iHeart Radio/Power 96.1’s annual Jingle Ball touring concert made a stop at State Farm Arena on Thursday night with an eclectic mix of artists on the same bill. It made for a disjointed evening of music, and one of the headliners was a no-show.
Pittbull tweeted late in the afternoon that his equipment didn’t arrive in Atlanta because of weather issues between here and the last tour stop in Washington D.C., so he didn’t perform the closing set as expected.
If I’m being totally honest, I was happy for one less performer for this very long night of music. The concert started at 7:30 p.m. and it was nearly 11 before it was over. It was obvious by the many empty seats during most of the early part of the evening that ticketholders weren’t interested in the too-long list of “opening acts.”
While I consider myself knowledgeable on popular music and watch clips on TikTok, YouTube and Instagram, I hadn’t heard of many of the artists: Nicky Youre, AJR, Tate McRae, and Ava Max. I don’t think I was alone.
I felt bad for these artists because of the lukewarm response from the audience to their short sets of songs. AJR was the one exception, making me actually interested in listening to more of their songs after the concert. Their melodic, quirky pop songs like “Bang!” “World’s Smallest Violin” and the epic “Weak” were bright spots in the evening.
By the time Lauv took the stage at 9 p.m., the audience seemed completely indifferent. Despite his hit songs with BTS and Troye Sivan, Lauv’s set of downtempo songs that all sounded the same got the least response from the audience who were busy chatting, scrolling on their phones or going outside for drinks and snacks.
The evening was also constantly interrupted – and made even longer – not only by set changes but buy all the Power 96.1 DJs coming out to try and hype the crowd and sell merch. The audience ignored them. Does anyone listen to radio anymore? The advertising blaring from the sound system made it seem like you were trapped in your car in traffic without access to your Spotify or Apple tunes.
But things changed around 10 p.m. when the “headliners” began taking the stage. Suddenly, the arena was full, and the audience was engaged. Khalid’s set of smooth R&B/pop songs instantly elevated the mood, especially big hits like “Young, Dumb & Broke,” “Location” and “Better.” The Georgia native was obviously having a good time playing to a local crowd, who cheered loudly and were singing along to all the songs.
Then it was Sam Smith’s turn on stage and the cheering got even louder. His big hit “Unholy” with Kim Petras meant that this British star was even more well-known in America. Wearing a sparkling silver jumpsuit, the crooner delivered the night’s best set with hits “Stay With Me,” “Dancing With a Stranger,” “How Do You Sleep” and the night’s only nod to the holiday theme with a version of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” Kim Petras joined Smith for “Unholy” which had the crowd roaring with approval.
With Pittbull missing, Macklemore got to close the evening and made the bold choice of opening his set with his biggest hit, “Thrift Shop.” He put the audience in a festive mood with his rapid-fire delivery and urged the crowd to make noise and party along with him. “Glorious” was given more energy with the addition of live horns, and the closing song “Can’t Hold Us” had State Farm Arena jumping.
Thanks to the great acts at the top of the bill, I’d probably go to another Jingle Ball, but the night is just too long and it feels unfair to the more unknown artists performing to be basically ignored while everyone is waiting for the bigger artists to appear so late into the show. And maybe a few more Christmas songs wouldn’t hurt to help put everyone in the holiday mood.