CLEVELAND, Ohio – Singer-songwriter Kelsea Ballerini is having a great 2023.
The 29-year-old country pop star made her debut as a musical guest on “Saturday Night Live,” appeared on the celebrity music-themed game show “That’s My Jam,” and dropped an EP, “Rolling Up The Welcome Mat” on Valentine’s Day, with songs written about her divorce from singer Morgan Evans and shortly after that confirmed her new relationship with actor Chase Stokes.
Ballerini brought all that personal and career momentum to a sold-out crowd at the Agora on Wednesday night and was rewarded with the adulation of an extremely stoked crowd of mostly women.
The girls-night-out vibe was set before the lights went down as Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like A Woman!” blared out of the house speakers, immediately starting the first crowd sing-a-long that would carry through Ballerini’s entire 90-plus minute, 20-song set. Ballerini, in a bright yellow outfit reminiscent of the cover of her 2022 full-length album “Subject To Change,” sang 10 songs heavy from the album and nearly all of the EP’s tunes. Fans didn’t seem to mind that a few past hits, such as “Dibs” and “Cowboy Take Me Away,” were reduced to snippets dropped into the newer songs.
Ballerini’s stage persona is that of your very talented BFF who only wants the best for you. Early on, Ballerini mentioned that it was her first headlining show in Cleveland and remarked how the very successful tour has become increasingly “chaotic.” And while thanking the crowd for selling out the Agora, she encouraged them to “be as chaotic as you can be on a Wednesday night” and told the room that it was important to her that everyone knew they were “seen, loved, heard and accepted.”
Ballerini’s plainspoken, confessional lyrics in songs such as “Doin’ My Best” seemingly have been internalized by her fans, who feel connected with the star. Throughout the well-paced show, Ballerini encouraged the audience to sing along. They sang at the top of their lungs, finishing verses, sing-shouting the choruses to the fun songs such as the ride-or-die countryfied buddy song “If You Go Down (I’m Goin’ Down Too),” the sassy kiss-off “You’re Drunk, Go Home” and the post-breakup-self-reclamation song “Miss Me More.”
Between songs and wardrobe changes, Ballerini bantered like a musical self-guru, telling fans she’s there for them and encouraging them to love and accept themselves as she has learned to accept herself throughout her career. Before performing songs from the “Rolling Up The Welcome Mat” EP, she shared her reasons for writing and recording the collection of divorce songs and how much it meant to her that fans loved it, making her feel even more connected with music and her following.
Ballerini’s relatability shined through at these moments, drawing the crowd’s delight and supportive screams.
Opener Georgia Webster, who gained her initial fame from her viral TikTok song “Tell Your Mom,” offered up a peppy, half-hour set of country-pop tunes, including the humorous underage-at-the-bar tune “X’s.” Ballerini also brought Webster out for a duet on “Homecoming Queen,” complete with a crown for the younger singer-songwriter.
Fans left the show satiated, basking in the afterglow of the songs and the convivial, supportive personality of their musical hero. As Ballerini’s career continues its upward trajectory, the HeartFirst Tour is likely her last headlining theaters and clubs. The next time she comes through Northeast Ohio, it’s likely to be as headliner at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse or Blossom Music Center.