Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Politics

Rodney Atkins to headline glitzy RNC welcome party at Tropicana Field

ST. PETERSBURG — Platinum-selling country singer-songwriter Rodney Atkins will headline the Republican National Convention's official welcome party on Aug. 26 at Tropicana Field.

But looking ahead to the invitation-only party, organizers want visitors to remember the sights as much as the sounds.

"I would liken this to a Super Bowl halftime show," Tampa Bay Host Committee president Ken Jones said Tuesday. "It's going to be something that's so unique, people are going to be talking about it until the next convention."

One big difference is that the Super Bowl halftime show is seen by more than 100 million people, while the RNC welcome party will be seen by 20,000 invited guests at most. That includes up to 15,000 members of the media, plus GOP delegates and local VIPs. It is the first time a GOP convention has combined its main social events for journalists and delegates.

The idea is to dazzle visitors with scenes from the Tampa Bay area's beaches, with the feel of its festivals, with a sense of its history, with reminders of its sports traditions and with samples of its cuisine.

"The welcome event has been staged to showcase Tampa Bay through everything we do, through the tastes, the themes and the entertainment," said Amanda Whitelaw, the host committee's director of events and volunteers.

Early on, planners wanted to provide some local color by re-creating a parade from the Gasparilla pirate invasion inside the Trop.

But with three stages of entertainment, plus tables and chairs, there wasn't room. So instead, members of various local krewes will ride on delegates' charter buses to the event or meet guests at the Trop — in costume and in character — welcoming them, telling them about the Tampa Bay area and the annual Gasparilla pirate fest.

Inside the stadium, six drop-down screens will show images from around the bay area in 3-D.

The main stage for the party is expected to be behind home plate, facing the outfield. Plans call for three screens on each side, hanging in front of the lowest level of seats and extending well beyond each team's dugout.

In shallow rightfield and leftfield, organizers plan to have two more smaller stages, each topped by a "tree of life."

The artificial trees will rise 100 feet above the stages and will have large fabric panels on which lights can display different colors and patterns.

The trees are meant to help guests feel less overwhelmed by the cavernous stadium.

"One of my biggest concerns was, you walk into the dome, and you lose where you are," Whitelaw said.

To produce the visual effects, the host committee has hired Corporate Magic of Dallas, which has created show-stopping presentations for a bunch of corporate clients, including Jaguar and the Dallas Cowboys.

The Hillsborough and Pinellas county commissions have kicked in $400,000 and $600,000, respectively, in tourist development tax money to help stage the party as a way of promoting the bay area. Jones said organizers would not make the event's overall budget public until mid October, when the host committee must file a report of its fundraising and spending with federal elections officials.

Along with Atkins, organizers also have booked Karla Davis from The Voice and Tampa's own Shannon Magrane from American Idol.

And there will be plenty of other local entertainers: doo-wop acts, belly dancers, drum and steel drum bands and Jungala characters from Busch Gardens, the University of South Florida Herd of Thunder band, and the cheer squads from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tampa Bay Rays and Tampa Bay Lightning. Busch Gardens also will present the aerialists, acrobats, jugglers and contortionists of Cirque Dreams.

For the food, the host committee is looking at local fare, ranging from Ybor City Cuban to Tarpon Springs Greek.

"This is the one event during the convention that really has the opportunity for Tampa Bay to show its hospitality and to show what makes this such a special place to live," host committee chief operating officer Matt Becker said.

Richard Danielson can be reached at d[email protected], (813) 226-3403 or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.

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