Third Twilight Concert draws more than 20,000
Music • Night of rap with Nas nearly doubles average crowd of the first two weeks.
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Just as "The Dark Knight Rises" lit up movie screens across Utah at midnight screenings Thursday, the Twilight Concert Series also rises.

More than 20,000 generally teen-age concert-goers crowded into Pioneer Park in downtown Salt Lake City on Thursday night for the third installment of the popular summer concert series, featuring rappers Tinie Tempah and Nas.

While the new $5 admission fee has resulted in fewer than the average crowd of 33,000 at the free Twilight Concerts of 2011, Thursday's numbers nearly doubled those of the first two Twilight Concerts this summer.

"Nasty Nas in your area is about to cause mass hysteria," crowed 19-year-old Tyson Walters of Cottonwood Heights, alluding to the New York City rapper's lyrics in "Halftime" as he held his position steady in the front row minutes before Nas took the stage. "I'm 10 minutes from seeing the best rapper alive."

The upsurge in the popularity could be due in some part to the massive media blitz the 38-year-old Nas launched over the past week in support of his new album, "Life is Good," which was released Tuesday. Nas has been on "The Colbert Report," "The Late Show with David Letterman" and "Late Night with Jay Leno," and was featured in a Tribune interview this past week.

According to Dustin Hansen, general manager of the Wasatch Front chain of Graywhale Entertainment stores, the stores sold out their allotment of 2,000 tickets early Thursday morning. Its partner 24Tix replenished two of the Graywhale stores three times Thursday, with Graywhale eventually selling 1,200 tickets on Thursday alone. 24Tix co-owner Shon Taylor said the pre-show demand was "crazy — amazingly crazy."

Concert series founder and director Casey Jarman anticipated the larger crowds, and hired more security, requested more Salt Lake City Police Department presence, and widened the gates to allow larger walk-in crowds. "Everyone's been really excited from the get-go," he said of Nas, who has sold more than 13 million albums since his classic 1994 debut "Illmatic" and whose new album is the No. 1 top-seller at iTunes. During intermission, Jarman asked the crowd, "How is it out there in happyland?"

Tempeh, best known for his hit "Written in the Stars," opened the night's entertainment strongly after his D.J. triggered the show by telling the audience that "we're going to [explitive] your brain tonight." Nas followed with an outfit of black shades, black hat, black tee, black pants and white Adidas and began his set with "Hip Hop is Dead," ironic considering the crowd. The highlight of his set was "Hate Me Now," where he sampled Carl Orff's classical-music adaptation of the medieval Latin Goliardic poem "O Fortuna" from "Carmina Burana" to uproarious effect. Members of Nas' entourage were seen snapping iPhone pics of the mass of people congregated near the stage.

Long lines at ATMs and beer tents created some grumbling, and one vendor was disappointed in himself for not being ready for the evening's crowd of 20,000, considering the first Twilight Concert with Beach House drew 10,000, and the second week's Twilight Concert featuring Raphael Saadiq drew 12,000. Tony Marino, owner of the Submarino's food truck, had to shut down the truck at the end of intermission because he ran out of food to serve. He said next week he will double the amount of meat, cheese, and bread to meet the demand, which has so far grown every week. Sales of Marino's pulled-pork grilled cheese sandwiches "exceeded [his] expectations and planning," he said.

The same could be said of the Twilight Concert Series, which shows no sign of running out of steam as future concerts include Band of Horses on July 26, My Morning Jacket on Aug. 2, and Common on Aug. 30.

dburger@sltrib.com