More than 40,000 people crammed into Pioneer Park on Thursday night as rapper and actor Ludacris headlined the latest iteration of the wildly popular Twilight Concert Series.
The number of people dwarfed the previous record of 27,000 set last summer when rapper and actor Common headlined during the first year an admission fee of $5 was charged, ending almost a quarter-century of free shows.
So many music fans attended Thursday that the show became what a spokesperson called "sold out," meaning that late-arriving spectators were only allowed in once equal numbers of people left.
While the sheer number of people coming to the show was jaw-dropping, it has become common for hip-hop acts and rappers to draw the largest numbers of fans to the Twilight shows, with last year's shows by rapper Nas and Common the highest attended.
In comparison, last week's Wednesday night Twilight concert featuring rock band Grizzly Bear attracted only 10,000 fans. Neo-soul singer Erykah Badu played last Thursday, drawing 19,000.
Atlanta-based rap collective Two-9 opened this Thursday's show with their crunked-out Dirty South sound that Ludacris and OutKast brought into the mainstream, a sound that showed that rap hotbeds didn't solely exist in Los Angeles and New York City. With five frontmen and one D.J., the members of Two-9 set off the show with call-and-response songs that included their rendition of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg's "Deep Cover (187 on an Undercover Cop)." (The California Penal Code defines the crime of murder as a 187.) Two-9 frequently baited the large number of police in the audience by asking the crowd what they thought of the police, a question answered by the band and the audience with their middle fingers raised into the air. Two-9 also told the crowd, "If you're smoking weed, make some noise," which drew a deafening response, accompanied by clouds of smoke wafting into the air that were illuminated by spotlights.
Ludacris is a 35-year-old entertainer most recently known for appearing in the latest chapter of the "Fast and the Furious" car-racing film franchise, "Fast & Furious 6," which has grossed more than $780 million worldwide since it was released in May. Five of his seven albums have been certified platinum, with the other two reaching gold status.
With a band that refreshingly included not just a D.J., but also a drummer, keyboard player, bass player, guitar player and saxophonist, Ludacris' set put to doubt any question of whether the Twilight sound system could handle deep thrusts of bass that you could feel in your teeth. Wearing light blue Nikes, tan khaki pants and a blue tank-top, the rapper confidently prowled the stage as he flashed his diamond earrings and diamond-encrusted shark-tooth necklace. And, even though he didn't take the stage until a few minutes after 9 most Twilight headliners go on at 8:30 p.m. Ludacris wore sunglasses.
An early highlight of Ludacris' set was his song "Area Codes," in which he proclaimed that "I've got ho's, in different area codes," and thoughtfully included Utah's own 801 area code.
The security team in the pit in front of the stage had its work cut out for it, as scores of young women had to either be rescued from the throngs of the crowd pushing them into the barricades, or crowd-surfed into the hands of the awaiting burly guards. At least one resourceful fan climbed a tree at stage right, much to the security guards' chagrin.
Next week's headliner is hip-hop star Kid Cudi, whose popularity equals or exceeds that of Ludacris. Hold onto your diamond-encrusted hats.
Twilight Concert Series
Who • Ludacris with Two-9
When • Thursday, Aug. 15
Where • Pioneer Park, Salt Lake City
Bottom line • Record crowd treated to pleasant night of rap.