CEDAR RAPIDS — Kelly Clarkson was the girl next door to a river levee lawn blanketed with screaming, dancing fans Friday night to launch “newbo evolve’s” main-stage concerts.
The Fort Worth, Texas, native who rocketed to fame as the first “American Idol” in 2002 remains a little bit country and a whole lotta rock ’n’ roll, peppered with spicy y’alls.
She’s folksy and kind to her fans, thanking them profusely, encouraging them to sing along and sharing glimpses of her life’s heartbeats and heartbreaks, through nearly 90 minutes of hit after hit.
With 41 singles released off eight albums, the three-time Grammy winner has no shortage of music to whip into an effervescent show with plenty of sizzle.
A musical chameleon, she’s equally at home embracing the country of “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” her duet with Jason Aldean, and rocking anthems like “Catch Your Breath,” at the top of the concert, and “Miss Independent,” her first encore.
Clarkson has built her career on transparency, baring her soul through her lyrics wrapped in those glorious pipes that can soar to the stars and hang high in the sultry summer night air, or plummet to the depths of her darker side.
But even when she’s letting listeners inside the sorrow of watching her father walk away when she was 6, she turns that into a beacon of hope in “Piece by Piece,” an ode to her husband, who “fills the holes that you burned in me.”
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Don’t let her sunny disposition fool you. There’s a reason she belts out the Grammy-winning “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You),” where at one point, she sang backup to the audience. And she wallops the naysayers who have criticized everything from her weight to her career, cutting loose on “Mr. Know It All,” with a video montage of headlines and articles showing the dirt flung her way. Guess who’s having the last laugh?
She looked chic and fabulous, issuing a warning to the audience: “With my fancy little dress, if a breeze comes up, my bad. You’ll just see Spanx.”
Flashing her savvy side, she surrounds herself onstage with a dynamite female backup trio, tenor sax, trumpet, trombone, keyboard, guitars, bass and percussion. She gave the band and crew several shout-outs, noting they’re all “producers and writers who sing with everyone and are super-talented.”
The blistering brass shined through on one of her recent hits, “Love So Soft,” and cranked up the heat on “Walk Away” as she strolled ever higher up a stairway to her heavenly heights.
Every single song was a highlight, but a couple of special moments came near the end when she sang daughter River Rose’s favorite number, “Heartbeat Song,” followed by her own personal favorite, “Whole Lotta Woman,” off her 2017 soul and R&B-laced album, “Meaning of Life.”
It’s obvious she has found meaning in her life, piece by piece.
The Wallflowers, fronted by Jakob Dylan, was a most welcome last-minute addition to the festival opening concert lineup.
The Grammy-winning roots rockers brought an hour’s worth of hits and covers to the stage, from “6th Avenue Heartache” and “One Headlight” from their 1996 debut album, “Bringing Down the Horse,” to “Love is a Country,” from their 2012 collection, “Glad All Over.”
Dylan builds on the genetic legacy of his father, Bob Dylan, infused with his own brand of poetry and guitar licks.
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RADDA RADDA, a pop-rocking Americana band from Minneapolis, kicked off the show at 6:30 p.m. with 35 minutes mixing folky acoustic and electric sounds. With crystal-clear lyrics cutting through the still air, the band’s edgier side rang through “My My Shifty Eyes,” a fun, hooky number from the recent debut album, “Life Again,” and a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire.”
The main-stage concerts continues Saturday with Maroon 5 and openers Robert DeLong and Marc Scibilia, and wraps up Sunday with eight local bands, including The Pork Tornadoes, Soul Sherpa and Kevin “B.F.” Burt.
If you go
• What: Local bands The Pork Tornadoes (today’s hits), Soul Sherpa (original funk/soul), Adam Keith (country), Four Day Creep (classic rock), Kevin “B.F.” Burt (blues), Slap N Tickle (’80s/hair metal), Young The Lion (cover hits) and Alicia Monee (R&B/soul)
• Where: newbo evolve main stage, 1620 Second St. SE, Cedar Rapids
• When: noon to 7:30 p.m. today
• Tickets: free for three-day festival pass-holders; $10 general admission at the gate, opening at 11 a.m.
• Details: www.gocedarrapids.com/newboevolve/eventschedule
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