Cabrera keeps energy level high at Hartford show

Allison Corneau

The energy level was so high at Ryan Cabrera’s Webster Theater show last weekend that it appeared as if the audience of mostly teenage females and Cabrera himself were hopped up on a sugar high that would make even Willy Wonka shake in his shoes. OK, maybe it wasn’t sugar, but Cabrera certainly proved that his music and stage presence is just as sweet.

Providing tour support for Cabrera were two new artists, Michael Fordinal and Bonnie McKee. Fordinal, who doubles as Cabrera’s Stage Manager, kicked off the performance with a brief 15-minute set. The guitar playing Fordinal seemed at ease on stage showcasing his songwriting talents with songs like “Take it Down,” and the lyrically humorous “Checkout Song,” about his affection for a convenience store clerk. It is clear that this newcomer has found his niche while on tour and with his talent, he may just have someone of his own to tune his guitars one day instead of having to tune them for the headliner.

Warner Brothers artist Bonnie McKee performed a half-hour set backed by two guitar players and a drummer. With a sound reminiscent of former “American Idol” contestant Nikki McKibbin and mainstream artist Jewel, the youthful redhead entertained the audience with songs like “Trouble,” and the slower ballad “Honey.” McKee’s powerful vocals and unique stage presence became lost on the Hartford crowd, however, the moment a Cabrera look alike meandered through the standing-room only venue, only to be escorted out by security. Before concluding her set, McKee did get the chance to take to the piano to redeem herself with the radio-worthy “Somebody.”

The crowd grew restless in anticipation of Cabrera’s performance but once he took the stage, the audience miraculously forgot how long they had been waiting for his entrance. Kicking off his hour-long set much like the opening of his album, with the guitar-laden “Let’s Take Our Time,” Cabrera bopped around on stage like a kid in a candy store. It was clear that he came to party and the Webster attendees were more than happy to join in the fun.

After performing his newest single “40 Kinds of Sadness,” due to hit radio this week, Cabrera began an evening of banter that had concertgoers wondering if they came for a concert or the Ryan Cabrera Comedy Hour. A born comedian who just happens to be pretty handy on the guitar, Cabrera made the audience feel like they were kicking back with their new best friend. His pre-show warning that “I like to chat” was certainly an understatement, but no one seemed to mind. After all, who doesn’t like a guy who will share the fact that he is “the biggest dork of all”?

The Webster performance gave the rising star the opportunity to showcase some new tunes, including “With You Gone” and “Last Night.” Leading an audience sing-a-long to the John Rzeznik-produced “Illusions,” Cabrera shared stories of recording his album with the Goo Goo Dolls front man.

The up-tempo “Echo Park” received a strong audience reaction, but it was Cabrera’s impromptu presentation of Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up” that really got the venue rocking. The 22-year-old Cabrera prefaced his Paul Simon cover of “You Can Call Me Al” by saying that “some of us older people may know it-so sing along.” His cover was a worthy effort unfortunately lost on the younger teen set, as were additional pop culture references to “Full House” and “Saved by the Bell.” It is nice to see that someone else appreciated the nostalgia that was the 90’s, even if Cabrera did make the twenty-somethings at the show feel old.

The calmer “She’s” served as a breather for Cabrera and the audience, who continued to hang on the singer’s every word. After making a few shadow puppets on the stage wall against the spotlight, Cabrera launched into “On the Way Down,” the chart topper that brought his name to the top of the charts. The performer’s versatility shone during this tune, when he stepped away from his guitar to provide the song’s drum fill.

To close the night, Cabrera and crew presented an encore of the Spanglish version of his current radio hit “True,” intermixed with yet another pop culture blast from the past, Hanson’s “MMMBop.”

Ryan Cabrera continues his nationwide headlining tour through March with opening act Bonnie McKee. For more information on Cabrera, check out his Web site at