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Review: College Football Playoff concerts kick off with Eric Paslay, rain in Tampa's Curtis Hixon Park



Blame the rain. Blame concerns over traffic and parking. Blame the lack of marquee headliner.

Whatever the reason, Day 1 of Playoff Playlist Live was a bust.

The College Football Playoff’s three-night concert festival at Tampa’s Curtis Hixon Park kicked off Friday with Eric Paslay, Clare Dunn and the Shadowboxers braving drizzly weather to play for a sparse crowd of Alabama fans, Clemson fans and curious music lovers.

Attendance was nowhere near the projected 10,000 to 20,000; it surely broke four figures but not by all that much. Even during Paslay’s set, you could have elbowed out space on the front rail. At any point in the night, the crowd around the stage maybe could have filled Jannus Live.

You know what they say: Best-laid plans, and all that. And in fairness, the plans for this event were immaculately laid. The monolithic stage, recently utilized at Lollapalooza in Chicago, looked right at home next to the gleaming, glowing Tampa Museum of Art and Glazer Children’s Museum. A closing fireworks show, moved up an hour because of the rain, was spectacular. And the sight of Paslay projected live onto the adjacent Rivergate Tower probably looked mighty cool from the interstate.

It felt like an impressively produced made-for-TV spectacle, right down to personalities like Tim Tebow, Joey Galloway and ESPN’s Jay Crawford smiling and waving as ESPN’s SportsCenter broadcast live from stage left. Even the performers were impressed by the setup.

"We've watched it on TV," said the Shadowboxers' Scott Schwartz, "but when you're here and soundchecking as the ESPN crew is getting ready to do a broadcast, and all the crew and people are here, you really see it's like an iceberg--there's so much below the surface that you wouldn't know unless you saw it."

And yet so few fans did. Why?

No doubt the crowds will pick up up Saturday for Flo Rida, Rachel Platten and Cold War Kids; and Sunday for Usher, Gavin DeGraw and Jamie N Commons. But it’s unfair to pin the blame for Friday on Paslay, a Grammy-nominated singer, heckuva songwriter and a guy that, let's be honest, not a lot of non-country fans know. Even with two southeastern fan bases in town, country music itself wasn’t a big enough draw.

Paslay was game for whatever, mixing in some of his old, rambunctious reliables (Friday Night, High Class) with intriguing new ones from his forthcoming album Dressed In Black (the title track, especially, sounds like a hit in waiting) and hits he’s written for other artists (Love and Theft’s Angel Eyes, Jake Owen’s Barefoot Blue Jean Night, Eli Young Band’s Even If It Breaks Your Heart). He even mixed in a couple of unlikely pop covers – Adele’s Set Fire to the Rain and a snippet of Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game.

“It looks like Moses just parted the clouds over us tonight,” he said near the end. “So glad we got to play a full set for y’all.”

Colorado axe-slinger Dunn also remarked on the weather (“We ain’t gonna let a little thing like rain stop us, are we?”), but at least she had some fun with it, tossing in a localized cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Have You Ever Seen the Rain.

“I wanna know,” she sang, “have you ever seen the rain … coming down in Tampa Bay?”

It wasn’t Dunn’s only crowd-pleasing cover; she also threw in Bob Seger’s Her Strut and Led Zeppelin’s Rock and Roll. Also up for some Top 40 fun were Justin Timberlake protégées the Shadowboxers, whose shiny, disco-pop, Off the Wall style yielded charmingly danceable renditions of Prince’s Kiss and Chance the Rapper’s All Night.

The rain never got heavier than a drizzle, and crews and fans handled it in stride (AT&T and Allstate tents in an adjacent sponsors’ village proved popular getaway destinations for the poncholess). When it picked up, stagehands scurried to move gear and cover lights and wires; the weather caught no one by surprise. As Crawford, a former Tampa sports anchor, put it: “It is Tampa, and it does beat snow back up north.”

For Playoff Playlist Live, Saturday is another day. More rain is on the horizon. But bigger crowds likely are, too.

-- Jay Cridlin

[Last modified: Saturday, January 7, 2017 11:48pm]


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