For the first time in a few years, Carrie Underwood made it to an area near my neck of the woods! (Can we all just pause and dance a major happy dance?……. ok, I’m good). Carrie brought her smash hit “Storyteller Tour” to the Times Union Center in Albany, NY on October 27th, and it was ABSOLUTELY STUNNING. Folks, you’ve probably heard this a million times before, but I truly hope most of you have seen this tour or will have the opportunity.
I made the hour drive to Albany for the show with a group of family and friends, including two that were not hugely familiar with Carrie or her music. We had pretty fair seats, you could see the stage and its occupants clearly, though at a distance. Serving as openers were Voice alumni The Swon Brothers and traditional country hunk Easton Corbin. I know a lot of people don’t really pay attention to the opener’s, at least that’s been my experience. The arena was pretty much a small crowd until it was time for Carrie to come on, and then all of a sudden it was like a dam burst the place was packed. I don’t recall seeing an empty seat in the house. I actually over heard many people saying that they were planning on getting their drinks, food, and merchandise during the openers because “who cares if we miss them, we’re here for Carrie”. Now, don’t get me wrong, I was definitely, wholeheartedly there for Carrie Underwood, but I paid $500 for tickets, so I was also going to enjoy the other talented artists that were part of the tour.
First thoughts right away after experiencing the show: I love the staging for this tour! I had never been to a show where they used this staging and it was awesome, everyone in the arena, at every angle was able to enjoy the show and have a good view. The production of this tour was absolutely top notch, the best I’ve ever seen.
The Swon Brothers opened the show with a roughly 20 minute set, which included “Later On” and “Just Another Girl”. I’ll give them credit, what they lacked in material, they made up for in energy. The duo did their job and got the crowd pumped up. My only complaint would be the fact that they really only played to one half of the arena… the half the rest of us weren’t in. Though, I will say that Colton Swon did make an effort to come over to our end a few times, so I’ll give credit to him.
Easton Corbin came on after, to play his roughly 30 minute set. I admit I love Easton and was looking forward to seeing him. When Easton first broke onto radio with his hit “A Little More Country Than That”, everyone dubbed him this generation’s George Strait…. And I’d have to agree with them. He’s classy and country to the core. Filling out a nice pair of jeans and a shirt and vest, he even looked the part. We quickly found out that Easton sounds the same live as he does in the studio, as he ran through his hits which included “I’m A Little More Country Than That”, “All Over The road”, “Are You With Me”, “Roll With It” and a surprising cover of Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself”. Now, I know what you’re thinking, a country boy singing a Justin Bieber song? I was thinking to same thing, but it totally worked. Evidently it started out as a bet, one that Easton lost, which meant he had to sing the song live. I’m not even remotely a Bieber fan, but I’ll tell you, Easton made the song his own and really did an awesome job with it. So kudos cowboy. I’d also like to note that Easton did a much better job at working the whole stage during his set, which those of us on the ignored end of the arena appreciated. I’m an even bigger fan of Easton’s now, since seeing him live.
Then the moment we had all been waiting for came: CARRIE UNDERWOOD. Her opening was dramatic and magical all in one spectacular kickoff. She magically appeared and went right into singing “Renegade Runaway”, an album cut (and potential 5th single??) from her latest record Storyteller. The energy amped up about 1000% as soon as the lights started and the video screens came to life. You could feel it in the air. Carrie wore a gorgeous, high fashion black and gold dress for her first Act. After “Renegade Runaway”, Carrie moved right into a mash-up of her hit “Last Name” and her collaborative single with Miranda Lambert, “Something Bad”. The two songs mash-up well together in a surprising way and it really worked. For the rest of her first Act, Carrie ran through her hits, “Undo It”, “Good Girl”, and “Church Bells”.
The most notable performance in this Act was indeed “Church Bells” as it included the addition of Carrie jamming out on the drums the same way she did for her 2015 CMA performance of the song. The inclusion of the drums is new to the second leg of this tour and adds yet another “wow” moment to an already jam packed show.
For Act 2, Carrie arose from the stage standing on a giant jukebox, rigged with fireworks and everything, all the while singing her hit from the “Play On” era, “Cowboy Casanova”. She then dialed it down and brought the disco ball out for magical performances of her 2nd single (and 2nd #1 from “Storyteller”) “Heartbeat”, the hit that started it all, “Jesus Take The Wheel”, and another single from the “Some Hearts” era, “Wasted”. Admittedly, I wasn’t a huge fan of “Heartbeat” when it was released as a single, though I will admit that it does grow on you, but after seeing it live, I’m totally on board now. The disco ball mixed with the silver, shimmery lights was absolutely magical, like stepping into a honky tonk fairy land. It was definitely one of the prettier moments of the night.
Act 3 found Carrie stepping back on stage donning a beautiful, bright blue, flowing number, and immediately breaking into her powerhouse hit, “Blown Away”, in which she gave an absolutely breathtaking vocal performance (as usual) while surrounded by special effects emulating the stormy atmosphere of the song. Following that performance was another hit single from the “Blown Away” time frame, “Two Black Cadillacs”, along with her current single from Storyteller, “Dirty Laundry”, and an additional album cut (and a smash fan favorite) “Choctaw County Affair”. I know I speak for the majority of Carrie fans when I saw that we are all hoping and praying that “Choctaw County Affair” gets to be a single…… no scratch that… It NEEDS to be a single. Carrie always finds a way of upping her game and outdoing her last performance, we’ve seen it with “Church Bells” (first with the drums at the CMAs and then the choir at the ACMs), and now with “Choctaw County Affair”. The first leg of this tour found Carrie playing harmonica during the song, which impressed the heck right out of all of us… But then she upped her game again on this leg, now featuring dueling harmonicas during the performance (she debuted the dueling harmonicas at CMA Fest). The harmonica adds such a bad a$$ (pardon the language) effect to the performance, you can’t help but be in absolute awe of it. “Choctaw County Affair” with its harmonicas, swampy sound, and sassy vocals is by far the highlight of the whole show.
Another special, stunning moment was Carrie’s a cappella cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You”. She introduced the song by taking a few moments to declare her love and adoration for Dolly, listing the many reasons why Dolly is such an amazing artist and person, and letting the crowd know that Dolly was a huge influence on her own career and music. Carrie’s vocal delivery was absolutely gorgeous. I know I’ve used the word “stunning” numerous times already, but that’s really the only word that comes close to describing Carrie’s vocal ability. For just over 3 minutes, the arena was silent, with the exception of a few screams and applause, in total awe of the delivery.
Sometimes we forget that Carrie has a softer side of her voice simply because we’re too busy being in total awe of her powerhouse side, so this performance was an excellent way to dial things back and show case that softer, sweeter side. It was absolutely brilliant.
Carrie kept the sweet, dialed back atmosphere going with “What I Never Knew I Always Wanted”, an album cut from Storyteller, during which she sat on a piano and serenaded the audience all the while looking at the video screen as a montage of photos of her hubby Mike, little Isaiah, and herself flashed across the screen.
Carrie brought back the energy with a cover of Alabama’s “Mountain Music”, in which she enlisted the help of the Swon Brothers and Easton Corbin. You could tell that the four of them had a lot of fun doing the cover and it really brought the energy in the arena right back up to 110. Once the Swon Brothers and Easton exited the stage for the last time, Carrie brought out another album cut from her latest album, “Clock Don’t Stop”. It’s an interesting song choice, once of the more R&B/Pop flavored tracks on the record and by far the most experimental. I admit that it’s not one of my favorites on the album, but I certainly don’t hate it either. I thought the clock themed special effects were pretty cool and added to the performance of the song. Personally, I would have preferred a performance of “Mexico” (also an album cut from Storyteller), but “Clock Don’t Stop” still works.
Carrie’s hit single from her “Carnival Ride” era, “All American Girl”, was particularly fun due to Carrie picking up a video camera dubbed the “Carrie Cam” and recording the audience during the performance (maybe for a Tour DVD? Pretty Please).
Her performance of “Little Toy Guns” packed a powerful punch, as usual. It happens to be a personal favorite of mine and a lot of fans can relate to the powerful lyrics about domestic violence. The ultimate fan favorite, “Before He Cheats”, came next. This song is so incredibly empowering for us ladies and we love to sing along to it at the top of our lungs, which is pretty much what happened during the performance. During the majority of the songs, the majority of attending fans sang right along with Carrie, even singing lyrics back to her during certain performances, but during “Before He Cheats” they energy kicked up to 2000 and it felt like the entire arena was singing the song, so much so that it ended up sounding like one giant karaoke number. It was loads of fun and yet another highlight of the night.
The stage went dark and left the audience waiting for the encore. The lights went back up and Carrie magically appeared on stage again, this time with guitar in hand to sing her first single (and #1) from Storyteller, “Smoke Break”. It served as an excellent contrast to the next and last encore number, showcasing the range of material that Carrie sings about. “Smoke Break” lands on the grittier, flawed side of that range (with darker ballads like “Two Black Cadillac’s” and “Blown Away” also falling on that side).
The lights went down for the second to the last time of the night, and then the lights and video screens took on a blue, watery effect, signally the powerful “Something in the Water”. For me, if I had to chose an absolute favorite Carrie song, the one that I think could define her career (much like Reba and “Fancy”), it would definitely be “Something in the Water. This song, about redemption and the power of the baptismal waters, has that magical quality about it in which the powerful lyrics are in total harmony with the perfect production and just as powerful vocal delivery, to create faith-filled country music magic. Another song many fans can relate to (this fan in particular, since I was recently baptized myself), it was the best song to end the night on, the perfect note. I’ve heard other fans say this before, and now I know it to be totally true: “Something in the Water” is a powerful song in the studio, and even more powerful and emotional live. Carrie sings her heart out on this one and it has a stunning effect.
The night started out with a song about a heartbreaking, sharp-shooting outlaw, and ended with a song about redemption and the saving grace of faith and God, which pretty much sums up the range of Carrie’s storytelling. If you haven’t seen this tour live, you MUST. I promise you with everything that I have, you DO NOT want to miss this tour. From the staging, the lighting, the special effects, the pyro, the outfits, to the vocal delivery of every song, The Storyteller Tour showcases Carrie Underwood at her absolute finest and at the very top of her game. This is a career defining tour. Don’t miss out. 😉
****Special Thanks goes to Nicole Kappes for allowing me the use of her excellent photos!****
(Written & Additional Photo credits by Liz Austin/CMM Contributor)