College Football Playoff: Dierks Bentley leads packed championship tailgate party at Raymond James Stadium
In picking a headliner for the last big party of a party-filled weekend, you could do a lot worse than Dierks Bentley.
"Get those drinks up! Let's go!" hollered the party-loving county star, who headlined the Championship Tailgate outside Raymond James Stadium hours before Clemson and Alabama played for the College Football Playoff national championship.
After three days of meteorological anarchy, Tampa's atmosphere found its sweet spot Monday, which made Bentley's festival-sized pregame show for ticketholders feel all the more special.
"Perfect college football night," he said. "It's a freaking blast being here."
That was the basic theme of the carnival that was the Championship Tailgate. Fans with golden tickets dangling from lanyards around their neck had countless options for ways to pass the time waiting for Bentley.
Everywhere you looked in the sprawling campus south of RayJay were corporate tents, interactive games and cool things to ogle. Cornhole! Horseshoes! Ziplining! Marching bands and cheerleaders marauding through the crowd! Jocks like Sammy Watkins and Anthony "Booger" MacFarland, too! You could snap a photo with the real national championship trophy! Or a fake one with a much shorter line!
Compared to the Playoff Playlist Live concerts at Curtis Hixon Park, it felt much more interactive and even a little more local. Fans could pick up a Grouper Grilled Cheese from Boca Kitchen Bar and Market, or a Mexican Firing Squad or Russian Springs Punch from Ciro's Speakeasy.
Apart from all the athletes, coaches and analysts carting to and from the set of ESPN's College GameDay, celebrities were few and far between -- unless you count Dr. Pepper pitchman "Larry Culpepper," who snapped photos with fans outside a tent decorated with bobbleheads in his likeness. (Rumors of an appearance by rapper and actor Ice Cube on the GameDay set proved true, but alas, only inside Raymond James Stadium, not outside at the Tailgate.)
If you could tear away from GameDay, you would have caught a repeat performance by pop-rock act the Shadowboxers, who essentially delivered an encore of their set at Playoff Playlist Live on Friday, right down to their slick, glossy covers of Prince's Kiss and Chance the Rapper's All Night.
And then, just before the blue sky melted into a peachy sunset, you had Bentley, who filled his hourlong set with big country hits like What the Hell Did I Say, Tip It On Back and Somewhere On a Beach.
Acknowledging that his job was to pump fans up for "one of the greatest games, probably, in all of college football history," Bentley skipped some of the moodier songs off his latest album Black, though he he did toss in the sultry title track, along with 2014's nostalgic I Hold On and yearning Say You Do.
Instead, he played the role of up-for-anything party-starter that has long seemed to fit him like a glove. When fans passed him their phones, he ran around the stage snapping photos and video ("It's hard to Snapchat and sing at the same time," he said). His band picked and plucked through ramblers like 5-1-5-0 and Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go).
And when he got to What Was I Thinkin', he offered a preemptive apology.
"Half the crowd's going to hate us on this one," he said, singing: Becky was a beauty from south...
"ALABAMA!" the crowd shouted.
He played just an hour -- not long, but he clearly knew none of the tens of thousands of fans at RayJay stadium were there just for him. The spectacle all around him was much greater.
"I wonder if they're getting drunk on that blimp up there?" he said, pointing to Goodyear's Wingfoot One. "I'd like to get drunk on a blimp. That might be the next song I'm going to write: Drunk on a Blimp."
Instead he closed with one of his biggest hits, Drunk on a Plane. Solid advice, inevitably, for half the fans flying out of Tampa come Tuesday.
-- Jay Cridlin