Grandstand review: Maren Morris delivers soulful, sultry concert likely to rank among this year’s finest at the Fair

Last month, Maren Morris played her first concert in 16 months and, for the most part, she is sticking to festivals. Friday night, she headlined the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand with a pair of largely unknown openers who both are native Minnesotans, Noah Schnacky and Patrick Murphy. (The latter really should have considered a stage name as there are multiple musicians — including another country singer — with the same name.)

Murphy opened with a set of mid-tempo originals and a handful of covers, including Train’s “Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me),” Coldplay’s “Fix You” and Billy Joel’s “Piano Man.” The latter, he said, he performed 10 years ago at the Grandstand during the Amateur Talent Contest Finals.

Schnacky has yet to score a chart hit, but he’s got 7 million followers on TikTok and earned some screams from younger concertgoers. Near the end of his set, he walked out into the crowd and handed a rose to a girl wearing a Noah Schnacky sweatshirt. He said this was his first time on stage in a year and, well, it was obvious.

Morris kicked off her career with her double-platinum 2016 debut single “My Church,” the first in a string of hits. She’s also found pop crossover success thanks to her 2018 single with Zedd, “The Middle,” and her duet “Seeing Blind” with One Direction’s Niall Horan, with whom she toured as his opening act. The pair drew 9,511 to the Grandstand in 2018. The following year, Morris played her second headlining tour, which included a stop at the Armory in Minneapolis. She gave birth to her first son just as the pandemic lockdown was starting, but she had plans for another major tour last year that was scrapped.

Maren took the stage Friday night with a guitar across her chest for the terrific title track from her second major label album “Girl.” It’s a soulful, slinky number that the 31-year-old Texas native absolutely nailed. Really, she nailed pretty much everything and sounded like she never took a break from touring.

Her beefy backup band brought touches of gospel to songs like “My Church” and “All My Favorite People.” They also stepped back when necessary to give Morris moments to shine, like her a cappella introduction to “I Wish I Was” a song that, like much of Morris’ work, throbs with a certain ’70s throwback vibe. She turned in terrific rock version of “The Middle,” too.

Attendance was surprisingly light at just 4,504, meaning a whole lot of people missed what’s likely to be a highlight of this year’s Grandstand season.

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