The premise of Girls with Guitars concerts is simple, yet wonderful — bring together a number of country women on stage at the same time to tell their stories and share a sisterhood amongst themselves through their shared experiences and music, all benefiting the Susan G. Koman Foundation.
This year’s fourth annual WPOC Girls with Guitars show provided Baltimore country fans with a fantastic opportunity to see five of country’s hottest up-and-coming women perform in the round, followed by a separate performance by the amazing Sara Evans.
Jana Kramer served as this year’s hostess and started out the evening with her second single, the dark love song “Whiskey.” Having seen Kramer a couple times over the years, her vocals appeared to be slightly askew, but the raw emotion in her earnest voice more than made up for it. After the song was over, Kramer introduced the wonderful young women who would share the stage with her. First up was newcomer and recent #CMchat Get to Know artist Kelsea Ballerini who played the upbeat and playful “Dibs.”
Kramer then playfully asked Ballerini, “Should we bring out the firecracker?” And without further ado, RaeLynn hit the stage dressed up like Sandy from Grease (her words, not mine). The firecracker (an awesome and apt description) explained that her first song of the night “Your Heart” is a song about what girls do after a break-up. The song is pensive, yet frantic, and will sure make waves when it’s released.
Current radio darlings Maddie & Tae were introduced next and they performed the amusing “Sierra,” a playfully-versed song about wishing bad things for a beauty queen who had bullied one of them in high school.
Kramer kicked off the second round by playing a bittersweet new song presumably called “I Got the Boy, She Got the Man.” It’s another Kramer heart-breaker much in the style of her first hit “Why Ya Wanna.” Ballerini followed up with the empowering “Stilettos,” a song inspired by a Pinterest post that struck her: “Girls wear pain like stilettos and even when we hurt it looks pretty.” “This song completely changed my world,” explained RaeLynn as she introduced “Love Triangle,” a song about growing up with parents who fight, split up and put her in the middle. Maddie & Tae’s glorious harmonies closed out the second round with “Fly,” a familiar song about their journey in the music world.
What makes the Girls with Guitars experience truly special is watching the performers react to each others songs and stories. As Kramer was introducing her biggest hit to date “Why Ya Wanna,” the perky RaeLynn proclaimed that she herself may have cried to that song a time or two which was followed by knowing smiles and nods by the other artists. Moments like this once again showed that these women view themselves more like sisters, than competitors vying for a spot on the dial. The remaining three acts closed out their night with their debut singles. Ballerini played her swagger-filled debut single, “Love Me Like You Mean It,” RaeLynn sang the sweet “God Made Girls,” and Maddie & Tae got the crowd going with their sassy hit “Girl in a Country Song.”
There were still two treats left to the first part of the evening though. Kramer, as hostess, got to play one final song, her latest single “Love,” a beautiful ode that she said was “not just about love, but about giving back, which is what you all did tonight” (in reference to the almost $5,000 raised for the Susan G. Koman Foundation). Finally, to close out the set, RaeLynn led the ladies through an uproarious version of Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass,” which had the entire venue gleefully dancing and singing right along with the five young women on stage.
In all, RaeLynn was the star of the night. She always had something to say, and more times than not, she had the audience and her fellow performers laughing with her exceptional timing and infectious energy. Maddie & Tae had a giggly exuberance that will certainly mature as they do. Performance-wise, they are already there. Ballerini showed off fantastic songwriting abilities that should thrust her into the spotlight in 2015. Kramer steadied the night as hostess and “veteran” performer (the 30-year-old often joked about how she felt like the “old lady” amongst her decade younger stage mates).
After a brief intermission, it was time for the main event, the lovely Sara Evans. Evans, backed by two acoustic guitar players, performed a short set of her most beloved singles that naturally featured her powerhouse voice. She started out her set with two classics “Real Fine Place to Start” and “Born to Fly.”
Evans’ voice soared on two of her more recent hits, “Stronger” and “Slow Me Down.” Before playing the Hillary Scott penned “Stronger,” Evans admitted that while the song is obviously about a break-up, you can really apply it to any obstacle in your life. About “Slow Me Down,” the first single off her new album Evans pined, “I wish I would have written it…it’s one of my favorite songs that I’ve ever recorded.” It was as stunning live as it is on the album.
After playing arguably two of her saddest singles, Evans told an amusing tale about her experience working with the TV show Nashville, joking that she needed to hire an acting coach so she could perfect the role of playing…Sara Evans. She then played the song she sang with Luke Wheeler on Nashville, “Put My Heart Down,” prefacing that a video has been shot and should be released very soon. Evans closed out the short, but wonderful performance with the spunky fan-favorite “Suds in the Bucket” which brought the crowd to its feet.
While this year’s Girls with Guitars lineup may not have been as star-studded as years past (last year’s show for example had Jennifer Nettles, Sheryl Crow and Kellie Picker along with newcomers Cassadee Pope and American Young), it provided country music fans with a glimmer of hope for what the future holds for country radio if given the right opportunity. Let’s hope that opportunity arrives.