Falling in more than “Ordinary Love” with Ben Rector

Rector returns to Cville with new covers, anecdotes, charisma

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Ben Rector is not the first artist to sell out The Jefferson Theater. He’s not the first to croon blood-pumping lyrics exciting a crowd of college students. He’s not the first to engage fans in his performance or incite laughter from the crowd with self-deprecating anecdotes and confessions. But Rector may just be the first singer/songwriter to do all of the above with an originality which derives from an easy-going attitude and unparalleled charisma.

The Jefferson was abuzz with excitement Wednesday night, as the crowd held expectations for Rector and opening act Jon McLaughlin — an artist who seemed better known for his looks than his music.

When McLaughlin appeared on stage, he could have easily been mistaken for a member of the crew or other behind-the-scenes player. He stepped onto the scene in modest attire — a gray T-shirt and jeans — and a cardboard box on his head. He made his way to the keyboard, removed the box with a grin, and began playing. As soon as his fingers touched the keys, an immediate hush fell over the crowd. He was natural. He was confident. He was amazing.

McLaughlin’s entire set list was played at the piano, and it was all the better for it. He commanded the instrument with ease, effortlessly transitioning from heart-wrenching ballads like “Summer is Over,” to the catchy and hilarious “If You Mess With My Girl,” to Billy Joel’s classic “Piano Man.” McLaughlin was easy on the eyes, but his skills on the piano were by far his best feature.

McLaughlin’s quick, 60-minute performance left the audience hungry for more, providing the perfect transition to Rector’s set. As Rector hit his opening notes, the notes were quickly drowned out by a thousand screams from the audience.

The volume grew louder and louder, filling the already-cramped venue with an ominous tone until finally blossoming into “When I’m With You,” an upbeat track that had everyone chanting and clapping. Rector stomped his feet, spun in circles, clapped his hands and looked just as excited as his fans.

“To be honest, I had really low expectations for this tour," he said to the audience after finishing his first song. "I only expected about eight people to show up tonight. This is sold out and it’s incredible. Thank you.”

This interlude was the first of many that showcased Rector’s humility and unwavering appreciation for the support from his fans. He prefaced almost every piece with an explanation of the inspiration behind it. Often there was no romantic or sensible explanation for the conception of a piece; it was just written.

Rector’s honesty is perhaps his most endearing quality, and it’s evident in his music. He wants his fans to have a good time and he strives to connect with them at his concerts. After taking the crowd on a roller coaster ride of emotions in songs like his first big hit, “When a Heart Breaks,” other favorites such as “Let the Good Times Roll” and “Forever Like That,” and even a cover of Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” Rector confessed he had one last song to play.

“But, unless you’ve never been to a concert before, you know how this works," he said. "I finish playing, leave, you cheer, and then I come back out for an encore.”

And he did.

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