Pop music powers transcended genre differences as Florida Georgia Line shared the stage with Nelly at McCormick Field, on June 22, reportedly drawing the largest crowd for a ticketed event in Asheville’s history. Throughout the show, both acts displayed why they were collectively able to pull roughly 12,500 fans, selling out the baseball stadium.
At first glance, the pairing of St. Louie rapper Nelly with the country duo, Florida Georgia Line, can seem like an odd choice. But despite the disparities in their rhythms and accents, their mutual love of easy-to-sing-along-to pop hooks and party anthems eclipsed the distinctions of their genres.
Nelly didn’t disappoint longtime fans, playing a long list of his hits from the early aughts such as “Country Grammar (Hot…)” and “Air Force Ones.” His voice sounded much as it did 14 years ago, as he weaved catchy verses over his signature syncopations. He also looked like he’s had plenty of time to work out over the years, appropriately waiting until “Hot in Herre” to take off his tank top and reveal an almost superhuman frame. At least one female fan followed his advice to “take off all your clothes,” throwing a bra onstage. Throughout many of the songs, he invited ladies from the crowd to dance awkwardly onstage with him, urging them to offer proof that “Carolina girls could twerk.”
The 45-minute set was a big improvement over his last local appearance, years ago, in the Cowboy Nightlife parking lot on Patton Avenue. At the height of his “Country Grammar” popularity, promoters inaccurately advertised an appearance at the now defunct venue as a concert, charging hefty sums to thousands of fans expecting him to perform. Instead, he was on a small makeshift stage for all of about three minutes, telling the crowd to get a drink with him at the bar before retreating back to his tour bus.
Unlike that night, the crowd at McCormick Field had ample opportunities to shake its tail feathers – an unprecedented amount of which were (barely) covered in jorts and framed by cowboy boots.
Attendees didn’t change up their dance steps too much when Florida Georgia Line came out and played an hour of hits such as “This is How We Roll,” “Stay,” “Get Your Shine On,” “Round Here” and “Party People.”
Like Nelly, the vast majority of lyrics celebrated the joys of drinking, partying and hooking up. And, like Nelly’s, the songs offered comfort to those who might not be happy with their lot in life by evoking dreams of better times gone by or up ahead. Punctuated by small explosions, billowing smoke machines, and stadium laser lights, a video screen onstage also projected a romanticized vision. Selfies of singers Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard partying together pulsed on the screen throughout the set, along with images of long-legged dancing girls, dudes playing drinking games and riding 4-wheelers. They veered occasionally from their original tunes to tease such hits as Bruno Mars’ “Grenade” and 50 Cent’s “In Da Club.”
The pop-culture amalgamation reached a fever pitch during the final encore, when Nelly came back out on stage to join Florida Georgia Line for their collaborative multiplatinum single, “Cruise.” Thousands of fans continued to sing along to the chorus as they streamed out of the stadium about 15 minutes before the city’s 11 p.m. curfew.
It was McCormick Field’s first experiment in hosting a major concert event, and it seemed to go off without any major disasters. In the past, Knoxvile-based national concert promoter Ashley Capps told me, the venue’s unavailability was a barrier to bringing top acts to town. When the dust settles, it will be interesting to see if the Florida Georgia Line / Nelly show is a one-hit wonder, or paves the way for the venue to hold similarly large-scale music events in the future, opening a consistent new local window into the peculiarities of national pop culture.