NEW ORLEANS — The entertainment leading up to the Super Bowl is so A-list, Beyonce may not even have the most anticipated performance surrounding the big game.
Justin Timberlake is due to give his first major musical performance in four years. Stevie Wonder is performing for the masses at an outdoor concert. CeeLo Green is reuniting with his old hip-hop clique, Goodie Mob, and Rascal Flatts is teaming up with Journey for a concert. Those represent only a fraction of the all-star events to celebrate the Super Bowl.
"The Super Bowl has become such a big event in itself. So many people come from everywhere, looking to not only be a part of the Super Bowl but also the festivities leading up to the game," said CeeLo, who is performing at ESPN's Next event. "There's so much to do, from parties, concerts and events."
Indeed, until the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers meet at the Superdome on Sunday, much of the emphasis in the days leading up to the event has very little to do with the game.
Lil Wayne is throwing a major bash in his hometown, Jay-Z is holding court at another event the evening before his wife, Beyonce, performs at halftime, and Jamie Foxx is due to give a private concert - and that's just the lineup for Saturday.
Director Michael Bay is holding court at a private estate for a celebrity dinner for charity. Santigold, Solange and producer/DJ Diplo will perform at Audi's two parties during the weekend, and both Playboy and Maxim are planning blowout parties with their trademark models.
"I've never seen anything like this," said Gary Solomon Jr., co-founder of Solomon Group, the local company hired to help set up the stages and lighting for the outdoor concerts and broadcasting areas in the French Quarter and near the Superdome.
"When you look at the master calendar of all the events, it's pretty daunting," he said. "This Super Bowl is like having 30 events in the same weekend."
Perhaps the most hotly anticipated event features Timberlake. He will perform during "DIRECTV Super Saturday Night," an invitation-only concert that will also feature Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson of The Roots as DJ. Questlove is a friend of Timberlake's who served as DJ at the pop star's wedding to Jessica Biel in October.
Questlove said he's honored that he was asked to DJ Timberlake's return to the stage on Super Bowl weekend. Timberlake is expected to perform his new single, "Suit & Tie," which features Jay-Z, and other tracks from his upcoming album, "The 20/20 Experience."
"The album is incredible," Questlove said. "I'm a huge supporter, and I'm there to make sure the audience has a good time."
Jay-Z and Beyonce have been spotted in New Orleans, and many are wondering whether Jay-Z - who is hosting a party elsewhere that night - will be taking the stage with Timberlake.
"Mum's the word," Questlove said. "All that is under wraps."
Stevie Wonder is also performing Saturday night. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame legend, whose classic hit "Superstition" will be featured in two of this year's Bud Light Super Bowl commercials, is headlining an outdoor concert. Rising guitarist Gary Clark Jr. is also scheduled to perform.
Besides the Timberlake concert, Questlove is performing with The Roots at three Super Bowl parties, including the 49ers after-game party - "or funeral, depending on the outcome of the game," he said with a laugh.
OneRepublic and Matchbox Twenty will perform as part of the Super Bowl pregame show. As will "American Idol" alum Jennifer Hudson, who will join the chorus from Sandy Hook Elementary School to sing "America the Beautiful" before the 49ers and Ravens take the field, the NFL said.
The chorus features 26 children from Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., where 20 first-graders and six adults were killed in a Dec. 14 shooting rampage.
The performance will be part of CBS's pre-game show and will be broadcast live. Alicia Keys will sing the national anthem.
Much of the entertainment kicks off Friday. VH1 is hosting a concert headlined by rock band Train while Grammy-winning R&B singer Fantasia leads a pack of Christian and gospel singers for the NFL's Super Bowl Gospel Celebration. Baltimore Ravens star Ray Lewis is being honored with a "Lifetime of Inspiration" award during the event, which will be hosted by Sherri Shepherd of ABC's "The View" and Grammy-winning gospel musician Kirk Franklin.
The gospel celebration will also include a performance by the NFL Players Choir of dozens of current and former professional football players and a performance by Lecrae, the Christian rapper NFL players have named this year's "Player's Choice" artist.
"It's a definite honor, really to even be considered but on top of that to be requested by the players. It's really humbling," said Lecrae.
Miami rapper Pitbull has two scheduled appearances this weekend: Friday night he's performing at an invitation-only party by Rolling Stone with rapper Flo Rida and Nick Cannon. On Saturday, he performs for the general public during DIRECTV's "Celebrity Beach Bowl," a star-studded flag football match that will include Snoop Dogg, Neil Patrick Harris, Chace Crawford, Josh Hutcherson and former NFL players Deion Sanders and Warren Moon.
Also Saturday, CMT is hosting a "Crossroads" concert with headliners Journey and Rascal Flatts.
Though many of the star-studded concerts will have limited access or are by invitation only, dozens of local artists will be performing throughout the weekend on stages set up along the Mississippi River and in the NFL Experience at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Many downtown streets are being closed to traffic to allow more pedestrian access in the main entertainment areas - the French Quarter, riverfront and near the Superdome.
"It's great that it's back here. There's a rich tradition here in New Orleans of just having a great time," CeeLo said. "The atmosphere in New Orleans is always upbeat."