On a sunny, 80-degree Sunday afternoon, Kat Perkins stepped onto the stage of the Burning Hills Amphitheatre.
All by Stacy Swenson, except the one of her drinking/signing autographs was by Bryce Martin.
By BRYCE MARTIN
She greeted stagehands and Medora representatives shortly before 2 p.m., then joined her band that was setting up during sound check for the upcoming 4 p.m. show in Medora. It was her second and final performance at the venue – rescheduled from Aug. 23 due to rain – but she displayed an undying determination to put on an incredible show for her North Dakota fans.
The stage, in front of 2,800 empty seats, buzzed with activity prior to the songstress’ arrival. Equipment was being moved and connected, random parts of various melodies were repeated by the band to achieve the best sound and crews were setting up concessions in preparation for the sold-out show.
Perkin’s band – Eric Warner, of Minneapolis, on guitar; Joe Harrier, of Detroit, Mich., on bass; Jeremy Tappero, of Madison, Wisc., on drums; Elliott Blaufuss, of Fargo, on keys; and Casey Smith, of Fargo, on guitar – finished their sound check and waited for Perkins to arrive to do a quick run-through before she’d be whisked away for a VIP meet-and-greet.
A blue SUV pulled up on the gravel road behind the Medora Musical set at the amphitheater and out stepped Perkins, dressed causally and donning a large pair of sunglasses. Her hair was done, her makeup put on, but her pre-performance outfit showed her down-to-earth, laid back style.
She shared a laugh and some conversation with her band before she strutted up to the blue-capped microphone at the front of the stage and performed one of the songs from her set list, “Paris (Ooh La La)” by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals.
It was a chance to see Perkins from behind-the-scenes. But Perkins, who achieved fame from her Top 5 stint on NBC’s “The Voice,” showed little difference from her normal, everyday interaction with her family and band mates, compared with her contact with fans and those wanting to see Perkins, the performer. Perkins showed she was a rock star and crowd-pleaser without any phony persona, unlike a lot of celebrities.
But Perkins never strayed from her small-town, down-to-earth attitude throughout her worldwide debut on “The Voice.” She took pride in her North Dakota roots and as her “normal” life as a nanny in Minneapolis. Like most of the Perkins family clan, some spread throughout the country, she never forgot her true home in the Peace Garden State.
After an acoustic trial of the Stevie Nicks hit, “Landslide,” Perkins was rushed across the small town of Medora to the Harold Schaefer Heritage Center. There, she greeted a group of VIP fans that paid a little extra to meet with Perkins face-to-face.
It was a chance for Perkins to interact with friends and acquaintances, new and old, and a time when she could let down her guard for a bit, kick-back, with a Miller Light sitting nearby, and just talk with her fellow North Dakotans.
Perkins seemed relaxed ahead of her performance, signing autographs and taking photos with a long line of fans.
She offered a heartfelt thank-you and raised a glass to those who supported her and continued to support her career. Perkins let out a small cheer when she was informed the Minnesota Vikings had won their earlier game. Again, she showed her caliber as a down-home star.
Perkins’ sister, Kelly Perkins Robinson, faithfully stuck by her side through the day. Robinson also greeted the multitude of fans, asked where they were from, shared some stories and handed out signed posters. Robinson stayed with Perkins for many weeks while on the set of “The Voice” and remained by her sister’s side throughout her time on tour.
Perkins’ journey back to North Dakota was equally important to her immediate and extended family, who helped in several ways to facilitate her success as she made performances around the state.
Not only showing their support by attending her live performances and establishing a Perkins family cheering section, many of her family members had a hand in making her debut on the Medora stage possible.
Alicia Perkins, Perkins’ cousin, did her hair for the shows, Robinson handled fulfillment of the Kat Perkins merchandise and her father, Mark Perkins, even served as a part-time chauffer. They were all happy to see their Kat finding success.
As the clock ticked down to 3:30 p.m., Perkins was escorted from the heritage center by her public relations duo. It was time for fans to congregate inside the Burning Hills Amphitheater for one last homecoming concert by beloved Perkins.
Cars packed the hill leading up to the site and, until about half-way through the opening performance by Tigirlily – North Dakota’s hometown country duo – it was chaos while people arrived, purchased concessions and Kat merchandise and found their seats.
After Tigirlily’s country western sendoff, an emcee took to the stage and announced, “It was time.” The crowed grew quiet waiting for their first glimpse of Perkins. Brief audio clips from her time on “The Voice” filled the silence of the crowd, a pulsing beat counted down the singer’s arrival.
To thunderous applause, cheering and chanting of her name, Perkins nonchalantly walked from a building set to the front-center of the stage, marked with a damask-patterned rug, and immediately began her first song, covering Heart’s “Magic Man.”
She then belted out “Paris (Ooh La La),” which she covered in sound check.
After each song, Perkins offered a quiet, meek thank-you. Her speaking voice and petite stature certainly didn’t match the booming, high-noted chanteuse.
“You guys were the rock stars, I was just the nervous nelly behind the mic,” Perkins told the crowd.
Perkins then carried the audience through a mixture of tunes ranging from songs she performed on “The Voice,” Perkins’ favorite songs and new songs, including “Let It Go” from the movie “Frozen,” “Open arms” by Journey, “Chandelier” by Sia, “No Light, No Light” by Florence + The Machine, “Gold Dust Woman” by Fleetwood Mac, “Suddenly I See” by KT Tunstall with an a cappella intro and “In the Air Tonight” by Sting, which Perkins said she would have done the week following her exit on “The Voice” had she the chance. Perkins then added fan favorites “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk featuring Pharrell, “Someone Like You” by Adele and, as a tribute to her native state, “Come Home to North Dakota” from the Medora Musical.
A song inspired by her four-year-old niece, Perkins wrapped up her concert by singing her first single, “Fearless.”
The crowd came to their feet and begged for more as she disappeared behind the stage’s pavilion and guzzled from a bottle of water.
Immediately after Perkins’ encore performance of “Barracuda,” and before many guests could stand up to leave, she and her lead public relations rep, Zach, darted up the east stairs from the main stage to the escalators. A Medora worker blocked the escalator for a minute while her team rode to the top.
That was the only minor event of celebrity elitism showed by Perkins.
Hundreds of fans then stood in line for a couple hours for the chance to meet and take a quick picture with Perkins. Every person in line got a few seconds with Perkins, which she promised at the conclusion of her show.
Though she could barely see the end of the immense line, Perkins didn’t show her expected exhaustion from the busy day’s events.
She wanted to meet and thank every one of her fans.
Total tickets sold for the two concerts totaled 5,604, essentially constituting two sold out shows for the 2,841-seat amphitheater – a fair amount of tickets were comped by Medora. At $20 – and a limited number of front-row VIP tickets for $50 – do the math. While full revenue numbers weren’t available this week, so many people were seen purchasing Perkins merchandise and her CDs.
“It was truly great to see one of our own, our Kat Perkins, take the country by storm with the classic attitude, moves and fearlessness so many around our state remembered from her time on the stage of the Medora Musical,” said Justin Fisk, spokesperson for the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation.
Perkins began her Medora journey about 14 years ago, right out of high school, entertaining the masses as a Burning Hills singer. She recalled it as one of the best times of her life.
“For us in Medora, when she returned to the stage where it all started, she represented so much more than a star on her way to the top; she represented the very best of the Medora Musical, and showed how hard work and perseverance can truly pay off when one’s chance to shine comes,” Fisk added.
With the end of the eventful day approaching, Perkins celebrated with close friends and family at the Boots Bar and Grille in Medora.
Perkins sipped from a shot of honey whiskey after she emerged from the backroom, where she relaxed with food and friends following the demanding show.
In the quieting bar, around 11 p.m., as several patrons called it an evening, Perkins shared common conversation with those who knew her best. It was like watching the average person carry on with their friends – laughing, drinking, and having a good time. Perkins, still clad in her bright green dress from the show, seemed to blend in with the crowd.
Under the dimmed lights of the bar, Perkins admitted that she refused any and all record labels that approached her following “The Voice.” She made her own music label, KatPerkinsMusic Inc., and got a third-party distributor to release her single on iTunes.
The downside to that, as Perkins explained, was not being able to get national retailers, such as Target and Wal-Mart, to sell the single on their shelves. Though, she said she used it as an incentive to get people to come out to her live performances and to drive traffic on her website, KatPerkinsMusic.com.
With a perky smile and a hushed voice, Perkins said she was almost grateful she didn’t win, now having better chances to operate on her own accord to reach the extent of her own career. She wouldn’t have to become “property” of any major label and was free to do what she wanted and how she wanted. Still, she was humbled and showed now sign of being bitter over her fifth place exit.
Perkins was released from her NBC-Universal contract on Aug. 2.
Her first single, “Fearless,” was a strong start to debut Perkins into the mainstream of music entertainment. It quickly climbed the iTunes charts and gave a taste of what’s to come.
Perkins said she remains focused on the future and doesn’t plan to settle down. While her tour around North Dakota and then Minneapolis comes to a head at the end of this month, with several gigs still lined up, Perkins admitted she has larger plans already in place. Though, she wouldn’t divulge more than a wink and smile, enough to suggest she knows what’s coming and it’s going to be big.
What she did offer, however, were her team’s plans to set up appearances for Perkins on the late-night talk shows, including Jimmy Kimmel Live and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. But she didn’t allude to if anything was booked just yet.
After an hour or so of mingling, it was finally time Perkins could show her exhaustion from the day’s events.
She slipped away from the bar, after warm embraces with her loved ones, accompanied by her boyfriend and guitarist, Warner.
In the coming days, she prepares for this weekend’s concerts in Fargo and Bismarck.
While her southwest North Dakota homecoming is now complete, it’s clear her heart will never leave.
Perkins will continue to show that she’s fearless.