Frankie Ballard brought a strong sense of hometown pride along with his catalog of songs that told the story of his life growing up in Michigan to the Big Apple’s Highline Ballroom on Thursday evening. Whereas some young artists may feel the pressure to sacrifice integrity and authenticity for commercial success, Ballard sings and writes about what he knows, and his Midwestern roots were evident at the high energy concert.
New York City-based band Bobby McGrath and The Brothers kicked the evening off, primarily playing songs from McGrath’s independently released EP from 2013, including “Turning Planes Around” and “Gasoline.” A cover of Randy Houser’s 2013 hit “Runnin Outta Moonlight” had the crowd singing and dancing along. Given his strong, charismatic stage presence, it would be easy to picture McGrath playing much bigger stages for a national audience in a few years’ time.
At 9 PM, the Highline was finally filling up just before the headliner took the stage, and Ballard was a huge bundle of energy for his entire set. Skipping over some of his slower songs and ballads, Ballard made the wise choice of playing mostly up-tempo selections from his self-titled 2011 album, and the recently released “Sunshine and Whiskey.” Despite being fairly new to country radio, Ballard has been a road warrior for the past few years, including high profile opening slots for Taylor Swift and Bob Seger, and his stage presence was akin to that of a much more experienced artist.
Not even three songs into his set, he was already interacting with the diverse crowd, even carrying on conversations with fans lucky enough to be close up to the stage. He serenaded a recently broken-hearted young fan on stage with debut single “Tell Me You Get Lonely” and told family stories about growing up throughout the show, some of which led into “Young and Crazy,” and “It Don’t Take Much,” both of which are found on his sophomore record. Impressive guitar solos concluded almost every song Ballard played, which allowed him to get even closer to the crowd. Other audience favorites included new single “Sunshine & Whiskey” and 2011’s, “A Buncha Girls.”
Ballard continued the high energy set with covers of musical heroes Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson on “Good Hearted Woman” and fellow Midwestern country-rocker John Mellencamp on “Pink Houses.”
The crowd immediately screamed when his tight band played the opening bars of recent radio number-one hit “Helluva Life” near the end of the show and Ballard was visibly humbled when his New York legion of fans sang an entire chorus back to him on their own near the end of the inspiring song.
Ballard put on a highly entertaining, well planned concert that drew extremely favorable comparisons to other country guitar gods such as Brad Paisley or Vince Gill. He has the looks, he has the voice, he has the stage presence, and most importantly, he has the songs.
By Matthew Waga
Check out our exclusive photos and videos from the event.