If we’re lucky, the third night Common will spend in Utah this calendar year will be as memorable as the first two were to him.
During the Sundance Film Festival, the multitalented hip-hop artist and actor headlined the packed nightclub Sugar on Main Street in Park City. He was in town for screenings of the crime drama "Luv," in which he played Vincent, a recent Baltimore ex-con, who takes his 11-year-old nephew under his wing. "I love Park City," enthused the man born as Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr.
Then, in March, the Chicago native celebrated his 40th birthday at the Salt Lake City nightclub ONE, where the guests included Kanye West and recent Olympic gold-medal winner Serena Williams. "It was one of the best times in my life," Common said of the party.
Next up for Common is headlining the final Twilight Concert of the summer at Pioneer Park on Thursday.
It will be during a break for Common, who’s in the midst of shooting his AMC TV series "Hell on Wheels." The show had its second-season premiere on Aug. 12, serving as the lead-in to "Breaking Bad."
The opportunity to star in this show — set in the aftermath of the Civil War during the construction of the first transcontinental railroad — followed film and TV roles for Common in "American Gangster," "Wanted," "Terminator Salvation," "Date Night," "Happy Feet Two" and "New Year’s Eve." The script for "Hell on Wheels," which called for Common to portray Elam Ferguson, a recently freed slave, was "fresh," he said.
"It’s an interesting time period," he said. "It’s tapped into the humanity of the people." As for its treatment of race relations, he said, "It’s enlightening to see how far we haven’t come."
Despite his film résumé, Common is best-known for his hip-hop. After scoring some success with the Soulquarians in the 1990s, his 2000 album "Like Water for Chocolate" was a breakthrough, and in 2003 he earned his first Grammy in the Best R&B Song category for "Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip-Hop)," a duet with Erykah Badu. In 2007, he scored his second Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a duo or group, for "Southside," featuring fellow Chicagoan Kanye West.
In December, Common released "The Dreamer/The Believer," with longtime friend No I.D. producing and co-writing. (No I.D. also produced recent Twilight headliner Nas’ new album, "Life Is Good.") Common met No I.D. at a young age when No I.D. and West were collaborators, and Common wanted to return to his roots with his newest record. "It felt like it was so natural," Common said. "It brought me back to why I started hip-hip in the first place."
California neo-soul and R&B singer Aloe Blacc will open the concert. Blacc’s 2010 "Good Things" was the 33-year-old’s breakthrough album, containing the hit "I Need a Dollar" that’s as infectious as it is political. "Albums that inspired me were political," Blacc said. "[My album] is fun and approachable, but with serious subject matter."
While Blacc is a proud American — his parents are Panamanian immigrants — he’s aware of the many problems facing the country, and those themes thread through the songs on "Good Times." "There are a lot of starving, independent artists around me," he said. "I wanted to express that anguish — and hope." He nods to his humble beginnings, when Blacc learned to appreciate that baking soda is an acceptable substitute for toothpaste.
This hip-hop concert is drawing some attention, as it’s the last of this summer’s Twilight shows. Last year’s Twilight finale, featuring rapper Lupe Fiasco, drew more than 50,000 people to the park.
That led organizers to charge $5 admission for each concert. This year’s largest concert, by hip-hop artist Nas, drew 25,000 to Pioneer Park in July.
This year’s shows have averaged attendance of about 17,000, about half of what last year’s series drew for free shows, said series founder Casey Jarman, of the Salt Lake City Arts Council. Jarman was reluctant about the decision to charge an admission fee, but now thinks it provides "a better concert experience for everyone. … So far, things have gone extremely well." The arts council is in the first year of a three-year plan to assess the $5 admission fee.
"This year’s $5 entry fee … has not affected the series’ popularity," said Mayor Ralph Becker. "Concertgoers recognize the high caliber of the performing artists and the costs of producing quality shows and have not been deterred by the $5 admission fee."
"The concerts seem not just to be getting by, but thriving," said Jason Mathis, executive director of the city’s Downtown Alliance. "Twilight has become the backyard party for downtown, with an amazing house band."
The money that has poured in from the admission fees is being put to use. Within the next few weeks, Jarman will be putting in his offers for next year’s acts.
Common with Aloe Blacc
When • Thursday, 7 p.m.
Where • Pioneer Park, 300 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $5 at Graywhale Entertainment stores or at gate
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