Frankie Ballard is blowing up. His new single, Helluva Life, has made it’s way up the country charts all the way to the number one spot while his new album, Sunshine & Whiskey, has become a fan favorite. In the past few months he’s toured the country, performed on huge network television shows like Conan and the Today Show, and has even been named an honorary Friends and Family member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. There’s no doubt that his career is on the rise, and if his performance in Rancho Cucamonga last Friday night was any indication, it’s going nowhere but up.
Frankie took the stage to a packed house that was full of young and wild energy. While standing in line to get in we learned that the show was sold out, much to the disappointment of fans that were moving up and down the line asking for extra tickets. I knew Frankie’s star was rising, but I wasn’t quite sure that it had done so out in California, where we have to drive to places like Rancho or Ontario to see shows more often than not. It made me happy, the way it always does, to see an artist I’ve been watching rise and stall over the past couple years finally getting their time in the spotlight. Just as it made me happy that people were holding on to Helluva Life enough to make it a number one hit.
But the night got off to a rocking start when a 5.4 earthquake hit the area, shaking the venue just enough for everything and everyone to grow quiet and still (welcome to California, Frankie!). Luckily, there was no damage or major injuries. Just another California earthquake giving us a scare. The music started not long after that, with Frankie launching in to one of my favorite tracks off his album, Young & Crazy and I’m Thinking Country. From the first chord the crowd was energetic, singing or screaming along, and Frankie’s peppery energy radiated into every melodic chorus and runaway guitar riff.
There’s not a song on Sunshine & Whiskey that doesn’t present itself well live, that was apparent throughout the evening, as Frankie got a chance to play through pretty much the entire album. The angry break-up anthem, Drinky Drink got everyone in the crowd amped, whether or not they knew the lyrics they were adamant about their love for the song. Even the mid-tempo Tell Me You Get Lonely got special treatment when Frankie pulled up a young fan on stage that had just ended a 4 year relationship with her boyfriend. I’ll tell you one thing, she wasn’t missing that boyfriend for that three minutes of her life, because it’s hard not to fall for Frankie when he’s up in lights doing his thing. And of course there’s the title track, Sunshine & Whiskey, that had the entire crowd singing along, waving hands in the air, ecstatic to be where they were.
He treated us to It Don’t Take Much and Tip Jar, even doing a cover of Waylon Jennings classic Good Hearted Woman. He moved across the stage effortlessly, guitar in hand, losing himself in wild moments of musical energy that just reverberated across the entire 600 person crowd. Frankie left no doubt that he has what it takes to entertain and command a crowd, furthermore, he’s build a solid set of songs off his full length debut that could stand in front of any audience and infuse it with vibrancy. Not to mention his casual, devil may care attitude that mingles with bits of humble appreciation. He makes for an artist that intrigues women, while not alienating the men, still speaking to them in an honest and authentic way. It’s a hard balance in country music, not being too over the top redneck, manly man or too much of a sex symbol. Few artists grasp this completely, and Frankie is definitely one of them.
The set came to a close with his #1 hit, Helluva Life, offering some reflection for the hard road that he’s had to walk down as an artist. One that he values, one that he’s proud of, and one that he feels blessed to have the opportunity to experience. Rancho Cucamonga had a true talent take the stage on Friday night, one that I’m sure will be back time and time again, most likely in a much bigger venue. California welcomes you, Frankie, and we can’t wait to see where this helluva life leads you. Come back soon!
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