Now, the bridge has reopened, and a hulking world tour stage erected on the banks of the bay stands ready to host country singer Garth Brooks for the last of three nationally televised concerts November 28..

Now, gleeful merchants are piping Garth Brooks tunes 24/7 and working lines from the singer’s hits onto their marquees.

“We’re calling it ‘Garthstock 2001,'” said Pam Aikman, manager of a Tom & Jerry’s restaurant that on November 27 was playing host to fans from the Web site.

“We have called back as many people as I could get a hold of. It’s like the height of summer and the height of spring break,” Aikman said.

The mania spread well west of the quickly filled beachfront hotels, permeating the lower Rio Grande Valley. The highways are dotted with cars painted with “We love Garth” as residents attempt to score coveted wristbands from a radio and television stations promoting the concert.

Some island residents, who were automatically eligible for 6,000 of the free wristbands, apparently tried to cash them in. The day before the show, 22 people had listed the tickets on eBay.

One fan reportedly followed a radio station van through four towns in a bid for wristbands. Calls were coming in from as far away as England.

The concert is expected to help revive a tourism economy that had been suffering badly after the September 15 collapse of the Queen Isabella Causeway, caused when a string of barges hit a bridge support. Eight people died when their vehicles drove into the sudden gap.

With the bridge out, access to the island was limited to ferry boats and tourists stayed away.

The bridge reopened November 21 amid celebration and a special ceremony featuring Gov. Rick Perry.

“The best part of the concert was what it did for the morale here,” said Dan Quandt, executive director of the South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The second it was announced, it was just a big uplift for the entire area. Before, they were almost giving the rooms away, but I’m sure we’re at 90 percent right now.”

That was certainly the case for the Radisson Resort, assistant manager Daniel Salazar said Tuesday.

“The phone lines are going crazy. People are calling from upstate, out of state… For us, this was the end of the tunnel. We saw the light with this.”

McDonalds and Whataburger, which had closed during the bridge crisis, reopened in time for the concert, as did the new Comfort Suites Inn.

The mania is explainable, said Bruce Lee Smith, editor of Freedom Communications’ Rio Sun news magazine. “This is the biggest artist that’s performed in the Valley for as long as I can remember,” he said.