Ben Rector is no magician, but his latest tour pulls off the greatest magic trick any performer can hope to achieve.
The goal of every touring artist is to leave concertgoers with the feeling that the money and time invested in seeing a performance were well spent. With fewer people buying music than ever before, ticket sales have become increasingly important in the survival of any artist’s career. More importantly, one bad show from any artist can mean lost income for other musicians. Consumers are fickle, especially music fans, and witnessing anything less than a performer’s best runs the risk of lowering the likelihood someone attends another concert.
Ben Rector may not realize it, but his ‘Magic’ tour is ensuring thousands across the nation continue to be excited about the prospect of live music. Named after his most recent album, Rector’s tour is currently packing a show that would stun arena crowds into theaters and mid-size Live Nation around the United States, and his performance in Kalamazoo, MI on March 1 was no exception.
Filling the historic Kalamazoo State Theater to capacity, Rector’s ‘Magic’ show brought ninety-minutes of music and good vibrations to a city buried under winter weather. The crowd was comprised mainly of college students and those struggling to pay their student loan debt, but the worries of the real world were nowhere to be found. As soon as Rector took the stage the Midwest audience leaped to their feet with excitement. It was a moment of unanimous celebration and joy that would ultimately set the tone for everything that followed. A few people may have attended alone, but from that instance forward, everyone was family.
The opening number, “Drive,” confirmed the audience’s hopes for a night of escapism soundtracked by piano-pop goodness. Rector and his crew appeared as delighted by the crowd as their fans were to see them, and that recognition of mutual delight created an atmosphere that took the seriousness out of the artist-audience relationship. Rector regularly engaged with the crowd through stories and anecdotes, and at one point he even appeared on the main floor to join his followers in song. “I usually do this part in the balcony,” he said as people cheered, “but they told me there was no easy way to reach those up you up there. I would be there if I could, and I hope you forgive me!” There was never any doubt that they did.
As the night carried on, Rector did his best to give his fans a night they would never forget. Every song — every single song — had one or more elements involved in their execution that would not appear anywhere else in the set. Sometimes that entailed a cover, such as an unexpected transition into “Just The Two Of Us,” but other times that meant projecting home videos, performing as silhouettes, or timing their performance to perfectly sync with a montage of 80s home movies. The result was a series of performance that, in some small way, felt like a mini-concert unto themselves.
When the night came to a close with Rector’s biggest hit to date, “Brand New,” the goal of the show was to leave everyone with the knowledge they were part of something bigger. The song boasts a big, memorable chorus that celebrates the little ways we allow ourselves to feel free in a life that is often filled with commitments. The lights were brighter than elsewhere in the set, and the emphasis on the crowd undeniable. Rector recognized that he may have given the world the song and that the world had given him a career in return, but he also knew that it meant something special to every single person in that room. Ben Rector’s ability to acknowledge that fact, coupled with his efforts to celebrate individuality by creating a sense of community amongst otherwise unattached people, was the greatest magic trick of all.