TAMPA — A tropical tailgating oasis hid Saturday among hundreds of trucks and country music fans.
More than 3,600 pounds of sand covered the ground in front of four pop-up tents. A fake palm tree stood in the middle. Frozen drink blenders whirred. Music blared. Wings and chips covered the tables.
"We had an inflatable pool filled with water, but the police made us pop it," said Beth Mariani, architect of the island.
Mariani was among thousands who spread out in the parking lots surrounding Raymond James Stadium to tailgate before the debut concert of Kenny Chesney's No Shoes Nation Tour. Chesney's past three tours have started in Tampa and the event last year drew close to 50,000 fans.
For Mariani, 40, of Lutz, the day-long event has become a tradition.
"We plan it all year," she said. "Between Kenny Chesney and Gasparilla, those are the best days of the year."
The Round Up, a country nightclub on W Hillsborough Avenue, attracted a large crowd to its tailgating spot. As a DJ played the Harlem Shake, girls in cowboy boots and men without shirts flocked to the black carpeted dance floor.
"This is the big country concert of the year," said Round Up owner Shawn Bitman. "This is my way to give back to everyone who comes to the club."
For many, tailgating is an integral part of the event.
"It just brings so many people from different walks of life together," said Ethan Crosson, 22, of South Tampa.
"It's a giant redneck party," interrupted his friend, Jake Dawson, 26.
Dan Crosson, 26, had a different take on the event.
"It kicks off the summer — the Florida summer," he explained from his perch in a beach chair planted in the bed of a truck.
This is the second time Mark and Beth Elliott, of Orlando, have attended Chesney's Tampa concert. They took a more laid-back approach to the tailgating portion than others, sitting in the shade outside their truck, but said they enjoy the pre-show.
"These guys over here are so funny," said Beth Elliott, 51, pointing out a couple of men tossing a football behind her who were trying to get passersby in on the game. "We are just sitting here watching the world go by."
For Michelle Johnson, 27, of Tampa, the event was an entirely new experience and she was awed by the magnitude.
"I've never been to a country concert before," she said. "This will be the first of many."
Contact Shelley Rossetter at [email protected] or (813) 226-3401.