Perched in a suite at Amalie Arena, the NHL All-Star Game taking place far below, Chase Rice sounded beat.
"This is our fifth show in a row, so we've been getting out there pretty good," he said. "We're tired. So we want to have night off here in Tampa. We'll be having fun."
The country singer was making a pit stop in Tampa to perform his grungy single Lions during player introductions at January's All-Star Game — "kind of a relaxing gig for us," he said. Less than two weeks later, he'll return to town with his energy level way, way up for a headlining show on Friday at the Ritz Ybor (click here for details).
"It's an escape from reality, that's for sure," he said. "That's what we create on stage, is an escape for people. Because people have so much crap going on in their lives, good or bad, whatever it is, they can come forget about it. That's what we do. It's a big-ass party."
Rice may have been an unusual choice to play an NHL All-Star Game, but then again, he's had an atypical rise to Nashville fame. Born in Ormond Beach and raised in North Carolina, he was bouncing around as a young singer and songwriter before being cast on Survivor: Nicaragua in 2010. He finished second. But that success had nothing on his next big breakthrough: Co-writing Florida Georgia Line's record-breaking hit Cruise.
Over the next few years, Rice released a couple of Top 10 singles (Ready Set Roll and Gonna Wanna Tonight), and last year dropped his fourth studio album Lambs & Lions.
Living in Nashville, he also became a big-time hockey fan. When the Predators made their run to the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals, "we were coming out from the road to see the games and come support the team," he said. "I had one ticket to the Cup final, the final game that we lost. Rolled in solo.
"It's a big city with a small-town feel, and you could feel that, with as much celebrity as that town has. It was cool to see everybody coming out — the Luke Bryans, the Dierks Bentleys, the Carrie Underwoods. The whole city rallied around them."
Rice will try to bring a similar level of energy to the Ritz when his tour hits Tampa this weekend.
"It's more based on a rock show, with a lot of country elements," he said. "It's a fun time. And that's all I want to create. I don't care what genre you want to call it. We're going to have a good time."
— Jay Cridlin