Artist: Kelsea Ballerini
Venue: Tennessee Theatre, Knoxville, TN
Tour: The First Time Tour.
Kelsea Ballerini is no stranger to watching performances at Knoxville’s Tennessee Theatre. A sold out audience embraced her tearful confession Friday night of:
“I used to see shows here. I remember seeing Little Big Town. I remember seeing Zac Brown Band…I always wondered what it would it be like to play here”
This past Friday night was certainly different though as it was Ballerini’s turn to shine.
It all makes too much sense for Ballerini. Her traveling production, The First Time Tour, is appropriately her first time headlining a tour on her own. It’s also the name of her history making debut album. That’s because, also for the first time, a female country artist has reached number one with three consecutive singles from a debut album.
After Country newcomer Morgan Evans loosened the crowd, the realism of Kelsea’s long awaited homecoming performance began to set in.
The lights went down as the Ballerini band built up her entrance with a banjo driven intro. In perfect sync with the music, a spotlight suddenly illuminated Kelsea Ballerini as she stood proud slowly shaking her head in what appeared to be sheer amazement of her hometown crowd’s reaction. Positioned in between her name in pink lights, she and the band ripped into set with gitty single Yeah Boy.
Soon after, switching out her acoustic guitar for a beautiful black Gibson Les Paul, Ballerinni addressed the female demographic in the audience saying: “This one’s for the girls” moving into empowering jam Square Pegs.
It was only a matter of time before Ballernni connected with her peers by bringin up her Knoxville heritage. Ballerinni reminised of her East Tennessee memories with references like University of Tennesse Volunteer games and Calhoun’s by the river before covering her intimiate rendition of U.T. fight song and Knoxville bluegrass anthem Rocky Top – orignally performed by Osbourne Brothers in 1967. The crowd recipritated the hometown love as they acted as a choir for her all night long.
The special treatment didn’t end there though.
Ballerini surprised the crowd with a special guest by bringing out fellow Country singer Tyler Farr. Farr was in town for a gig at Cotton Eyed Joe’s but carved out a few minutes to accompany Ballerini for an acoustic version of his hit A Guy Walks Into A Bar. Apparently Ballerini and Farr didn’t have a chance to rehearse the number but the due sounded polished.
The performance settled down as Ballerini and two of her musicians turned the set into an acoustic session. Here Ballerini got intimate with the audience about her upbringing, high school relationships, and her appreciation for Country music.
“I asked Dolly Parton how she plays guitar so well with her long nails. She replied: ‘Good’ That’s why she’s Dolly Parton”.
She mentioned how fellow singer Sam Hunt dominates the Country scene but his Drake influence is visible. The name dropping shifted to Taylor Swift:
“You can tell artists like Taylor Swift were listening to lots of pop music while writing Country”.
Ballerini then went into another cover song of Entertainer of the Year nominee Chris Stapleton’s Tennessee Whiskey.
Circling back to pop music, the band went into another rendition of Adele’s Send My Love.
Ballerini turned the energy back up when the entertainer began beating a booming electronic drum pad with light up glow sticks to Sirens.
After break up song , Xo, had signaled the lights to dim low. Ballerini reappeared lit up in the middle of the audience where she played slow number The First Time up close and personal after an emotional ‘thank you’ to friends and family.
Closing the performance, Kelsea returned to the main stage where she jolted into debut single Love Me Like You Mean It.
Kelsea Ballerini is only 23 but performs like a veteran. Maybe that’s because she’s been involved with music since the age of 15. For an artist with only one album in her discography, she performs with professional poise. She carries a stellar pronunciation of country music with an accurate pop awareness. Certainly, her music is not for everyone. But between a massive debut record and a killer live show, Ballerini maintains the ingredients to follow the path of the Taylor Swifts and Carrie Underwoods of Country and pop music.
Stay up to date with Kelsea Ballerini and purchase the historical debut album here.