The Michael Jackson faithful starting gathering before dawn Friday at the Santa Maria courthouse, many carrying signs and wearing buttons or ribbons declaring the performer's innocence.
Jackson's expected arraignment on a grand jury indictment marks a turning point in the 5-month-old child molestation case against the singer, moving him closer to a trial.
For fans, the appearance in this small California town was an occasion to demonstrate their loyalty.
Shawn Williams, 43, drove up from Los Angeles and arrived at 3 a.m. local time. He brought a CD player with him and music from Michael Jackson’s "Dangerous" album could be heard as the sun began to rise.
Of the charges, Williams said, “I think they are all false. It’s about money and greed. That’s what I think.”
About 60 supporters pressed their noses against the cyclone fencing in front of the courthouse.
The signs included, “Michael: Being here is the least we can do,” and “Innocent! I support Michael Jackson 100%.” Some carried flags from Spain and Great Britain, demonstrating the global appeal of the performer.
Ahead of the arraignment, the scene was fairly peaceful. However, the fan buses coming from Los Angeles had yet to arrive and it was uncertain just how many fans will be onboard when they do arrive.
But not matter how many arrive, the Santa Maria police say they are ready.
"He is an internationally recognized entertainer, and he is very good at what he does," Santa Maria Police Chief Dan Macagni told NBC News this week. "But this is a criminal procedure, and there are rules and regulations that he and his followers need to follow."
At Jackson's last court appearance in January, the pop superstar clambered atop an SUV and put on a show for his fans, who poured into the street in front of the courthouse like concertgoers rushing the stage, surrounding the vehicle and cheering the singer on.
Macagni said the situation was dangerous for everyone, including his officers.
This time, Macagni said, Jackson's fans will be kept at bay, held across the street from the singer by metal barricades.
"It's going to be very clear to the supporters and the people there not to be in the roadway," Macagni said. "I don't think they are going to come over the top because if they do, then they are going to be subject to arrest."
Arraignment with new legal team
Friday's arraignment follows Jackson's indictment last week by a Santa Barbara County grand jury, which met for 13 days and heard from more than a dozen witnesses, including the singer's young accuser.
Details of the charges brought by the grand jury are sealed and will not be announced publicly until Friday's arraignment. Jackson is expected to plead not guilty.
The proceedings at the Santa Maria courthouse will be notable for the debut of Jackson's new lawyer, Thomas Mesereau Jr., who joined the defense last weekend when the entertainer parted ways with his lead attorneys, Benjamin Brafman and Mark Geragos. Jackson is also represented by Steve Cochran and Robert Sanger.
Along with Jackson, his attorneys and members of the media, Macagni said he expects about 2,500 people to show up for the arraignment, about the same number as came to see Jackson at his last hearing.
Fans will be bused to town
As some fans had already started gathering before dawn, others were expected to arrive by bus shortly. Buses for supporters were scheduled to depart at 4 a.m. from Los Angeles and return Friday evening. Passengers were charged $20 per seat.
Jackson himself was expected to spend the night before his arraignment at his Neverland Ranch in Los Olivos, about an hour's drive from Santa Maria.
The singer misses being home, according to his adviser Brian Oxman, an attorney who has represented members of his family and was involved in Jackson's recent decision to replace his two lead attorneys. He said Jackson has changed his mind since saying previously that he would never again consider Neverland home after deputies searched it.
Jackson was holding up well, Oxman said, adding, "He is innocent."
The singer’s attorneys have described the molestation allegations against him as a "big lie" motivated by greed.
If Friday's hearing is anything like the last one Jackson attended, it will be expensive.
According to Santa Barbara County, the total security and administration bill for his three-hour appearance in January: $157,000.