Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium brings out the best in every performer who graces its stage. And that was certainly the case for Kelsea Ballerini on Wednesday (Feb. 14) when she brought her Unapologetically Tour to the venerable concert hall.
The event was sold-out, and despite battling the flu, Ballerini commanded the stage, captivating everyone in the wooden pews as she performed her sophomore album live in full, along with the biggest hits from her gold-selling debut, The First Time.
One of the biggest takeaways from the show was Ballerini’s close relationship with her fans. They are sacred to her. And throughout the night, the Ryman’s exceptional acoustics allowed Ballerini to deliver a life-changing concert experience her most dedicated fans will never forget. She was flawless from note one.
When a fan in the balcony cried out that she was celebrating her 21st birthday, Ballerini wished her a very happy birthday and recommended she try any of the honky-tonks on Lower Broadway after the show. Later during her set, she introduced the audience to a fan in the front row named Shannon, who held her face in her hands in disbelief when Ballerini thanked her for coming to her every show and for calling radio stations to request her music. On “Dibs,” Ballerini shared the spotlight with a rising female singer named Abby Stephens and let Stephens plug her latest release “Dreams” live onstage.
Before ending her concert with off-the-mic performance of “Love Me Like You Mean It,” Ballerini explained her fans are everything to her.
“You guys just decided to tell your friends about my music and call the radio station and request my music and buy a ticket to hear my music,” she said. “And I just want to say that I know I get to do this because of you. Period. And thank you for that … and I want it to be me and you because it’s always been me and you.”
The night also marked Ballerini’s first Valentine’s Day as a wife, and to celebrate the occasion, she welcomed her husband Morgan Evans onstage for their first public performance as a couple. He walked onstage holding a towering bouquet of red roses and white gladiolas and then together, they sang the first song he wrote about her, “Dance With Me.”
Ballerini’s set included three costume changes as well as dreamy video sequences of her exploring exotic faraway destinations that were projected on a heart-shaped backdrop.
Her openers Bailey Bryan and Walker Hayes each had the audience hanging on their every word. Bryan’s solo acoustic set included soul-baring performances of originals “Songbird,” “Used To” and Drake’s “Too Good.” Hayes had everyone in the hall on their feet and dancing in their pews as he breezed through live selections from boom. Impressively, most of the audience followed his every word within his distinctive syllabic phrasing, and it was awe-inspiring watching fans keep up with his vocal stylings.
The Ryman show also fell on the three-year anniversary of Ballerini’s Grand Ole Opry debut. The Unapologetically Tour continues Feb. 16 in Clearwater, Fla.