I am no stranger to Sydney’s Metro Theatre. In fact, over my 19 years, I have attended countless sold-out shows at the venue, but never have I seen it blow up as much as it did on March 20 when Tennessee country singers Ryan Follese and Kelsea Ballerini took to the stage.
If you think you recognise the name Ryan Follese, it’s probably because you do – remember that popular rock band Hot Chelle Rae who toured Australia with Taylor Swift and headlined their own shows with hit songs I Like It Like That and Tonight, Tonight? Well, Ryan was the leader singer of the band.
Now Follese is a solo country singer and boy, does this change suit him. Watching Follese take the stage with an acoustic guitar and a new band felt out of place and made him seem unrecognisable, but he killed it.
I seemed to be the only one there that was familiar with Follese’s new songs, though everyone knew the songs when he performed songs written by his father – songs sung by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.
Let’s be real here, I only purchased a ticket to this gig to see Follese, so although I had previously heard a few of Kelsea Ballerini’s songs, I wasn’t feeling too much of a vibe for the main act as I made my way to the gig.
Appearing to be the only person there who couldn’t belt out the lyrics to every song, or recognise the song before Ballerini began singing, it was clear I was behind on why this artist was so popular or how so many people in Sydney knew who she was when she isn’t played on our radios.
Ballerini had her own structure when it came to choosing her set list. Rather than playing a popular, catchy song to grab the audience’s attention, then playing the not-as-popular songs, and ending with her most popular song, she played her Unapologetically album from cover to cover. This made sense though – Unapologetically tells a story from heartbreak to love and isn’t designed to be listened to on random.
Ballerini didn’t have a huge stage act – with the exception of a few acoustic performances towards the end of the night, it was Ballerini and her microphone with her band playing. There was no dancing, no huge stage acts, but there were multiple costume changes, which seemed unnecessary, but it worked.
At one point, Ballerini’s costume change reminded me of my younger days. Walking onto the stage in a black dress with the title of her songs from Unapologetically written across it, I found myself on a journey back to Taylor Swift’s Red tour, where fans would dress up as characters from Swift’s music videos or covered their bodies with her lyrics in the hope of being chosen by her mother as “best dressed”, to head backstage to meet Swift after her show. In my case, I had bought a scrappy white T-shirt from Target and with red Texta, I wrote the album track list all over the shirt.
Ballerni was the most humbled musician I had seen live and she often had to stop mid song to hold back tears due to the audience knowing every lyric to every song. She was also one of those artists who truly remembered fans – she gave her jacket to the girl in the front row she recognised from that person running a fan Twitter account and travelling to America to attend her concerts.
Performance-wise, Ballerini hit the nail on the head. She reached all her high notes, and showcased her angelic voice.
Ninety minutes at the Metro Theatre was all Ballerini needed to prove she was well worth the hype. – Review and photos by Brooke Gibbs