore. “She exploded right after that show. Because I remember thinking, ‘Oh, she IS a big deal!’”

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A 2007 interview with Taylor Swift

Weekly newspaper The Lehigh Acres News Star interviewed Taylor Swift in 2007 before her veteran concert. Here’s what the future superstar had to say about:

Her high hopes for her musical future.

“That’s the nice thing about music. There is no stopping point. The (debut) album went gold. Now I want to see it go platinum, and then double platinum. Then I record another one and hopefully see it go double platinum.”

Using high school friends and classmates as inspiration for her songs.

“It’s not like I’m married or have kids, so I’m not going to write about that. When you listen to my record, it feels like I’ve had 500 boyfriends, but that’s not the case.

“I write a lot about what I’m going through, but also about what my friends are going through and what I imagine most kids my age are going through. I want to be true to the people who love my music.”

Moving from Pennsylvania to Nashville with a demo tape at age 11.

“I brought a demo tape of me singing karaoke to every record company in Nashville to like. I realized that if I wanted to get signed I had to do something else, so I started playing the guitar and writing my own songs. “

Play live.

“I’ve learned to play in front of the crowd. Every show is different. Sometimes I play in front of 25,000 people in an arena or 10 people in an acoustic set. I just love playing live and I can respond to what the audience wants.”

Her career goals after her 2006 hit single “Tim McGraw” and debut album.

“I just keep playing as many shows as I can. If I make it really famous, I want people to say I got there because I worked so hard.”

Connect with this reporter: Charles Runnells is an arts and entertainment reporter for The News-Press and the Naples Daily News. Email him at crunnells@gannett.com or connect on Facebook (facebook.com/charles.runnells.7), Twitter (@charlesrunnells) and Instagram (@crunnells1).

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