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Review: Darius Rucker opens summer tour with huge hits, Hootie classics at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre

Swell guy that he is, Darius Rucker shook, shimmied and smiled ear to ear as he thanked the city of Tampa for hosting the opening night of his 2016 Good For a Good Time summer tour.

"The reason I wanted to start here in Tampa is I know everybody in central Florida is good for a good time, am I right?" he told the crowd of more than 12,000 at MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre. "So that means you're ready for some good country music?"

A little country, a little rock, a little of whatever makes you smile. Sweltering in the stuffy summer heat, a little salt sprinkled into his peppery chin, the 50-year-old Rucker still gave it all up on Friday, from old Hootie and the Blowfish hits to his newer Nashville smashes.

The stalwart South Carolinian aims to please, because he knows it could've gone another way. He could've been a '90s punchline for life, forever Hootie in our minds, but instead he's become an unlikely country success story, one who's made the genre-switching business look easy.

Starting with openers Lighten Up and Radio, Rucker was dancing and engaging, professing love for sweet tea and climes like an ad-libbed “Tampa F-L-A” on Southern State of Mind.

Owing, perhaps, to his mixed musical background, Rucker pulled a few triggers some traditional country artists might not. On a few cuts, he wove in elements of acoustic mountain folk, like Don’t Think I Don't Think About It or the heartstring-tugging It Won’t Be Like This For Long, dedicated to his family in the house and delivered with mandolin and accordion. On others, like Good For a Good Time, he stuck to the sort of genteel barroom swing he’s come to do so well.

And then there were tunes when he let his big ol’ grizzly bear’s growl come out to play. He mashed up Garth Brooks Friends In Low Places with Blackstreet’s No Diggity, and got the crowd truly pumped up with the big, upbeat sing-alongs This and Alright. And as call-and-response hooks go, never bet against Homegrown Honey’s simplistic “You’re so money, money, money.”

Amid those CMT singles, Rucker’s hacky-sackin' Hootie hits sounded right at home. He’ll tell you the Blowfish are far from kaput ("I love those guys," he said), but you do wonder how they'd stack up these days against his new Nashville cats, who pumped twang into Time and Appalachian pluck into Only Wanna Be With You. On Let Her Cry, "the first country song I ever wrote," the band stepped back for a minute to let him sing with just a guitar and fiddle.

For his encore, Rucker got more personal, calling the heartfelt So I Sing “the most honest song I’ve ever been a part of,” performing it backed by a twang quartet. Then, after a jubilant Wagon Wheel, the Dylan-via-Old Crow Medicine Show cover that made him a Nashville star, he roared out a passionate rendition of Purple Rain, memorializing another famous singer who transcended preconceptions of skin color and genre.

The Prince tribute was a fitting end to a night that felt built on gratitude and congeniality – starting with opener Michael Ray, a passionate, inked-up country rocker born and bred in not-so-faraway Eustis.

"I've been to quite a few shows, but this is my first time playing this stage," said Ray, slapping fives and snapping selfies with fans and chugging through ramblers like Look Like This, Think a Little Less and a cover of David Lee Murphy's Dust On the Bottle.

Then came Dan + Shay, cuddly, collegial lads you could take home to mama. Playing the same day they dropped their sophomore album Obsessed, Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney glistened with energy and excitement as they played melodic new tracks like the upbeat Road Trippin' and yearning, burning How Not To; older favorites like Show You Off and 19 You + Me; and covers of Bon Jovi's You Give Love a Bad Name and CeeLo Green's Forget You (yes, the G-rated alternative; told you these cats were goody-goody).

All these guys seemed very much in the Darius Rucker mold -- excited to play and eager to please. So it made sense that Smyers, Mooney and Ray would join Rucker on stage for a jammed-out, rambunctiously funky Hold My Hand, Hootie's breakthrough hit. It was a celebratory way to kick off their summer together, with the openers dancing and singing and hobnobbing with front-row fans, and Rucker grinning and strumming away at center stage.

Well, of course he was. He's just that swell of a guy.

-- Jay Cridlin

[Last modified: Saturday, June 4, 2016 2:24pm]

    

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