Kelsea Ballerini has a lot going on right now. A very public divorce, surprise new music that addresses that divorce directly, podcasts, rumours of new romances and a UK tour. It feels like a great time for her to be overseas in smaller, intimate venues getting back to the thing that she does best and that showed throughout every minute of this uplifting and empowering concert.
Opening act, Georgia Webster, could easily be the secret or missing little sister in the Ballerini family. She even looks a little like a young Kelsea and her music carries that mix of Pop-leaning, Country-round-the- edges vibes that puts you in mind of Ballerini’s first album and artists like Taylor Swift. There’s a 90s rock edge to some of the songs, too, that makes you want to jump up and down as if you were at an Avril Lavigne show!
There’s a confidence and playfulness about Georgia Webster that is infectious to watch. She’s loving her time up on that stage right now and clearly grateful for the opportunity too. ‘Long Distance’ was all anthemic drums and strong, clear vocals. ‘Push and Pull’ breaks out in a real 80s-tinged Pop/Rock chorus and ‘Twenties’ has clear Taylor Swift overtones, as does ‘Ex’s Best Friend’ but there’s a style and brand to those songs that are all Webster’s alone. She was able to tell the story behind why she plays with an ‘X’ on her hand before ‘X’s’ and the big, loud finish to that song was Rock heaven, as was the guitar solo in ‘Not Sayin’
Georgia Webster is a louder, much rockier proposition live than in the studio and she creates an energy that is engaging and fun to watch. Many in the crowd knew the lyrics to her songs and she also made a whole bunch of new friends too. Definitely a rising star and one to keep an eye on in the weeks and months to come.
Taking the stage after the most perfect introduction song ever (Shania Twain’s ‘Man, I Feel Like A Woman’), Kelsea Ballerini was all grace, smiles and energy. A spoken word introduction to ‘Subject to Change’ set the tone for the evening, an evening of empowerment, self love, fun and passion. I’ve seen Kelsea before at the C2C festival and last year in Nashville at the CMAFest but 2023 Kelsea is a different proposition. Older, wiser, calmer and with so much more to share and say.
Ballerini is a natural born performer who acts out the lyrics to her songs with her body and her facial gestures. This draws you into the narrative of her songs and creates a feeling of intimacy between the crowd and the artist. As is common when Nashville artists come over to the UK and play smaller venues than they do ‘back home’, Ballerini was blown away by the reception from the crowd, the singing and the engagement on every single song. There was a lot of love in the room in Birmingham last night and Ballerini lapped up and bathed in every moment of it. She wasn’t blowing smoke, either, when she said that it was her favourite show that she had played in quite a long time.
Her older songs, like the debut album mash up of ‘Love Me Like You Mean it’, ‘Dibs’ and ‘Yeah Boy’ went down a storm but her newer songs were treated with the same love and enthusiasm by this vociferous crowd. A mid-section hoe-down of ‘If You Go Down’, ‘Hole in the Bottle’ and You’re Drunk, Go Home’ brought more Country music to Birmingham than we have seen in a very long time but it was the double, gut-punch whammy of new song ‘Penthouse’, paired with ‘Peter Pan’ that was the emotional core of the show.
Kelsea spoke at length, pre-‘Penthouse’ about her recent divorce from Morgan Evans and how she had hoped to release a few songs about it and put it behind her but the fans just weren’t allowing that to happen. A passionate performance followed but that raw emotion was still running high for ‘Peter Pan’ too and even on into set-closer ‘I Guess They Call it Fallin’, which also has taken on a new meaning as Ballerini enters a new chapter in her life.
Kelsea spoke about how some of her new songs have resonated more, post divorce, in the encore before she played ‘What I Have’, which prompted a huge communal sing along, despite it being a relatively new song. The double punch sassy ending of ‘Miss Me More’ and ‘Doin My Best’ was a masterstroke and Kelsea left the stage to rapturous applause and heartfelt cheers.
Something has changed with Kelsea Ballerini in the last year or so, but then she did warn us that that might happen on the title of her last album. Always a confident and accomplished performer, Ballerini is, now, even more open with her feelings and able to connect and resonate with her crowd on a deeper level. There is a power and a passion that I haven’t seen in her performances before that create a real bond between her and the audience and it has brought a different, more intimate feel to many of her songs that should elevate her, in the months and years to come, into the very top level of Country music artists.
Set list: 1. Subject to Change 2. The Little Things 3. Heartfirst 4. Love Me Like You Mean it / Dibs / Yeah Boy 5. Love is a Cowboy / Cowboy Take Me Away 6. Half of My Hometown 7. If You Go Down (I’m Goin Down Too) 8. Hole in the Bottle 9. You’re Drunk, Go Home 10. Homecoming Queen 11.This Feeling 12. Universe 13. Weather 14. Penthouse 15. Peter Pan 16. I Guess They Call it Fallin Encore: 17.What I Have 18. Miss Me More 19. Muscle Memory 20. Doin’ My Best Venue: O2 Institute, Birmingham, UK Date: Friday February 24th