In Sandy on a beautiful summer evening, country star Kelsea Ballerini wanted everyone in the audience at her sold-out show, from the youngest to the oldest, to be in touch with their feelings.
Ballerini’s request came out strongest in the middle of her set, as she stood on an auxiliary stage smack in the center of the Sandy Amphitheater crowd, after she performed her hit “You’re Drunk, Go Home” — while walking through the audience.
A Utah summer sunset painted the background behind her, hues of orange and yellow making her second of four outfits of the night — a red sparkly number with matching red bejeweled boots — stand out even more.
Before the started singing at the b-stage, Ballerini told the crowd she met a young girl named Payton, who said her favorite song was “Homecoming Queen.” As Ballerini sang the song, Payton could be seen nearby, jumping up and down. In the middle of the ballad, though, Ballerini stopped, and looked out thoughtfully across the crowd.
Perhaps it was because of meeting Payton, or because she spotted a baby (named Phoebe) with her parents, who held up a sign that read “this is my first concert.” Or maybe it was because of the song’s lyrics: “Not everything pretty sparkles and shines, and even the homecoming queen cries.”
Whatever the reason, Ballerini paused to encourage people, particularly women, to embrace all their feelings — good or bad. In life, she told the crowd in what became almost like a group therapy session, she’s learned that people aren’t always going to be nice.
“Once I gave myself to feel sad when I felt sad and happy when I felt happy, I started feeling the most human I’ve ever felt,” Ballerini said. “I just hope if you hear one thing from me tonight: All of it is really beautiful.”
Ballerini commented that she had spotted more kids in the crowd, like Payton, than she had at a concert in a long time, and she felt it was important to say those words. Then she finished the song.
Ballerini first came to national attention in 2014, with her first single, “Love Me Like You Mean It,” when she had just turned 21. Her career, moving from country to pop, has mirrored the crossover success of Taylor Swift.
Don’t mistake Ballerini for just a pop princess. She’s still got some country fire going on. Take one of the signature moves on her tour, when she stops to share a tequila shot on stage. For Thursday’s show, that shot was taken with “Queer Eye” co-host Tan France, who has made Utah his home.
(Ballerini’s support for the LGBTQ+ community has been quite visible, in the face of anti-LGBTQ+ bills in Republican-controlled legislatures across the country. At the nationally televised Country Music Awards in April, Ballerini performed her song “If You Go Down (I’m Goin’ Down Too),” backed by four drag queens in 1950s Southern fashions.)
The crowd was on its feet from the moment the intro song — Shania Twain’s iconic “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” — blasted over the speakers. They sang and danced, in cowboy boots of every color and hats galore, to songs old and new.
Most of the songs on Thursday’s setlist came from Ballerini’s fourth studio album, “Subject to Change,” released last September. Many new fans, though, know Ballerini for her six-track EP, “Rolling Up the Welcome Mat,” which she released on Valentine’s Day.
The EP — a rollercoaster collection of songs charting the singer’s journey through her four-year marriage to and 2022 divorce from country singer Morgan Evans — went somewhat viral on TikTok after its release. The crowd was mesmerized when she performed songs from the EP, like “Blindsided.”
“Penthouse,” which came later on, received the loudest cheers of the night.
Ballerini appeared in four different outfits — a fringe-covered yellow mini-dress with matching thigh-high boots, a red romper, a black body suit and a lilac dress — each reflective of the emotions in the songs from that part of the setlist.
The Sandy Amphitheater made for the perfect venue. The sight lines are better than most outdoor venues, and there isn’t a bad seat in the house. Ballerini moved around the audience area, interacting with fans in front and back — such as a young girl, who she recognized from Instagram earlier in the day, who was dressed like the singer.
Ballerini noted that she had played Sandy Amphitheater before, and she talked about “going down memory lane” as she shifted into a three-song medley of her earlier hits, “Dibs,” “Love Me Like You Mean It” and “Yeah Boy.”
Ballerini’s six-piece backing band, equipped with a violinist who rocked the stage to its core, and her seamless but thoughtful set design made for a visually beautiful show.
When Ballerini sang a medley of two songs, “Love Is a Cowboy” and “Cowboy Take Me Away,” the massive video screen behind the stage shifted colors from red to blue — highlighting the emotions of the songs and bringing them even more to life, while touching on the imagery of the bridge in the first song.
The songs throughout the set spotlighted Ballerini’s beautiful voice — but the performances on the auxiliary stage, amid the crowd and those with Ballerini sitting on a stool and singing, made the show.
Toward the end of Thursday’s performance, Ballerini saw a sign from a woman in the front row asking her to play a game, with the objective of choosing an extra song to play. Ballerini ended up picking “The Way I Used To,” a song Ballerini recorded in 2020 and had not performed on this tour before. Ballerini got some help from the crowd to sing it, because it had been so long.
Ballerini went back and thanked the fan who made the request. With the camera focused on the fan and her wife, Ballerini sang a few lines of another of her songs, “Unapologetically in Love.” (The couple held up a sign that said they had played the song at their wedding.)
Ballerini ended her set with “Doin’ My Best” and told the crowd, “All we are in control of is showing up, rolling up our sleeves, and doing our damn best.”
The concert might have been most fun for the young girls in attendance — girls like Payton, or the two girls, drowning in oversized Ballerini merchandise, who screamed when “Peter Pan” came on and enthusiastically sang every word to every song.
There was a lot of glitz, glam and sass at Ballerini’s show, the second-to-last stop on her Heartfirst tour. The show lived up to the tour’s name, because it was really all about heart.
She finishes the tour Saturday night in Phoenix. Then she’s performing Tuesday, Independence Day, at St. George’s Greater Zion Stadium, headlining 99.9 KONY Country’s Fourth of July celebration.