There was a sharp contrast between the two headlining performances at this year's Preakness InfieldFest.
Frugal rapper Macklemore, an independent artist with two No. 1 hit singles to his name, won the crowd over Saturday with messages that were positive, compassionate and sometimes just silly.
Pitbull, the stoic purveyor of Eurodance-inspired rap-meets-pop, bludgeoned the crowd with rib-cage-shaking bass. And though Macklemore performed to a dry crowd while Pitbull fought through the rain, the results were largely the same, with an approving crowd fist-pumping and dancing.
At 1:30 p.m., Macklemore and his producer, Ryan Lewis, took the main stage to "Ten Thousand Hours," the anthemic first song of their debut album, last October's "The Heist." Surprisingly, the Seattle rapper performed his most recognizable songs — "Thrift Shop" and "Can't Hold Us" — within the first 30 minutes of his hourlong set.
It was a self-imposed challenge: Could he keep the crowd entertained after getting his radio staples out of the way early?
The answer was yes; the crowd was familiar with most of "The Heist." The set's best moment came when Macklemore performed "Same Love," a song that has deeply resonated with supporters of gay marriage.
"I believe in tolerance. I believe in compassion," he said.
The crowd, full of fans who looked to be college students or recent graduates, agreed for the most part. Cameras captured young female fans singing the chorus in earnest.
Smartly, Macklemore didn't allow heavy subject material, of which he has plenty, to swallow up his set. He momentarily left the stage and returned as a fun-loving alter ego named Sir Raven Bowie. It was a cheesy attempt to kill time, but the silliness fit the mood of the infield.
Macklemore is an acquired taste for many traditional rap fans, and his preachiness can derail his songs. "The Heist" is not a good album, but it's a slick and catchy one that hasn't had trouble finding an audience. At the very least, he and Lewis' production are original, and that says a lot — more than it should — in mainstream rap right now.
While Macklemore's songs reveal a surprising amount thematically and lyrically, the only substance coming from Pitbull's rainy set was the bass.
His songs are party-starters filled with four-on-the-floor rhythm patterns and a pulsating low end. He fills in the empty space — what little is left of it — with boasts of earning and spending. And yet the crowd, which resembled a weekend snapshot of Stalking Horse, danced enthusiastically to his ubiquitous hits, such as "International Love" and "Back in Time."
It was a reminder that the success of InfieldFest as a concert is measured in only one way: moving bodies. In that case, both artists were appropriate — if not obvious — choices.
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