Last weekend, I returned to Indiana for the second time this summer. As a native of Illinois, I can tell you that this is an anomaly. Illinoisans generally only go to Indiana for two reasons: to buy fireworks (after which you immediately turn around and return to Illinois) and to get to Michigan. So what brought my roommate and me to Indiana twice in one summer?
An educator. A visionary. He goes by many names. Armando Pérez. Mr. 305. Mr. Worldwide. You probably know him best as Pitbull.
My journey with Pitbull started in earnest last summer. Prior to that, I had exactly one Pitbull song on my iPod (and yes, I still rock my 2007 iPod Classic): the masterpiece “Timber,” featuring Kesha. “Timber” is, as the kids say these days, a bop. It slaps. Beyond that, I didn’t know much about Pitbull. What finally brought Pitbull and me together was the 2018 Naperville Ribfest.
For those not familiar with the towns and cities of Illinois, Naperville is a large southwestern suburb of Chicago. When I say large, I mean “third largest city in Illinois” large. It is very close to the three suburbs that I spent most of my youth bouncing around in, with the very major difference that Naperville is, as my fellow millennials and I like to say, bougie. While the suburbs I grew up in were decidedly middle and working class areas, Naperville has a median household income of $105,585. Naperville also hosts the annual Naperville Ribfest, a huge celebration of one of midwesterners’ favorite things: meat (specifically ribs). As a child and teen, I was generally more preoccupied with the rides than the ribs, but the nice thing about Ribfest was that my dad could give my friends and I some money and send us off to the rides while he and his fiancée ate ribs and watched a ZZ Top cover band perform. The year I was sixteen, Blue Öyster Cult performed, which was a Big Deal to my dad. In other words, when it came to live music, Naperville Ribfest had a definite type. The year of Blue Öyster Cult was also the last time I went to Ribfest. To suddenly hear eleven years later that Mr. Worldwide himself was headlining a night at Naperville Ribfest was, to say the least, quite a shock. I was immediately determined to go.
My friends, like myself, are very dedicated to novelty and irony. Two of them joined me to go see Pitbull perform at Naperville Ribfest on a rainy night in July. By the time we arrived, the rain had ended, leaving behind the thick, almost unlivable humidity of an Illinois summer night. Mr. 305, however, is a Miami native, and humidity only empowers him. While my friends and I had expected to enjoy ourselves at the show, we had also expected some comedy: pearl-clutching by well-to-do Naperville residents used to listening to REO Speedwagon cover bands belt out their old favorites. In this, we were wrong.
We had, to our shame, deeply underestimated Pitbull. Pitbull, you see, is not just a rapper. He does not simply dance on stage with scantily dressed women. That’s not to say that he doesn’t rap or dance on stage with scantily dressed women at live shows — he does. But he is also a showman. A true professional. He heads out onto the stage with the goal of giving everyone in the audience the time of their lives, no matter who they are. To do this, he has the time of his life, every time. He starts the show in a dress jacket, which he will eventually take off to reveal a sweat-soaked shirt. Every time a closeup of his face is shown on the large LED screen, he will be smiling as he dances to a song he has performed hundreds of times before. In between songs, he spouts advice that is, at best, very obvious and, at worst, vaguely incorrect and simplistic. But none of that matters, because the crowd is having the time of their lives. As my friends and I danced to song after song, I looked around at the people in the crowd around us — all backgrounds, all ages, all races — all dancing their hearts out, smiling and laughing. It was, to put it simply, magic.
My love for Pitbull is different than my love for The Smashing Pumpkins. My love for the latter is irrevocably tied up in life experiences that a certified therapist would probably call “traumatic” and that I call “a bit Dickensian, I admit.” They kept me alive and, for that reason, will always be a part of me. Pitbull will always be a part of me too, but my love for him is freeing. Every time I go to a show, I dance my heart out. I forget everything, and have the time of my life. When I look back on Pitbull’s music in ten years, it will be with feelings of joy.
It’s that joy that brought my roommate and me to Indiana twice this summer. Pitbull was set to perform at Four Winds Field, the home of the South Bend Cubs, minor league affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. This was exactly what we were looking for, of course — Pitbull performing at a unique location. Would I still see Pitbull if he were to perform at the United Center? Sure, but him performing in odd locations only adds to the fun. Thus, we sacrificed our souls and drove out to South Bend back in June, where we watched one Ying Yang Twin perform (a story for another time) before being told that Pitbull was unable to make it due to severe weather in Miami. This was, truth be told, hysterically funny to us. It was the perfect ending to a very odd night in Indiana. But that, as I said, is a story for another time.
Pitbull successfully performed in South Bend last weekend, and my roommate and I once again ventured out to see him. Over the past year, I thought I had remembered what an awesome experience seeing Pitbull live was, but I hadn’t. Even now, I don’t really remember. You can’t really feel it unless you are there, in the moment. Dancing your heart out, surrounded by a multitude of strangers also dancing their hearts out. Having the time of their lives. There is magic in that, no matter what your opinion on Pitbull’s musical ability may be. Is Pitbull the only performer capable of creating that magical space of pure, unadulterated joy? Almost certainly not, but he’s the one that creates that magical space in the universe for me.
So thank you, Pitbull. I look forward to seeing you live for many summers to come. Dale.