Obama stage replaces goal posts at Denver's Invesco Field

DENVER -- Preparing for Barack Obama's historic acceptance speech tonight at Invesco Field at Mile High has required an equally historic level of preparation.

More than 200 spotlights. Twenty 18-wheelers full of equipment. A crew of hundreds working nearly around the clock to prepare the stage for the Democratic National Convention's grand finale. "The magnitude of this is incomprehensible," said Bruce Crawford, the stadium crew chief overseeing the preparations.

Crawford has been sleeping in an office at the stadium since Friday night, when the Denver Broncos completed a pre-season game and the work began.

Crews cleared the field of benches, goal posts and rain tarps. The next morning, they began moving in massive components to build elevated platforms for journalists and the main stage — complete with faux-marble columns to mimic Washington's iconic architecture.

Crawford has overseen events at the stadium since it opened in 2001 and has produced concerts and music festivals for 30 years. He said none of that, however, has compared to this week's preparation — workers for news organizations and stagehands tramped up and down while he struggled to protect the $1.5 million field — a complex blend of synthetic grass and real bluegrass.

"It's like a cattle drive," Crawford said as he directed workers laying down mats to protect an area of turf that was being walked on too much.

Diana Bray, a psychologist who lives just outside of Denver, knew early on that she wanted to be inside the stadium for tonight's speech. Her parents were in the crowd in 1963 when Martin Luther King delivered his I Have a Dream speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Tonight — on the 45th anniversary of a speech that helped define the civil rights era — Bray will watch with her husband, her niece and her 13-year-old daughter, Eva.

"She is going to be able to experience something that's historic," Bray said of her daughter. "It's unbelievable to me that (Obama's) where he's at. Hopefully, it'll be special and something that (Eva) will remember the rest of her life."

One person who won't be there: Bruce Springsteen. The rocker-activist had been rumored to be a performer at the event, but Obama spokesman Dan Pfeiffer said he was never scheduled.

On the field, the construction crew veterans who have built thousands of these kinds of sets recognize the significance of what they're assembling.

Crawford was a strong supporter of Hillary Rodham Clinton and doesn't know whether he'll vote for Obama. But, he said, "it's a great honor to do this for my country."

Jim Ferry — who explains his party affiliation by saying "I'm union, so I'm Democrat" — said the Invesco set is the largest of the more than 1,200 stage shows he has helped to set up. The Phoenix stagehand is a strong Obama supporter and at first struggled to explain his excitement over this gig.

His feelings came out clearer later in the day, after he found out he would be one of the precious few workers allowed in the stadium for Obama's speech.

"I got in!" he exclaimed. "I'm going to be working the lights."

The crew will be back to work immediately after the Obama crowd departs the stadium. It has to clear the grounds, run a magnet over the field to snatch up dropped pieces of metal and get it ready for the Sunday night football matchup between rivals University of Colorado and Colorado State University.

Crawford said the massive Democratic setup would be cleared within 36 hours, giving workers just enough time to repair the grass and repaint the field.

And then, after the convention has left town and the field is back in shape, Crawford said he will finally reward himself: "I'm looking forward to that beer."

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