In the scorching Saturday afternoon heat, country music fans began gathering in the shadow of Tiger Stadium to spend their Memorial Day weekend tailgating and listening to their favorite artists.

Although the crowds appeared smaller than in past years, those attending said they were pleased the much-anticipated concert was back in Baton Rouge after a two-year sojourn at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.

The concert inside the stadium was scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m., with headliner Kenny Chesney set to take the stage at 10 p.m. But some attendees arrived early to make the most of the day.

Though the pre-concert crowds were smaller than anticipated, the fans tailgating in the sunbaked parking lots or sheltering under tents near the stadium gates all uniformly and enthusiastically praised the venue change to the wide-open spaces of LSU campus.

“We’d much rather it be here,” said Kristy LaFleur, of Mamou.

Her husband, Dwayne LaFleur, agreed. Though the couple has attended the event for almost ten years, they skipped the second year that the fest was held in New Orleans.

“Even though it’s inside over there, it’s more of a party right here,” Dwayne said.

Kristy said they froze in the extreme air conditioning at the Superdome and didn't like that they were restricted to their seats.

“It’s kind of like being in church,” Dwayne said. “I mean, you want to go, and you’re there, but you can’t have that much fun.”

For others, the beer, sweat and pre-event camaraderie of an outdoor concert are all part of what makes it a special experience.

Ashley Tucker, 22, and Denise Moran, 29 traveled from Lutcher with their friends for an all-day tailgate in defiance of the weekend heat wave.

The blistering temperatures in the 90s and blazing sun took a toll.

By 4:30 p.m. on Saturday 15 people outside the stadium had been treated and released for heat-related problems, said Justin Cox, Acadian Ambulance spokesman.

Some 19 Acadian Ambulance medics and an army of volunteers through Tiger Medical Group were on hand to help those who found themselves in distress. Cox blamed the combination of heat, alcohol consumption and not eating enough food for the heat-related emergencies.

But sweating is part of the experience, Denise Moran said, just as it is with LSU football. Equipped with an ice chest, sunglasses and sunscreen, her group found ways to keep cool — though they admitted one friend was still sitting in the car because it was so hot.

Reclining in oak-shaded lawn chairs near the edge of the parking lot, they said they had arrived early that morning to stake out their territory in what they imagined would be a crowded field, only to find plenty of open spaces and prime tailgating real-estate.

The low-turnout also surprised other fans.

Randy and Kathy Brown, who drove from Orange, Texas in their RV, said they were disappointed the concert didn’t feature the pre-event Fan Fest of past years that included local performers, a meet-and-greet and food and drink vendors.

“You could sit here and you could listen to good music without playing your own,” Randy said. “It brought more people out.”

Representatives from local radio stations, Mockler Beverage and the official souvenir stand at the stadium all noted that the number of attendees seemed to be down from two years ago, whether due to the absence of Fan Fest or the brutally hot weather conditions.

Survey-takers working for the Louisiana Office of Tourism said while it appeared the majority of those attending were from the region, they had spoken to others who traveled across the country to enjoy the country music festival.

One such pair, Ted Landroche, 34, and Samantha Darling, 30, journeyed all the way from Maine after seeing the concert advertised on Facebook.

For the recently engaged couple, this was their first time in the state.

“The people in Louisiana are great,” Landroche said.

By mid-afternoon, the two had already found a tailgating group of Louisiana-natives and could be spotted sipping beer in the shade, waiting lazily for the concert to begin.