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Kelsea Ballerini Sparkles at Sold-Out Headlining Ryman Show

Kelsea Ballerini proved to be a powerhouse with a dazzling performance on the legendary stage of the Ryman Auditorium.

Written by Chuck Dauphin
Kelsea Ballerini Sparkles at Sold-Out Headlining Ryman Show
Kelsea Ballerini; Photo credit: John Shearer

It’s a hallmark of any artist’s career to play the Ryman Auditorium, and last night (2/14), Kelsea Ballerini delivered her first headlining show at the “Mother Church.” It was an evening that, while contemporary as anything you’ll hear on the radio today, showed that the East Tennessee native has formed a connection with her audience as strong as any of the ‘legends’ who have played that vaulted stage in its’ 125-year history.

Ballerini put her current album, Unapologetically, in the spotlight, performing each of the album’s dozen cuts, with the audience seemingly able to perform each and every lyric back to her. Though she was battling the flu, one would be hard pressed to see it, as the singer dazzled her fan base from start to finish – and in doing so, she just might have made a few more fans along the way.

Of the current album, some of the highlights included the fantastic “Miss Me More” and the nostalgic vibe of “High School.” Songs such as “’Graveyard” and “Roses” serve as unmistakable proof of just how much she has grown as a performer. Quick to acknowledge her audience, she referred to several of the members of the crowd by name – showing an ability not truly seen in the business since Taylor Swift broke into the business over a decade ago. While her current single “Legends” garnered a tremendous response, the “money” moment of the new material is definitely “I Hate Love Songs.” A track that the singer has been performing in concert for some time, the song has been tabbed as her next single – and it’s a wise choice. Lyrically, the song is amazingly ironic, and the singer knocks it out of the ballpark.

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Ballerini brought Morgan Evans, her husband, to the stage, and since it was Valentine’s Day, he came bearing flowers. The two performed together on his romantic “Dance With Me.” Ballerini also gave fans the hits from her first album that put her in the spotlight – a soaring version of “Peter Pan” and a sassy run through “Yeah Boy.” As she was under the weather, the singer apologized for canceling her meet and greet before the show, but she made one special fan’s night – by inviting her on stage to share the spotlight on the bouncy “Dibs.”

With one more song to perform, Ballerini chose to be intimate as never before – choosing to close the show with just her and her guitar with an acoustic performance of “Love Me Like You Mean It,” where she took the risk of singing off-mic. It proved to be one of the most emotional moments of the night, with the audience joining her in duet on her breakthrough hit, allowing her to close the evening in style.

Kelsea Ballerini has learned from some of the best in the business, and those lessons are paying off. Look for 2018 to include some more highlights for the Black River recording artist – possibly including taking home one of the Top Female Vocalist trophies? It’s simply not a matter of “if,” but “when.” She’s got the moxie, the stage presence, and the connection with her fans is something that can’t be denied. And, once again….”I Hate Love Songs” is a bonafide smash!

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Opening the show was Bailey Bryan and Walker Hayes. Just as Ballerini was learning from a previously mentioned artist named Swift, it’s apparent that Bryan has been watching Ballerni a bit.

The Washington native has a definite knack for entertaining her audience with an innate storytelling ability with performances such as the riveting “Own It” and the gently sublime “Songbird,” of which she set the table for by admitting her battle with depression as a teenager before uttering perhaps the line of the night – “There’s so much beauty in not knowing the answer….that’s how you know faith exists” – in speaking of her sometimes uncertain trek to the performing stage. If she keeps the forthright honesty in her music as it is now, the sky is the limit.

First time playin the Ryman. Love these boys. Special night…

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In between the sets by the female vocalists was the upbeat melodies of Walker Hayes. The Mobile, Alabama native has seen highs – and lows – during his career. A few years ago, he was on the roster of Capitol Nashville only to be dropped and begin a job at an area Costco. Shane McAnally rolled the dice on Hayes, and so far the results have found favor with Country Radio and the targeted younger demo. If you prefer your Country with the R&B / Hip Hop sounds of a Sam Hunt, you will no doubt be a fan. Hayes has boundless energy on stage – something that is apparent on fun tunes such as “’Dollar Store” and “Halloween,” with the latter featuring songwriter Nicolle Galyon – who appears on the track off of his album boom.

Though his music has a party vibe to it, there were some serious moments, with Hayes being a first-rate tunesmith – which he proved with the thankful vibe of “Craig,” a composition that detailed some of his struggles before he hit – and the couple that lent him a helping hand. Then, there was the winning performance of “Beckett,” which was inspired by his son (look for this one to be a single at some point). The biggest response of Hayes’s set came with his Gold-selling single “You Broke Up With Me.” While his modern approach to the Country sound might take a little getting used to for longtime fans of the genre, even the most devoted purist has to have their heart warmed a bit by Hayes’ unlikely path to stardom – which we think is a sure bet to continue into the coming year.