Country star Kelsea Ballerini is suddenly everywhere: "Saturday Night Live" last weekend, the season premiere of NBC's "That's My Jam" on Tuesday and all over the internet with chatter about her divorce and her new boyfriend, Chase Stokes of Netflix's "Outer Banks."
On Friday night, Ballerini showed up in Minneapolis to perform for her biggest crowd as a concert headliner — 8,000 delighted fans — at the Armory.
She strutted, sashayed and skipped across the stage. She did ballads, bops and hoedowns. She was friendly, chatty and spontaneous. Her pacing was smart, her outfits sparkly and her 95-minute performance consistently engaging and quite entertaining. In short, Ballerini is ready for prime time.
A regular visitor to the Twin Cities during her nine-year recording career but mostly as an opening act, Ballerini, 29, has improved as a performer and songwriter. Maybe that's because she's more comfortable in her own skin and where's she at in life, as she explained between songs.
Her words didn't sound like scripted patter but rather Ballerini speaking sincerely on her Heartfirst Tour. The Knoxville, Tenn., native explained that this trek was planned to promote last fall's "Subject To Change" album, which arrived a few weeks before her divorce from Aussie country singer Morgan Evans was announced.
In the meantime, Ballerini penned some songs with things that she needed to say to herself.
"I thought my healing was writing songs, but healing has become singing them," she said before delivering the chilling "Penthouse," one of six tunes from "Rolling Up the Welcome Mat," a post-divorce EP she dropped without any advance warning on Valentine's Day.
Deeply felt emotions and empowering messages were at the core of Ballerini's best songs on Friday, whether in this year's solo acoustic "Leave Me Again" (about never losing sight of her needs in a relationship), 2016's "Peter Pan" (about how the guy in question better grow up) or 2019's "Homecoming Queen?" (about displaying what's on the inside, not the just the buffed exterior).
"Homecoming Queen?" was an acoustic guitar duet with opening act Georgia Webster, which prudently changed the texture and pace of the program. It also illustrated that Ballerini is a somewhat generic singer while Webster's voice had more character but less polish.
Throughout the concert, Ballerini connected with fans on the edge of the stage runway, taking selfies, signing autographs and responding to handmade signs. One sign asked to do a shot with the singer. Ballerini handed the young woman a cup of tequila and then asked if she were at least 21.
"The internet has enough to say about me," the star ad-libbed.
Bottoms up, and then Ballerini broke into "You're Drunk, Go Home," the high point in her three-tune mid-set hoedown. She definitely needed that shot of energy because, like Maren Morris' repertoire, her material is heavy on ballads and mid-tempo tunes, which are tailored for the radio, not a big-venue concert.
Oftentimes, Ballerini relied on excessively loud drums to give songs more energy than they have. The pre-encore finale, "I Guess They Call It Fallin'," didn't feel like a wrap; she had to tell the audience that it was. One other quibble was a lack of live screen video (the screens displayed photos, landscapes and recorded video clips) because this show is conceived for primarily theaters, not medium-sized arenas like the Armory.
This was only the fourth concert on the North American leg of Ballerini's tour. So there's time for tweaking.
No need to change anything about opening act Webster, 20, whose confidence, voice and especially songwriting signaled considerable potential. "Tattoos" (about being glad she didn't get matching tats with her ex), "Tell Your Mom" (to stop calling after her son's breakup with Webster) and "X's" (about being underage in a nightclub with a no-booze X on your hand) sounded like winners in the spirit of Olivia Rodrigo and early Taylor Swift.