By Raoul Biron, Staff Writer

From one day to the next, clouds cleared, the mercury in thermometers rose and Durham celebrated. Students doing their best to forget months of slipping on ice and 4 p.m. sunsets replaced gloves and jackets with cowboy boots, flannels and a lot of cut-off denim. It wasn’t just the end of a long winter that brought students outside on May 2, but for the first time in three years, the Student Committee on Popular Entertainment (SCOPE) welcomed an artist for the University of New Hampshire’s country fans.

While students prepared for the evening show, country singer/songwriter Lee Brice spent his afternoon getting to know his audience.

As word spread that the guy walking around UNH’s annual May Day Carnival with an entourage was in fact Lee Brice, students could be seen sprinting to meet or take a selfie with the “Drinking Class” singer. Most students saw their pictures filled with sunny smiles and solo cups, but few people could guess that just shortly beforehand, Brice was actually picking up after us.

“Look! This one got shot-gunned,” said Brice, laughing and throwing a beer can into a trash bag.

Sifting through the patch of woods between Forest Park and Philbrook Dining Hall, Brice, members of UNH’s Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC), and volunteers spent some of their afternoon picking up littered garbage instead of pre-gaming.

“I’m so excited for your show tonight,” yelled one student who initially didn’t recognize Brice while he was filling his bag with the roughly 20 volunteers around him. For about a half an hour, the country star kept joking with students, throwing empties and pizza boxes into his bag. When he left, many students followed and the trash pick-up ended.

“If he didn’t show up, we would have picked up more trash, but it was definitely an incentive for more people to show up,” said Lauren Baader hydrology major who was volunteering.

At this point in the afternoon, the attention of the campus shifted to one thing: the show. By 7 p.m., a line from the Whittemore Center’s doors looped completely around the field in front of the arena. Police cars, big hats and precarious containers filled with tobacco spit peppered the crowd of 5,500 ticket holders outside. A Portsmouth country radio station, 95.3 The Bull, was entertaining and hyping up the growing crowd.

Inside the entrance to the venue, things were much more subdued. Police officers’ radios crackled, interrupting the sound check ringing through the lobby, and organizers and tour managers weaved around the occasional intoxicated fan who found their way in. Down the steps and out the back entrance, cars and vans from at least five different police departments idled as officers prepared for the worst.

“Country concerts usually bring a lot of intoxicated fans because it heavily promotes beer, but our arrest count was one of the lowest we’ve seen. Students were safely enjoying the show,” said Amanda Chabot, a junior hospitality major and member of SCOPE.

A Laconia Police Department officer remarked that concert goers and specifically students just seemed to be in a better and more positive mood than at previous concerts and large events.

“Maybe it’s the music choice,” he said.

Whether it was the end of winter, the semester or graduating seniors’ college careers, students seemed to pick May 2 to celebrate and be festive, welcoming Lee Brice to facilitate the party.

“Overall, the whole day was an event and that’s what was so cool about it,” Chabot said.

Follow Raoul on Twitter: @RaoulBiron

Executive Editor