SARASOTA -- The Woolfpack was out in full force Thursday inside the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall as they waited to see the Bradenton native sing with several "American Idol" performers.
The 8 p.m. performance sold out Van Wezel's 1,741 seats, and the lobby was packed with people of all ages before it started. Some carried signs, others had custom T-shirts and everyone was dressed up and gabbing excitedly for the occasion.
"I've seen tons of Woolfpack fans here. I forgot when we were coming in today, because the cities kind of run together, that this was the hometown of Sam. So we ran out and got a couple more boxes of Sam shirts," said Russ Williams, merchandise manager for the tour. "We're going to have to get another in a minute so it's good. Love Sam. We've had fun so far, haven't even hit intermission and it's already been one of our better nights."
Several fans said they knew Woolf before he appeared on "American Idol," either because they knew him personally or saw one of his shows in the area. His grandparents, Roy and Jackie Woolf, also came to the performance.
"We keep reading about how much everyone is enjoying it, how people keep screaming for him and now we get to participate in it," Roy said.
When asked about the so-called Woolfpack, Roy and Jackie let out small laughs.
"The Woolfpack is phenomenal, it's almost too much," Roy said. "But these are his fans, and that's why he's here, so we love them all."
"The fans make you a success so we're very happy about it," Jackie added.
Melina Adkins, 28, sporting a "Sam's our American Idol" T-shirt with two friends, said Woolf was a friend of her brother-in-law, so he was a friend of the family.
"We always knew he was good so when we heard that he was going to go audition we were like, that's not even going to be a question," Adkins said.
Adkins said she brought a friend, Katie Kawcak, as her birthday present.
"I love everything about him," Kawcak said.
Delaney Couch and Brooke Bonderer said they know Woolf through the Del Couch Music Education Foundation, which Couch's father owns. It is also where Woolf recorded his original music.
"When I moved here I was introduced to him and got to sing with him before he left for 'Idol,' so that's kind of my connection to him," Bonderer said. "It's been a lot of fun to see his success from the beginning to now. We know he's got the talent, and after the whole 'Idol' show we know he's going to go very far in his career."
Del Couch said he's known Woolf for about two and a half years and is excited to see him doing so well.
"I knew Sam had the potential to be a star. I didn't know how it would happen. 'Idol' wasn't really part of the forumla at that time," Couch said. "We figured he'd go to the Berklee College of Music and follow in John Mayer's footsteps or something like that. His songwriting withstands the test of time, and I think when he gets his new album out everyone will see that."
Other fans said they followed his path through "American Idol" and were happy to see him doing well.
"We watched all the episodes and we followed Sam Woolf, and we actually had dinner out at Lakewood Ranch on Main Street where he was performing, so we were rooting him on the whole time," said Cathy Brush, who was there with her whole family, all professed Woolfpack members. "We definitely think he should've won."
Roy Woolf said Sam told them he loved the tour.
"He hated the competition of the show, but he's off and he's relieved," Roy said. "Now that he doesn't have to worry about competition he just owns the stage and he loves it."
Woolfpack members raved about the show afterwards, saying all the performers had been great.
"I think they're even better in person than they are on TV," said Jennifer Gunn, who took her two daughters McKenna and Aubree to the show.
Select fans and family members and friends got to attend a meet and greet afterwards, where Woolf and other past Idol contestants patiently took pictures and signed autographs for fans.
Two little girls, Grace and Ryan Walker, had Woolf sign their signs and bounced around excitedly after.
"She always said she wants to marry him," Ryan said about her sister.
"That's private!" Grace replied. "I think he's the greatest singer ever."
Woolf seemed tired after the show, but said he'd had a blast.
"All the shows have been really good, but I think the hometown one was my favorite," Woolf said.