As Super Bowl XLIII inches closer, Tampa feels like it's divided into two camps — staging or showcasing. If you aren't stepping in front of the lights right now, you're probably busy preparing to do so.
Last night, Wyclef Jean and DJ Samantha Ronson had their moment, holding court under a sprawling tent in downtown Tampa at ESPN the Magazine's pre-Bowl party. Playing for a crowd that mixed bone-crunchers, bombshells and beat-masters, Wyclef and Ronson worked through their sets under tarp stretched over a venue that, earlier in the week, was a parking lot. Benji and Joel Madden rubbed shoulders with retired NFL stars Shannon Sharpe and Cris Carter ("All athletes want to be musicians," Joel said) under ESPN's big top, while down the street, Jay-Z took over Club Underground for his demurely named "I Am Legend" pre-Bowl party. Searchlights slashed the Tampa night — DJ AM spun at Maxim's exclusive event, Nelly and Jermaine Dupri took over MOSI while Diddy launched something called "The Good Life Experience." (Check out photos of the pre-Super Bowl parties and gigs here.)
But while the parties raged, the work leading up to Sunday's game — and the pageantry surrounding it — continued. We grabbed Faith Hill on Friday immediately after she ran through the rendition of "America the Beautiful" that she'll deliver before the game. She was still riding high from rehearsals, deeming the dry run "really cool."
Hill has been here before — she sang the National Anthem before Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta, a game that featured her beloved Tennessee Titans. She had hoped her slot at this year's festivities would prove to be a good omen for the Titans, but the team failed to make it through the playoffs. Still, she's thrilled to be back.
"It's a huge honor to say the least," Hill told us of her return invitation. "There's an energy [at the Super Bowl] that's hard to find anywhere else."
Of course, she might just be in it for the game tickets.
"We're huge football fans, so we're definitely sticking around for the game," she said. "The Super Bowl embodies everything that's great about the sport," she added. "It's one game that determines the winner. It's not like baseball or basketball where there's a whole series."
But more than its championship stakes (or the multimillion dollar advertising bonanza surrounding it), Hill said the Super Bowl's true spell lies in its ability to unite and inspire millions.
"It's a way to bring everyone together," Hill told us. "It's unlike any game you've ever been to."
Follow our ongoing Super Bowl weekend coverage, and check out the best from our archives in Rolling Stone's Super Bowl hub.
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