(SEDALIA, Mo., digitalBURG) — A large “T” shaped deck marked the front of the Pepsi Grandstand Friday night, as the unseasonably cool weather continued to hold for the Missouri State Fair. The most mixed-age crowd yet packed the place for Kelsey K and Toby Keith.
One of the most surprising acts of the week, 14-year-old Kelsey K entertained as the track and grandstand areas filled up. Friday saw the biggest, yet mild, crowds of the concert series. By the time Keith hit the stage, the grandstand was full except the top corners and it was shoulder-to-shoulder on the track.
Kelsey K seemed to be an entertainer beyond her years. She has a voice that’s similar to pop and country star Jewel, and the charm of a younger Miley Cyrus.
Although she played a short set, she left a lasting impression. She signed autographs and met with fans after the show and took the time to chat and take pictures with every fan that lined up at her merchandise booth after her set.
I had the chance to chat with her after her performance, and it was even more surprising.
She’s been singing since she was 10, and recorded her first album, “Blue Jean Girl,” when she was 12 and 13 years old. She’s currently an independent artist, although she hinted that something big was in the works. Her recent experience has been opening for big names such as Keith at state fairs all over the country.
She doesn’t give away her age; talking to her she seemed like she had done it a million times, offering insightful and articulate answers to every question I threw at her. I did catch her about performing in front of so many people before Toby Keith.
“I was really nervous all day, but once I saw the crowd I was fine,” she said.
Until this year, she had been attending public school, but she’s switching to a homeschooling program so she can focus on her music.
She writes her own lyrics and music and has gained the attention of people such as musician Jimmy Nichols, who has worked with Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood to name a few. Nichols played piano during the performance.
I was really impressed with her, and her parents who also work as her management team. As such a young talent, she’s definitely a country artist to pay attention to.
The crowd was the most mixed as far as style goes. There were just as many people in tennis shoes as there were boots. They welcomed Keith to the stage with a loud ovation that had the entire Pepsi Grandstand on its feet.
Throughout the set, Keith was drinking out of a red Solo cup – one of the many things that has made him a famous musician. After each sip he would make a face, and a fan nearby said, “there’s no beer in that cup, it’s gotta be Jack!”
Keith’s performance was really impressive. He had eight or nine musicians accompanying him, including a trumpet, saxophone and trombone.
His stage presence wasn’t all that; he mostly stood at the microphone stand with his hat low, and seemingly lower after each drink from that cup. One of the coolest things was the use of a jumbotron screen behind the stage and of course, fireworks.
During “Beer for My Horses,” the crowd actually raised their glasses to the accompanying lyrics. Later in the set, two large red Solo cup inflatables went up on either side of the stage to one of the loudest ovations the entire week. The crowd was equally as loud as Keith was as they sang along word-for-word.
Per the usual, the crowd responded with vigor anytime the Fair, Sedalia or Missouri was mentioned. I was in a press area under the stage interviewing Kelsey K when he went offstage, but I could hear the cheering and chants of “USA,” and then the climactic cheer when he returned.
I finished my interview and made it back to a VIP area next to the stage to catch the encore, where Keith did one of the things he’s best known for — sing his two most popular patriotic songs.
During “American Soldier,” a group of people in military fatigues who were in the PIT section in front of the stage were shown on the jumbotron.
They were greeted with an ovation that was only trumped during the next song, “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue,” where Keith went to the T-shaped deck and offered a hand to those soldiers and had them behind him on the stage.
My brother is in the military, and seeing recognition like that was really special. It was really inspiring, and seeing the crowd give the biggest ovation to that was nearly overwhelming. During the song, Keith said into the microphone, “How about some of Missouri’s finest on stage tonight?” to the delight of all those in attendance.
As usual, I’m not a huge fan of country music, but I was pleasantly surprised.
Kelsey K had such a wonderful stage presence, and it was a true pleasure to interview her and then host her at Hastings in Warrensburg for an autograph session on Saturday. She’s someone I’m proud to have had the opportunity to talk to. Her genuine attitude and dedication to every fan that stopped to see her gave me a lasting impression.
I had heard Keith was quite the performer, and while I was sad he didn’t hop around on the “T” deck very much, I thought the way his accompanying band brought his music to life was really good.
The crowd was a bit more tame than they were for Lee Brice and Tyler Farr, but these two artists definitely appeal to what the Missouri State Fair is all about, fun for the entire family.