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Concert review: Rap and country collide during Bayfront Nelly show

Tyler Farr and Nelly. Photo courtesy of Jade Presents

Maybe a sharp radio executive should start programming a Duluth station that features both hip-hop and country music.

It’s never been done before, but it just might sell.

Turn-of-the-Century hit rap artist Nelly and young country crooner Tyler Farr shared the stage in an odd but ultimately successful dual billing at Bayfront Festival Park in Duluth on Thursday night. A crowd that climbed well over 5,000 people roared along with both the dope party hooks and raisin’ hell drinking songs all night long.

While Nelly and Farr have very little in common musically, they both share a rowdy, good times party vibe that connected well with their mostly 30-something and younger audience.

Following short sets from two new country acts, Nelly took the stage in a white t-shirt and jeans flanked by two sidemen and a DJ at center stage.

“Where the party at?” he rapped. “The party is where you are!”

The crew ripped through a series of short but intense tracks that got hands in the air and booties shaking in the pit below the stage. Nelly thanked the crowd for “holding on” to him for almost 20 years and then dumped a pile of hits into the show.

“Country Grammar,” the title track from his best selling 2000 album, had the audience singing along like they were in his Range Rover. He shared the mic with partner City Spud on “Ride Wit Me,” as the crowd supplied the chorus. The group used a recorded backing track supplied by county stars Florida Georgia Line, to deliver the remixed hit “Cruise,’” which spent most of 2013 at the top of country charts.

“Over and Over,” his groundbreaking 2004 country collaboration with hat man Tim McGraw, followed. Sadly, Nelly couldn’t pull off the singing chops to make the ballad work, and another well-written ballad “Die a Happy Man” suffered from the same case of shrill.

Nelly ended his performance with his biggest hits. “Hot in Here” got everyone dancing, including the big, bearded guy in the black Diesel Power t-shirt and motorcycle boots. “Dilemma” made for a slick summer sing-a-long, and “Just a Dream” was a moving closer.

While some people left the park, most stuck around for at least part of the Tyler Farr show.  

“How about Nelly?” said Farr three songs into his 70-minute set. “I’m a Missouri boy, and that was the only rap album I ever bought the day it came out.”

Both Nelly and Farr are from Missouri, which is about the only thing they have in common. Farr and his four-piece band performed mostly pop country songs rocked up by guitar solos and big drums.

“Whiskey in My Water” and a new single, “Love by the Moon,” showcased work that sounded like REO Speedwagon colliding with Trace Adkins. “Withdrawals” featured the blazing electric guitar work of Gary Jannaman, who sports a spiked mohawk haircut and King Tut beard.

Things got a little murky and disconnected when Farr did a Tone Loc rap-talk on another new beer drinking song followed by the Alice in Chains hard rock cover “Man in the Box.” Maybe he should stick to one or two genres.

The night ended with Farr’s biggest hit, the 2014 power-ballad “A Guy Walks into a Bar,” which included lots of sloppy talk with the remaining audience during a lengthy guitar interlude.

“This is what happens when you get rap and country fans together,” Farr said.

Mark Nicklawske reviews music and theater for the News Tribune.

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