The country star and Michigan native celebrated another holiday ‘homecoming’ in Kalamazoo, promising ‘something bigger and better’ in the summer. Review, photos.
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Charismatic country star Frankie Ballard was right at home on the Kalamazoo State Theatre stage Saturday night.
And why wouldn’t he be?
Playing to a raucous, sold-out audience filled with friends, family and fans, many of whom go way back, the Battle Creek native and former Western Michigan University baseball star might as well have been in his childhood living room as he danced all over the stage, into the crowd and jammed alongside his Wildcat Band.
The only problem is you probably couldn’t fit 1,550 people into (his dad) “Big Frank’s” living room. So, for the 10th— and final — year in a row, the younger Ballard hosted his annual holiday get together at the State Theatre instead.
The local boy made good had the energy amped up from the moment he walked on stage, opening up with his 2015 No. 1 hit “Young & Crazy,” and following fast with fan favorite “Little Bit of Both,” a cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Somethin’ Else” and one of his bigger sing-a-longs of the night in 2016’s “Cigarette.”
FIRING UP THE CROWDS WITH HITS, COVERS AND NEW SONGS
Amidst stories of growing up in Battle Creek, running around with longtime Wildcat guitar player Eddie Robinson at Western, and keeping true to his Michigan roots and love for his Detroit sports teams, Ballard fired up fans with hits like “It all Started with a Beer,” No. 1 songs “Helluva Life” and “Sunshine & Whiskey” and Bob Seger’s “You’ll Accomp’ny Me,” the latter of which appeared on Ballard’s sophomore release, “El Rio.”
And with a new album on the way, the dapper-looking Ballard and his band — which also features drummer Travis McNabb and bassist Robbie Harrington — treated the crowd to a number of soon-to-be-released cuts.
Those included country rockers “Long Live Love,” and “What I’m Talking About,” the fiery “To Hell with this Heart of Mine” and a lengthy encore of his Motown-inspired, blue collar, Michigan-proud “Try, Try, Try,” which he had tried out on the State Theatre crowd a year ago.
Keeping with tradition, Big Frank also joined his son on stage for a couple songs mid-set, this year busting out a pair of Johnny Cash songs, “Sunday Morning Coming Down” — which was written by Kris Kristofferson — and “Folsom Prison Blues.”
ONE TRADITION ENDS, BUT ‘THE BEST IS YET TO COME’
And while Ballard’s mid-show reminder that this would indeed be his last Country Christmas concert in Kalamazoo may have drawn the only boos of the night, the popular Nashville star promised the crowd that “the best is yet to come.”
“We are going to transition this into something bigger and better, something in the summertime,” he said. “I love being home for Christmas, but nothing is better than a Michigan summer.”
He may not have tipped his hand to just what that “something” will look like, but Ballard didn’t miss a beat over the course of the night, letting those in attendance know just how much his 10-year-run at the State Theatre meant to him, and how much he appreciated everyone from the venue staff to his crew that has helped to make it what it has been.
“There’s nothing like a State Theatre show,” he exclaimed at one point. “It’s a been a true honor and a joy to play in this room as we have.
“We started this band right here in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and we never looked back,” he stated later. “Well, that’s not exactly true,” he grinned, “we’re here now and we look back all the time.”
Expect bigger things to come.
A SPECIAL OPENER
Ballard wasn’t the only one to play one of his songs on the night.
Nashville singer-songwriter Chris Gelbuda, who opened the show and wrote Ballard’s “You Could’ve Loved Me,” performed that cut “with permission from Frankie since he wasn’t going to play it anyway.”
He also unfurled songs he has produced and written for the likes of Meghan Trainor, Amos Lee and Dustin Lynch to kick things off.
PHOTO GALLERY: Frankie Ballard, Chris Gelbuda at State Theatre
Photos by Derek Ketchum