On a night when a bitter cold swept across the Hillsborough River into Curtis Hixon Park, Rachel Platten had just the thing to warm everyone up: A little Gin and Juice.
The singer was just as freezing as the rest of us on the second night of the College Football Playoff's Playoff Playlist Live ("So, it's REALLY cold," she said; "I'm, like, dying up here"). But when she launched into a a piano-fied cover of Snoop Dogg's O.G. classic in the style of her own uplifting anthem Fight Song, everything just felt right. College football's biggest party finally felt like it in Tampa.
Unlike Friday's drizzly and dismally under-attended kickoff, Saturday's bash was a much more obvious success, despite windy winter weather that occasionally made the concert feel like a five-hour test of human endurance. Platten, Cold War Kids and headliner Flo Rida all knocked the energy up several notches, and the fans who braved the gusty low 40s loved it.
"Dancing and moving keeps you warm, right?" host Doug Hensel, a.k.a. DJ Fresh, told the crowd.
Indie Rockers Cold War Kids kicked off the night's national acts at 6 p.m., the word COLD looming large on the video board behind them as whatever was left of the sun's warmth set beyond the Hillsborough River. But the band played with furious, serious drive, channeling mixing garage rock and swampy gospel on rockers old (the spiraling Mexican Dogs, a muscly Hospital Beds) and new (the kickdrum-snapping Love Is Mystical), and channeling the Rolling Stones on Something Is Not Right With Me and Drive Desperate.
Like his fellow Sunshine Stater Pitbull, Flo Rida is an omnipresent pop hitmaker not to be trifled with; at least 80 percent of his setlist spent time in Billboard's Top 40. And the Opa-Locka rapper never coasts through a performance – indeed, just three songs in on Saturday, he had already worked himself into a sweat, despite the icy temperature. (You pitied his poor backup dancers, though, clad only in jumpsuits and tights.)
Wearing bedazzled denim and glittering gold sneakers, Flo spiced up his murderer's-row opening run – Good Feeling, Right Round, In the Ayer, Where Them Girls At, Low – with a barrage of slam-dunk stage tricks: Geysers of CO2, roses tossed to the crowd, even a cadre of female fans pulled on stage to dance and snap selfies.
He briefly ceded the stage to his backup singer, St. Petersburg native Macy Kate, for a mini solo set, and leaned on her pipes to credibly fill in for Sia on Wild Ones. Later, he took a lap around the VIP pit on the shoulders of a buddy, slapping fives and hugging kids; and boomed through My House as cataclysmic fireworks exploded over the Hillsborough.
But as grand a spectacle as all of that was, it still somehow took a back seat to Platten.
Thanks to the enormous success of Fight Song, Platten probably has a standing invite to any sporting event she might ever care to play, and on this night she showed she deserves it. Bounding out to Beating Me Up, beaming and skipping during Lone Ranger, warbling out the anthemic Lonely Planet, Platten was in constant motion across every inch of the stage. Maybe she was just cold – okay, she was definitely cold, clutching herself to stay warm during Stand By You – but it seemed like she was also trying to engage the audience on a more personal level. She pit fan bases against one another by tweaking the lyrics to Angels in Chelsea – "I see angels in Clemson; I see angels in 'Bama" – but she also encouraged them to warm each other up.
"Can you turn around and give each other a hug?" she said. "Even strangers?"
For all the energy Flo Rida and Cold War Kids brought to the stage, it was Platten who stole the show, who got ESPN personalities like Sage Steele and David Pollack dancing on the stage-left SportsCenter set; whose smile beamed like a beacon from a projection adorning the façade of the Rivergate Tower; whose winning, uplifting performance figuratively and literally broke the night's ice.
"I'm looking at you guys," she said, "and you're so freezing, but you're all cheering, and it's great!"
Sure was. Same time Sunday, everyone?
-- Jay Cridlin