Grace VanderWaal holds nothing back

Young singer gives refined performance
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Grace VanderWaal, winner of the 11th season of America’s Got Talent, took the stage at the Bluebird Theater on Feb. 16. The audience, a mix of pre-teen children as well as adults, waited eagerly as the minutes ticked past seven o’clock. With no opening act and after nearly 20 minutes of waiting, the stage grew dark and three musicians walked out, took their places, and began playing the track “Moonlight,” VanderWaal’s leading debut.

The young girl’s voice echoed through the speakers, saying only the last few words of each lyric. Suddenly, the 14-year-old burst onto the stage in a flowing, white sundress, barefoot, and with a ukulele in hand. She sang along at the top of her voice, bouncing around the stage as the audience joined her with an unparalleled enthusiasm.

Once the initial excitement dissipated, VanderWaal welcomed the crowd and transitioned straight into her song, “Insane Sometimes.” As the chorus came around, VanderWaal began to march to the beat, with the blue lights and bare bulbs on strings guiding the way.

She performed her song “Clay,” which she sang while on Talent. Her impressive vocals pierced through the roaring crowd, who served almost as her backup singers, as she skillfully belted a power ballad about self-acceptance and non-conformity.

For the first half of the show, it was not apparent that the performer was new to the concert business. VanderWaal conducted herself with both high energy and restraint, as if she had been jaded from so many tours—when in fact, the Just The Beginning Tour is her first one. However, as she moved through her performances of “Burned,” “Sick of Being Told,” and “Gossip Girl,” VanderWaal’s inexperience began to show. She momentarily forgot the lyrics to “Burned,” and appeared genuinely surprised when the audience began to sing along to “Gossip Girl,” as if they were not all there to see her perform the number.

After singing “City Song,” VanderWaal exited the stage for a costume change and her band played an alternate arrangement of “Moonlight.” A power issue awkwardly interrupted much of the instruments on stage, leaving only the lights and the sounds of the drum. After several minutes had passed, the issue was resolved and VanderWaal returned wearing a red dress. In a surprising move, which many other artists might have decided to skip, VanderWaal apologized to the audience for the delay and reiterated that this was the entire group’s first time being on tour.

Despite the small hiccup, she moved right back into performing and sang a cover of “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, as well as a quiet, yet stirring version of Leon Bridges’ “River,” for which VanderWaal switched from ukulele to tambourine.

Before performing “A Better Life,” VanderWaal took a moment to explain the story of her brother’s addiction, which is what inspired the song. The crowd erupted into applause for her brother’s recovery, as VanderWaal choked back tears to finish the story and sing the ballad.

After performing through a few mishaps and blunders, VanderWaal left the Denver stage a bit more versed in the ways of the concert world and all of the learning experiences that come with it. But for such a young and new performer, she departed with her raw wonder and ambition very much intact.

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