While the St. Louis Rams and Tennessee Titans prepare to battle for football nirvana Sunday (Jan. 30) in Atlanta, fans will be partying there this week with Christina Aguilera, Busta Rhymes, Elton John and other performers.
From Wednesday through Saturday, the city's clubs and theaters will host a dizzying array of shows for the Super Bowl XXXIV crowds.
"Atlanta's just grown tremendously over the last couple years, and with the kinds of music people have embraced, it has grown more eclectic," said Adam Cohen, who books shows for the local Tabernacle theater. "This particular week, people are kind of taking more of a national stance."
More than 100,000 people are expected to converge on the city this week for the football championship at the Georgia Dome.
The National Football League itself is getting behind some of the music. The league is sponsoring shows at the Georgia World Congress Center by pop group 98 Degrees on Thursday and hip-hop acts Busta Rhymes, Q-Tip, Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott and Mobb Deep on Friday. The performances will promote the NFL's weekly syndicated television concert series, "Under the Helmet."
Country acts Martina McBride and Lonestar are booked for the 4,700-seat Fox Theatre on Thursday, and Southern-rock group Lynyrd Skynyrd will play there Friday. Piano-playing pop-rocker Elton John is scheduled to play a private party at the Fox on Saturday.
"Lynyrd Skynyrd was the perfect example of playing to a core audience that ... is in a Georgia frame of mind," Fox General Manager Ed Neiss said. The Florida band, which flies a Confederate flag onstage, is famous for the rock anthem "Free Bird" (RealAudio excerpt of live version) and for its triple-guitar lineup.
The Tabernacle will host '70s disco group KC and the Sunshine Band another Florida act on Wednesday. It's also where blues guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd will play on Friday and where a party for the players will be held after the game Sunday. The venue is across the street from the Georgia Dome.
Local rock station WNNX-FM is sponsoring the 99X Bud Bowl Block Party in the city's Buckhead section Friday and Saturday. Fuel, who scored a hit in 1998 with "Shimmer" (RealAudio excerpt), will perform Friday, while power-pop band Cheap Trick will play Saturday, according to the radio station's promotion director, Ernie Kapanke.
"Atlanta's usually a pretty good host for things like this," Kapanke said.
The game itself will include performances by Tina Turner and Travis Tritt before kickoff and by Aguilera and singers Enrique Iglesias, Phil Collins and Toni Braxton at halftime. Aguilera also will open the TLC show Friday at Philips Arena.
The halftime show is usually an elaborately produced spectacle. In years past it has featured pop superstar Michael Jackson, country singer Reba McEntire and early rocker Chubby Checker.
"We always have to do a cross-section," NFL spokesperson Chris Widmaier said. "When 160 million fans say they're a fan of your sport, you have a pretty wide demo there."
Not all those fans like all the entertainment, though. "You have like five, six groups go on in 10 minutes what does that mean?" Public Enemy frontman Chuck D said. "I like Tina Turner's legs, but am I gonna get some actual entertainment value out of it? I don't think so."
R&B singer Usher will host a LaFace Records party Thursday at the Biltmore Hotel, which is expected to draw such guests as Sean "Puffy" Combs, 'N Sync, producer Jermaine Dupri and other musical dignitaries.
Why all the hoopla and pageantry over a sports event? It's all about money and time, Neiss said.
The Super Bowl is the only championship event in American sports that takes one game to decide. So the game gets built up into a spectacle, as people try to figure out what to do with themselves before the kickoff Sunday, he said.
"It's tough to get a Super Bowl ticket unless you're in the corporate world. With that in mind, the Super Bowl is a perfect format for [a corporate trip]," Neiss said. "It's a singular day, and you can work a whole weekend around it."
(Senior Writer Chris Nelson contributed to this report.)